When the military goes to war for their country, there’s always the possibility of casualties.

Even the most valiant soldiers could suffer from an unexpected attack or an ambush.

And in some cases, soldiers die as a result of these attacks.

However, many of these soldiers can get back to good health or at least, stay alive if attended to in time.

This is why the role of combat medic is vital to military operations.

The reality of soldiers during battles is that they’re always in danger. With combat Medics, they have a fall-back option whenever they get hit by the enemy.

But combat medics didn’t always exist in the military.

The first system for treating soldiers was planned by Surgeon Jonathan Letterman during the American Civil War.

He saw a need for medical treatment and the evacuation of soldiers during the war.

The first implementation of this plan was at the Battle of Antietam, Maryland in September 1862.

The United States Army created the Ambulance Service and the Sanitary Corps in June 1917 to take care of the Army’s medical needs.

Since then, combat medics have become a part of various branches of the United States military.

Here, you’ll find information about combat medics in different military branches.


The Army combat medics are in charge of providing medical treatment to soldiers who get wounded during their service to the United States.

They’re also known as 68W which is commonly called sixty-eight whiskey.

The Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) code was changed to 68W on October 1, 2006. The code used to be 91W (91 Whiskey) during the Vietnam War.

Whenever there’s a casualty, the combat medic provides initial emergency medical care and ensures that the soldier is evacuated to a safe place where they can be treated.

For professionals to be qualified as medics, they have to be trained as emergency medical technicians, engage in trauma training and other Army specific procedures.

As a combat medic, there are skill levels which are also correlated to ranks in the United States Army. These skill levels are:

  • 0 – this is the level of an untrained medic who is yet to complete school or basic training.
  • 1 – these are medics at the entry level and may be of ranks Private through Corporal (E-1 to E-4).
  • 2 – this is a medic who has the rank of a Sergeant (E-5).
  • 3 – this is a medic who has a rank of Staff Sergeant (E-6).
  • 4 – this is a medic who has a rank of Sergeant First Class (E-7).
  • 5 – this is a medic with a rank of Master Sergeant (E-8) or Sergeant Major (E-9).

There are other skill identifiers awarded to combat medics when they get additional training in a specialty.

This will also affect some duties they may be assigned to in the U.S. Army. For instance, F2 is an identifier for an Army Critical Care Flight Paramedic while the F3 is an Army Flight Medic.

There are many functions that a combat medic performs in the United States Army when it comes to soldiers’ Healthcare. Some of them are:

  • Providing emergency treatment to wounded soldiers.
  • Providing initial stabilizing treatment.
  • Evacuating soldiers from the battlefield.
  • Administering medicines to patients.
  • Keeping health records and clinical files updated.
  • Provide preventive medicine to soldiers.

There are more duties that a combat medic is expected to perform in the battlefield. Another important duty is to train Combat Lifesavers.

In many cases, a combat medic may be unavailable at the time a soldier gets injured.

How does a wounded soldier get first aid treatment that may be critical to their survival?

This is where a Combat Lifesaver comes in. A combat lifesaver is not as qualified or effective as a combat medic. But it may be the best option for a wounded soldier.

Therefore, one of a combat medic’s duties is to train some non-medic soldiers on how to provide emergency healthcare.

A combat lifesaver should be able to provide emergency care in case of severe bleeding, blast injury, amputation, simple airway management, penetrating chest injuries, etc.

They should also be able to evacuate wounded soldiers to safety.

Soldiers undergoing training have to go through the combat lifesaver (CLS) course.

Furthermore, they have to write the exam and pass. Entry training soldiers who fail the course will have to retake the exam until they pass.

The combat lifesaver training improves the survival rates of many soldiers on the battlefield at times when a combat medic might not be immediately available.

A fellow soldier could provide the immediate treatment needed and get the wounded soldier evacuated to where a combat medic will attend to them.

For professionals who want to become Army medics, they’ll first have to undergo basic combat training as most soldiers do.

After this, the Army’s combat medics get their advanced individual training (AIT) at the Army Medical Department Center & School.

The training usually lasts for 16 weeks.

But it can extend beyond this for medics who want to train for additional skills.

This training will include lectures and practical field exercises to give medics an experience close to what they’ll get on a battlefield.

To identify combat medics, there are 2 badges which are:

  • Combat Medical Badge (CMB)
  • Expert Field Medical Badge (EFMB)

For combat medics to qualify for the expert field medical badge, they’ll have to undergo 2-week long tests to show their field medical skills.

With the new medical education and training campus, the U.S. Department of Defense moved the training for Air Force and Navy’s combat medics to Fort Sam Houston of Joint Base San Antonio.

Even though the Air Force and Navy medics will have training related to their military branches, a lot of their training will be the same among the 3 military branches.


The Navy Medical Service Corps was created on August 4, 1947.

A hospital corpsman is a medical professional who serves in the United States Navy.

This professional can also serve in the United States Marine Corps.

Hospital Corpsmen are deployed in Naval hospitals and clinics, ships, and provide medical care to sailors while a ship is underway.

Added to that, they also provide medical care to marine units that are on extended deployment.

Apart from these, hospital corpsmen also assist in preventing and treating diseases and injuries.

They also serve as assistants to professionals to provide medical care to sailors and their families.

Other functions they perform is to serve as clinical technicians, health care providers, and medical administrative personnel at medical treatment facilities.

Added to this, they provide emergency medical treatment to the Marine Corps on the battlefield.

Apart from their regular duties, a hospital corpsman can decide to further specialize. A corpsman can go through additional training to become a Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsman (SARC).

This corpsman goes through further combat training like open/closed circuit scuba diving, swimming, military free-fall, diving, and amphibious operations.

They can serve as radio operator, point man, sharp shooter, or the team leader in the Marine recon teams.

Some corpsmen specialize in aspects of working with the United States Marine Corps operating forces. These people have to go through training before they can be designated as fleet marine force warfare specialist.

This is an important designation that most corpsmen aim to receive.

For instance, the enlisted fleet marine warfare designation is the only US Navy warfare device awarded solely by a U.S. Marine Corps general officer.

The Navy also trains its physician assistants from the ranks of qualified E-5 corpsmen.

These corpsmen used to be trained at the Naval School of Health Sciences in Portsmouth, VA.

Currently, the Interservice Physician Assistant Program (IPAP) is done with a university affiliation of the University Of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC).

This training is done in two phases with the first phase taking place at the Graduate School and Academy of Health Sciences in Sam Houston, Texas.

The second phase takes place at different medical facilities and specialties.

Corpsmen who complete this training become officers in the Medical Service Corps (MSC) and they’re also promoted to the lieutenant junior grade rank.

With the several areas of deployment of the hospital corpsman in domestic, foreign, and shipboard duty stations, and United States Marine Corps, they have about 25,000 active duty and reserve members.

This makes the hospital corpsman the largest occupational rating in the United States Navy.

The Naval Hospital Corps Schools in Great Lakes, Illinois and San Diego used to be the training centers for hospital corpsman.

However, this changed in 2011 as the Base Realignment and Closure Bill moved the Hospital Corps School to the Medical Education and Training Campus (METC) at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas.

A hospital corpsman will begin their training at Basic Medical Technician Corpsman Program (BMTCP).


The units of the Air Force Pararescue are the Air Combat Command (ACC) and Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). These are responsible for medical treatment and recovery of Air Force personnel in combat and humanitarian environments.

Apart from Air Force operations, they’ve also supported NASA operations with tasks like recovering astronauts after water landings. Pararescuemen are also known as PJs.

The U.S. Air Force Pararescue was founded in March 1946. But before this, there were events that brought it to reality. Initially, in World War II, there was no need for air rescue as the United States got involved in strategic bombing later in the war.

One of the major steps towards creating the Pararescue unit was made by Canadian fighter ace Wop May.

Canada entered the World War II in 1939 and May was in charge of training operations and in command at the No 2 Air Observer School in Edmonton, Alberta.

Many bombers like B-25 Mitchell, B-26 Marauder, and A-20 Boston made stops at Alberta before they flew to the Soviet Union during the war. He noticed that whenever there was a crash due to navigational or mechanical issues, many crew members survive initially.

However, due to no rescue, they ended up dying in the bush. Most times, these are locations far from where people could provide help to these soldiers.

May’s school supplied aircraft to engage in a search for these crashed planes. But the crew members were usually dead by the time the plane was found. The most reasonable option to save crew members on time is air rescue.

To solve this problem, May called for volunteers in 1942. About 12 of his civilian servicing crew decided to join the team.

Initially, their operations were unsuccessful as there was no sound strategy and there was little training on how the rescue would go. However, in 1943, there was a breakthrough.

May sent 2 of his volunteers, Scotty Thompson and Owen Hargreaves, to be trained by the U.S. Forest Service at the smokejumpers school in Missoula, Montana.

They brought steerable equipment with them after 6 weeks of training to train other 2 volunteers, Wilfred Rivet and Laurie Poulsom.

After a period of time, they began to make operational jumps.

This led to the official Pararescue training program. In 1947, the United States Air Force awarded May a Medal of Freedom with Bronze Palm for his incredible work.

In most cases when there’s a crash, wounded soldiers are isolated in places far from civilization.

Even when soldiers survive their crash initially, they end up dead without human contact and in hostile terrains. This is why the Pararescue is a vital unit of the United States Air Force.

The Pararescue first found great success in the China Burma India Theater. Unlike the European or Pacific Theater, this was a large area which wasn’t held tight by the enemy and where troops can survive for a period of time.

The common route was between India and China where cargo flights had to cross the Himalayas daily with war supplies.

Not all of these flights get to their destinations due to weather, mechanical problems, and other issues. During these accidents, some planes have to crash land.

But even after that, they have to suffer for weeks in areas without human contact.

They also have to endure little food and harsh weather while carrying injuries sustained from the crash. This led to the death of many soldiers.

The first organized air rescue unit in this theater was led by Capt. John L. “Blackie” Porter. He led the rescue with two C-47 aircraft and rescued 20 people from a crashed C-46 aircraft.

After World War II, the Air Force created the Air Rescue Service (ARS) on May 29, 1946.

The aim of the service was to save the lives of aircrew members who are involved in aircraft accidents, crash landings, disasters, and other possible risks to their lives.

In 1947, there was the formal creation of Air Force Pararescue.

To become a Pararescueman is a difficult thing to achieve to put it simply. It’s so difficult to achieve that most people fail to achieve it.

This is the reason why PJ training is known informally as the “Superman school.”

First of all, it will take you almost 2 years to complete the training. This is one of the longest special operations training courses in the world.

This training also has one of the highest attrition rates in the United States special operations as 80% of people who go through this training fail to complete it.

Some of the stages a trainee has to go through are the Pararescue Indoctrination Course at Lackland AFB, Combat Dive School, Army Airborne, and National Registry for Paramedic, Survival (SERE), and Military Free-fall Parachutist.

After completing these, the trainee will complete the Pararescue Apprentice Course where they can implement the previous training and add more skills. A Pararescue is assigned to a Rescue or Special Tactics team at the end of their training.


After a period of time, a combat medic may retire from the United States Army.

Even after retirement, a combat medic still has various opportunities to practice in the medical field.

Some career options available to a combat medic after their discharge from the Army are:

  • Emergency medical technician (EMT)
  • Licensed practical nurse
  • Registered nurse
  • Physician assistant

However, it should be noted that a combat medic may have to undergo further training to be qualified to provide medical care to civilians.

The mode of treatments may be totally different as these are two different situations.

Likewise, an average civilian patient is not as fit as a soldier. This also affects how medical professionals provide treatments.

Any combat medic ready to learn and adapt to civilian medical practices will still find many opportunities to build another career.


The combat medic provides emergency care and other forms of treatments to wounded soldiers.

Depending on the military branch, there are some variations in how they approach their duties.

However, one common theme between combat medics in all military branches is that they provide medical care on time to soldiers that would have died otherwise.

Combat Medics in Different Military Branches

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