What is a Combat Medic?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2018
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A combat medic is someone who is a member of an armed military force, but focuses on serving within the military in a medical function rather than a solely combative function. Sometimes referred to simply as a “medic,” a combat medic ensures the health and well-being of soldiers and officers serving in the military. Their duties can include emergency medical and trauma care as well as regular health services to ensure the fitness of the other soldiers. This allows the officers and soldiers of a military to focus on combat and winning battles, rather than worrying about regular medical care.

Prior to the late 1700s, wounded soldiers in a battle would typically be left lying on the battlefield or, if lucky, carried to the back lines by other soldiers. Dominique Jean Larrey, a surgeon, recommended that Napoleon’s army begin using a number of soldiers who were specially trained to act as combat medics during battle. Larrey and the military of Napoleon also developed field hospitals that could be transported and setup to allow medical attention to be given at the location of battle more quickly and efficiently.


During the American Civil War, a surgeon named Jonathan Letterman also realized a similar need for facilities, equipment, and training to allow a combat medic to treat the injuries and afflictions of wounded soldiers more easily and thoroughly. His efforts, and those of others like him, led to the establishment of military divisions and support for soldiers who wished to become combat medics. Since that time, the medic has become a respected and important part of most military organizations, usually trusted with the health and lives of the men and women in a military unit.

The training and equipment given to a combat medic often allow him or her to perform emergency medical procedures, usually involving extreme physical trauma, during the chaos and clamor of battle. One study found that the mortality rates of soldiers in need of emergency medical treatment during the Vietnam War was lower than for people severely injured in automobile accidents in the American state of California. The training and preparedness of a combat medic make these kinds of military survival rates possible.

According to the Geneva Conventions, a group of rules to be followed by member nations even when engaged in wartime activities, a combat medic is not to be fired upon while performing his or her duties even in a combat region. To indicate that a soldier is a combat medic, he or she usually wears an armband or other signifier with a red cross, a red crescent, or a red crystal on a white field. Modern warfare, however, has often involved combatants who do not recognize the Geneva Conventions, and so many combat medics are armed to protect themselves and those they are trying to help.



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