War Medics Through History

It used to be that if a soldier was wounded, he laid in the field where he had fallen without hope of being rescued. In 1862, Dr. Jonathan Letterman changed this by revamping the Army Medical Corps. He staffed and trained men to operate horse and wagon teams to pick up wounded soldiers and bring them back to field dressing stations for treatment. Considered the father of Modern Battlefield Medicine, Dr. Letterman created a 3-tiered evacuation system, which is still used today. The initial step is the Field Dressing Station, located next to the battlefield. Following this is the Field Hospital, otherwise known as MASH units, and finally the Large Hospital, for patients requiring prolonged treatment.

During World War I, millions of casualties had to be tended to, but the war could not stop to treat the wounded. The medics had to rush with the troops to find the wounded, stop their bleeding, and bring the soldiers to an aid station. Medics, at this time, were no longer expendable and were incredibly well trained. Training had become a priority medical care and medics. They had to learn how to be protected in the battlefield for themselves and their patients.

World War II had an 85% survival rate for a wounded soldier if they were treated within the first hour, which was three times higher than in World War I. Unfortunately, the medic’s red cross on their helmet became a direct target for snipers during WWII and the Korean War. The Korean War introduced helicopters, used for medics to bring soldiers from the front lines to the aid stations.

During Vietnam, the medic’s primary responsibility was to evacuate the wounded for treatment. Medics would continue to treat onboard helicopters while in route to the Large Hospitals. There was a 98% survival rate for soldiers who were evacuated within the first hour. The red cross was no longer worn as an emblem on the Medic’s helmets and they were now able to carry grenades and weaponry into the battlefield.

Today, there are several techniques for treating wounded soldiers in the battlefield. Doctors in the Air Force are now treating severely wounded soldiers with acupuncture, which is unconventional but cost effective. This is occurring en route from the battlefield for soldiers with brain injuries, severed limbs, burns and penetrating wounds. This method was invented in 2001 and now hundreds of military doctors are utilizing battlefield acupuncture.

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