War Medics


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I received an e-mail from Richard Vargas who works for a production company in the UK.  The production company was asked by the Discovery Learning Channel to look into the possibility of making a documentary on War Medics.  Richard asked the following questions and these were my responses to his questions.


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Enlistment: I enlisted in the United States Army for three years to be a Combat Medic.


Training: I received 8 weeks basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky where in my company, I met a Canadian citizen who had also enlisted in the U.S. Army to be a combat medic. Upon our completion of basic training we were assigned to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas for 10 weeks training to become medics. The training consisted of:

  • Basic health care and hygiene for self and others
  • We learned how to give shots (practiced on each other using saline)
  • Drawing blood (practiced on each other)
  • Starting IVs (practiced on each other)
  • Use of Splints for broken bones
  • Treatment of gunshot wounds
  • Treatment for Amputations
  • Head wounds
  • Shock
  • Burns
  • Shoulder dislocations
  • C.P.R
  • Tracheotomy
  • VD
  • Seizures
  • Field training in stretcher usage, correct procedures for moving and carrying patients, techniques for approaching and treating patients under combat situations, Setting up different types of tents, Air medevac (this training may have been completed in Vietnam)
  • Training films were heavily used during the training process. I believe they had a film on all the above listed subjects.
  • Most of the training was geared toward combat situations, however some general medical training was included for hospital duty such as making beds, bed pans, setting up and giving catheters and enemas to patients. I am sure there were a lot of other topics, which I do not recall today.


Injuries/Wounds: Everyday types of injuries would include small cuts, blisters, insect bites, staph infections from jungle rot, ringworm, leeches and occasional burns. The treatment would vary according to the wound. Without exception, every wound would be cleaned using phisohex (liquid soap) and the patient's water (water was a precious commodity with everyone carrying their own water for personal usage.) Staph infections from jungle rot were very hard to treat. There was a purple fungicidal solution that we made to soak the injury. We also used a fungicidal pill in addition to tetracycline. I do recall giving tetracycline in larger dosages than would normally would be given. We treated in prescribed overdoses in the jungle (under a doctor’s order) and it seemed to work very well. We would give compazine an hour before we gave the overdose to prevent the patient's throwing up.

I was lucky compared to most medics. I was assigned to an aviation unit in Tay Ninh prior to going to the field. The on-the-job training I received in Tay Ninh taught me how to quickly diagnose and treat many injuries and illnesses. Our doctor from the 229th Aviation unit sent us to the field hospital in Tay Ninh to learn suturing from a surgeon.

In combat I treated many different types of wounds. The two basic types of wounds were multiple fragmentation wounds and gunshot wounds. I can't say with any certainty which type of wound was more frequent. Most of the wounds were center mass (chest, shoulders and arms - I only treated one stomach wound.). The treatment for these types of wounds was taught at Fort Sam Houston, however instead of using plastic for treating sucking chest wounds, we used petroleum jelly gauze in Vietnam (plastic or petroleum jelly gauze would prevent air from entering the chest cavity). Basically the medic's job was to keep the solder alive until a doctor could see him. The treatment would include putting on a field dressing and treating him for shock. If there was extensive bleeding, we attempted to stop it by using a tourniquet or a clamp if the artery could be seen. An IV was started on the most serious patients (each medic carried one IV kit and there were 4 to 5 medics to a company - if you were lucky). If additional IV's were needed, they would be sent out with the ammo resupply and hopefully they would not break when they were thrown from the chopper. If a patient died, we would begin CPR and if he failed to respond, we would give a shot of epinephrine to the heart and begin CPR again. We would try to medevac the wounded out as soon as possible. Most of the time the wounded were taken out quickly, however there were times due to inclement weather or the firefight intensity, that the evacuations would take hours (these situations were few and far between, however, they did happen).


Medical Evacuations: The medevac choppers would take the wounded to the nearest field hospital for emergency treatment. I never knew what happened to the men who were seriously injured. The men who were slightly wounded returned to our unit usually within 4 to 6 weeks. I remember one time they sent one trooper back that had his right index finger shot off. I remember telling him when I initially treated him that he had a ticket home. I guess I was wrong and he wanted me to over-ride the Captain (doctor) who sent him back. I could only shake my head and walked away. I never told any other wounded soldier that he had a ticket back home again.

You may want to check out the United States Medical Training Center at Fort Sam Houston Texas. They should be able to give you some information on the training films used at Fort Sam during that time period and possibly provide a training schedule. Good luck and if you need any other information ...just ask.


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