An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Feature Stories

NEWS | March 5, 2020

Medics train on bringing everyone home

By Story by Sgt. 1st Class SHAIYLA HAKEEM Area Support Group - Jordan

Someday you’ll be alone, way out there in a combat zone
Bullets flying all around, keep your head close to the ground
Don’t you worry about being alone,
Medics will bring you home!

This marching cadence emphasizes the grave responsibility medical personnel embody in the military. When sick or injured, there is no better site to see than the face of a combat medic. Medics take care of Soldiers on and off the battlefield, for routine and emergency services. They are a squad of close-knit guardians who selflessly serve all who are in need. The word “squad” is not limited to specifically assigned Soldiers, but encompasses the Army family, its sections, troops and battle buddies.

U.S. Army Maj. Michael Summitt, with 38th Infantry Division, Task Force Spartan, Indiana National Guard, serves as the medical provider and officer in charge at Joint Training Center-Jordan’s (JTC-J) Troop Medical Clinic. He has served a total of 33 years in the military, 22 of which were as an enlisted combat medic. In the civilian sector, he works in the radiation oncology department at a Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Indianapolis, Ind., so he is no stranger to the medical profession. Summitt expressed the importance for his enlisted medics to be his “eyes and ears” with patients, explaining that medical personnel are never a finished product and there is always room for improvements.

“A minor oversight or misstep can have tragic consequences for a patient,” said Summitt, “The more eyes on a medical situation, the better the outcome will likely be.”

Medical personnel need to practice and rehearse just as any other military occupational specialty in the Army. Soldiers must be ready and capable to conduct the full range of military operations, regardless of the threats they pose. To facilitate this, JTC-J held a Mass Casualty (MASCAL) Exercise where notionally injured Soldiers were moulaged, meaning adorned with artificial wounds and blood. This embellishment helped substantiality with the realism of the injuries and made for more in-depth level of training.

“Without moulage, the simulated ‘patient’ would have to [verbally] describe their injuries, which takes away a significant degree of realism, thereby reducing the impact of the training,” said Summitt.

One Soldier who significantly benefited from the MASCAL exercise was U.S. Army Pfc. Awnna Donahue, a combat medic with 1st Squadron, 303rd Cavalry Regiment, 96th Troop Command, Washington Army National Guard. She has been in the military for three years and said she consistently looks to her leadership for education opportunities and guidance.

“Without strong leadership, we can’t be a strong team and then our team would be useless or ineffective, so I rely on them [my leaders] to show me the ropes and help me with things that I don’t understand,” explained Donahue, “I personally worked with Maj. Summitt and he showed me a lot of new techniques that were very helpful and effective ways to deal with patients while under a lot of stress.”

Combat medics are an essential component to the military force, but they can only work on one individual at a time, treating the most severe first. If there are multiple casualties, or the medic is injured, combat lifesavers are instrumental in potentially saving lives. They are trained to provide immediate care categorized as care under fire, tactical field care and tactical evacuation.

“Combat Lifesavers are, usually, among the first to encounter a casualty at the scene of the injury,” said Summitt.

According to the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School Department of Combat Medic Training, approximately 90 percent of combat deaths occur on the battlefield before the casualties reach a medical treatment facility. It has been estimated that proper use of self-aid, buddy-aid and combat lifesaver skills can reduce battlefield deaths by 15 to 18 percent.

“MASCAL exercises help keep everyone fresh on the procedures and policies...everyone from buddy-aid and combat lifesavers to the medical providers,” explained Summitt, “It also allows the medical personnel to locate our weaknesses and to better improve on our procedures.”

The role of military medics has metamorphosed over the past couple centuries. The late Dr. Jonathan Letterman, a surgeon and U.S. Army Maj. during the Civil War, has been coined as the, “Father of Modern Battlefield Medicine.” He was said to have instituted means to retrieve injured soldiers, through stretchers bearers and wagon operations, and established the concept of triage treatment for casualties. He is buried at Arlington Cemetery, with his headstone stating it remembers and honors the man, “…who brought order and efficiency into the Medical Service and who was the originator of modern methods of medical organization in armies.”

Military medics have deep-seated roots in the act of selfless service and taking care of troops. During WWII and the Korean War, the red cross adorned on their protective helmets to identify them as medical personnel were used as targets by enemy snipers. Nevertheless, this did not stop the medics from tending to injured Soldiers.

Through lessons learned, the military adapted and started to use everyone for medical aid, not just limiting life-saving techniques to combat medics. The MACSAL exercise at JTC-J not only helped train medics and combat lifesavers, but all military personal on base.

According to Summitt, MASCALs, by nature, can be chaotic, noisy and confusing. During the exercise, nonmedical personnel were able to practice administering buddy-aid to injured Soldiers in their proximity and help with transporting the moulaged patients to the TMC. Once there, the medical providers were able to properly assess and treat the Soldiers according to severity of injury. The medical team worked seamlessly side-by-side to treat and prepare the notional patients for medical evacuations.

“When we do have a medical crisis, it is important that our staff know their jobs and the jobs of others so they can fill in as needed,” explained Summitt, “In medicine, especially trauma or critical situations, hesitation can kill!”

We still have the greatest Army in the world. We are hard on ourselves and there will always be things to improve upon, but make no mistake, we have the greatest Army. We serve the people of the United States and we are going to protect them with our lives if that is what it comes to.

“We are constantly on duty, ready to respond to any medical situation at any time,” said Summitt, “I am proud that the current team members take their job as a medic very seriously; are eager to learn, and to continue training to be the best medics possible.”