A military medic is a medically-trained combat soldier responsible for providing first aid and trauma care on the battlefield, as well as supervising other medically-trained troops and conducting evacuations. In the US armed forces, a military medic actually has a dual set of responsibilities, one oriented toward peacetime and the other toward combat. In peacetime, the military medic will assist in attending to the healthcare needs of the military community, including troops, their dependents, and authorized civilians. In combat and in military training situations, a military medic travels with units as small as a platoon &emdash; generally from 12 to 40 people &emdash; and is responsible for rendering first aid whenever necessary.
Military medics are also responsible for the ongoing care of their unit's battleground injuries and diseases in the absence of a medical doctor, and will routinely change dressings on wounds, administer medications and provide other essential care. In peacetime, military medics serve variously in clinics, hospitals, and other medical facilities, as emergency medical technicians (EMTs), or as trainers for other medics. When not serving in some medical capacity, military medics are usually training, either refreshing or updating their skills or learning new skills.
Military medics are protected by the rules of war from hostile action: the Geneva Convention classifies the deliberate killing of a medic wearing the proper insignia as a war crime. In conventional battle situations, medics frequently are armed, but only with a sidearm for their own protection and the protection of those under their care. Carrying shoulder weapons, or any other “offensive” weaponry, eliminates the protection against hostile action. However, as warfare evolves in the 21st century, some combatant groups do not honor the Geneva Convention and specifically target medical personnel. As a result, some medics from NATO countries carry offensive weapons and don't wear identifying insignia.
It was in Napoleon's army, near the end of the 18th century, that medical units were first formally organized to provide medical care to wounded and diseased soldiers in field hospitals close by the front lines, and also by specially-trained personnel who accompanied combat units in all their maneuvers. The Union Army in the American Civil War recognized a need for a system of medical treatment and evacuation of the wounded, but it wasn't until 1917 that the US established the Army Ambulance Service and the Sanitary Corps as temporary units. The US Army Medical Service Corps was established in 1947. It was these units, and their counterparts in the other services such as the Navy and Air Force, that trained and equipped military medical service personnel.
The training and equipment of an American military medic is comparable with the very best available to the most advanced civilian paramedical personnel. During the Vietnam War, for instance, American soldiers wounded in combat had a greater chance of survival than civilians injured in auto accidents in California. American military medics are initially trained as emergency medical technicians and then receive extensive training both in broad topics of medical care under combat conditions, as well as in areas specific to the special units and missions of the US military. Military medics can be qualified in such diverse fields as flight medic, occupational therapy, optometry, cardiovascular care, and orthopedic care.