It takes a lot for a medic to become ‘doc’

Herald/Amanda Kim Stairrett - Sgt. Jeremy Varnell, top left, and Spc. Brian Quintana, right, teach Pvt. Joseph Cofta how to play the card game 13 Thursday next to the medics’ vehicle at Trapnell Multi-Use Range as tank crews conducted gunnery. Varnell and Cofta are combat medics and Quintana is a tank mechanic. The three are called to action when something bad happens: a tank breaks down or someone gets hurt.

By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Killeen Daily Herald

FORT HOOD - Not just any combat medic is a "doc."

The relationship between medics and the line units in which they serve is a special one - and critical. Respect is key and it isn't given automatically.

There are a several places medics can be placed in the Army, so they get a broad base of knowledge during Advanced Individual Training, Sgt. Vince Sharp, a combat medic and treatment noncommissioned officer in the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, said Thursday. It is up to the noncommissioned officers of the units in which they arrive to teach them about the specifics of their jobs.

For the senior combat medics, this means field time this month is not just valuable to the tankers and infantrymen, but also their new medics.

The battalion has 44 medics, including a physician's assistant, platoon sergeant and platoon leader. Eight of those 44 recently arrived to Fort Hood from Advanced Individual Training.

All of the medics are part of the battalion's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, but are pushed out to line units with which they'll serve.

Building trust

The senior line medics will show the new soldiers what to do when there are casualties on the battlefield and how to evacuate them, said Staff Sgt. Scott Pitchford, the medical platoon's senior noncommissioned officer.

One of the keys for the new medics, especially with field problems like the battalion's gunnery, is exposure, said 2nd Lt. John Krukar. The new medics must instill confidence and trust in the soldiers for whose care they'll be responsible. Their training will progress as the tankers' and infantrymen's does, too.

When situational training exercises begin in November, medics will be integrated into units even more, Krukar said.

Trust plays a bigger role than one might realize, Sharp said. It's a problem if soldiers question whether their medics can help them when they need it most. They have to have the utmost trust in their medics and that isn't inherent in the role. Medics have to work for that trust before they get that "doc" nickname, Sharp said.

If soldiers trust their medics, they perform better on the battlefield, said Sgt. Jason Hinrichs, a combat medic in Headquarters and Headquarters Company who has deployed twice to Iraq.

Soldiers' trust and confidence come from not only observing their medics, but watching their interactions in the unit. They watch mannerisms and first impressions are important, Hinrichs said.

It isn't complicated, either, he added. Medics aren't expected to help with everyday tasks unrelated to their jobs around the motor pool, but if they chip in, it makes a good impression.

Team players

Sgt. Jeremy Varnell, a combat medic attached to Charlie Company, said the same thing later Thursday afternoon at Trapnell Multi-Use Range.

Medics should jump in and help without asking questions, he said. It shows that they can be team players, he added.

The simple things can hurt that relationship, too. Trust begins to fade when medics have poor hygiene or can't quickly administer an IV, Hinrichs said.

Medics rely on the soldiers they care for, so it's a mutual relationship, Varnell said.

When trust and confidence are there, the camaraderie that develops is just as strong as that between combat arms soldiers.

Varnell has deployed twice to Iraq with the battalion and said he still talks to some of the guys with whom he used to serve.

Varnell said it can be hard knowing he may be called upon to save his friends' lives. He has. He's seen friends get injured and killed, but knows it is part of the job.

Friends or not, Varnell doesn't like to see anyone get injured - it's just added pressure when it's a friend.

"You just got to block out (that) it's your friend and treat the life," Varnell said.

Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at or (254) 501-7547. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary or

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