An eight-year process to transform the training and skills of Army combat medics culminated last year as all members of the old 91B Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) became qualified as 68W Healthcare Specialists. A group of past and present leaders of Army Medicine gathered March 9, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, to celebrate this event.

Command Sgt. Maj. Althea Dixon, the top enlisted Soldier for U.S. Army Medical Command, noted the anniversary this month of the Hospital Corps, the original organization for enlisted medical personnel in the Army, which was established March 1, 1887. She briefly described conditions for those early medics, then added, "today the Army has a superior, trained, capable and credentialed combat medic."

68W medics all qualify as emergency medical technicians. They are trained in advanced airway skills, hemorrhage control techniques, shock management and evacuation.

All Soldiers in the new MOS must re-certify their skills every two years, and must earn 72 hours of continuing education credits during those two years.

"The essence of our professionalism and our ethos is embodied in our combat medics," commented Lt. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, surgeon general of the Army and commander of Medical Command.

"The stories told by our wounded about the heroism of medics bring tears to our eyes and lumps to our throats," he added.

Keynote speaker for the event was retired Lt. Gen. James B. Peake, former Army surgeon general and former Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"When you see a Soldier without a leg, and with an external fixator on his other leg, and he says, 'I was lucky that day because I was with my medic in my vehicle, that's why I'm here,' ... that's what it boils down to," Peake said.

Peake began the process that led to the 68W MOS when he commanded the Army Medical Department Center and School. He discussed the process of improving training, adding simulation technology and re-engineering the second-largest MOS in the Army.

"This was an opportunity to take medical care much farther forward than we had been able to before, with a higher level of technical enablement and skill," Peake said.

Peake added that the process of improving training continues.

"It is made better by continually listening to Soldiers, continually shaping the way that training is done," he said. "When you talk to those who have earned the Silver Star or the Distinguished Service Cross, and we've had those in medics, they say, 'I was just doing my job. I was just doing what I was trained to do,'" he said.

Following the remarks, Soldiers of the 232nd Medical Battalion staged a brief demonstration of the 68W's advanced ability to save lives on the battlefield.

Two groups of Soldiers portrayed a modern squad and one from the 91B era, both treating a thigh wound. While the 91B medic went through a series of procedures to attempt to stop bleeding and then administer an intravenous fluid, the 68W quickly applied a Combat Application Tourniquet and prepared the casualty for evacuation by a Stryker armored ambulance.

The 68W medic's patient was well on his way to advanced care at a combat support hospital before the 91B began to carry his patient off the battlefield to a waiting unarmored vehicle.

"This goes much further than an MOS redesignation, it is truly re-engineering the combat medic," commented Master Sgt. James Kinser during the narration of the demonstration.