ARMY SPECIAL FORCES MEDICAL SPECIALIST,VERY EFFICIENT AIRBORNE COMBAT SOLDIER BUT HIGHLY TRAINED IN SAVING LIVES. "THE USSF
MEDIC IS THE ONLY MEDIC IN THE WORLD, LISTED WITHIN THE GENEVA CONVENTION AS COMBATANT.
WE WERE COMBAT SOLDIERS FIRST AND MEDICS SECOND!"
Thanks to Aaron Gritzmaker, Medic A-100, A-104 & A-107
of USSF Medics:
The SF "Doc" was trained to function as the local
Medic capable of patching up and evacuating the wounded, as a
surgeon, a dentist, a laboratory technician, a veterinarian
and a camp sanitation supervisor. All those tasks were mainly
conducted in a field environment and outside medical support.
Most USSF Medics served with A Team normally located in
isolated areas and were in charge of the local Civic Actions
as well as Medical care to the nearby villages and the A-Camp
The SF Medic also assume the role of a highly trained Airborne
combat soldier, able to use the radio, fire all the weapons,
call in an air strike or medevac and lead a patrol or an
In a few words, they
had to be able to do it all!
For this, the SF Medic was not only trained as a Medic, but
also cross-trained in at least two other skills.
Medical Specialist Training: Before he was allowed to attend his Special Forces Medical
training, he would have to go through Basic Training, Jump
School and pass the SF training test!
Once assigned to the SF training detachment, his SF Medical
training would consist of 32 to 36 weeks. This comprised of an
initial classroom training
course, an advanced one at Fort Sam, the OJT (On Job Training
at Military Hospital like the "Ireland" Hospital at
Fort Knox), then back to Bragg for more classroom work.
The final phase of medical training was the "Dog
Lab" and the "Oral Board", which the students
feared more than going to Nam. The three classroom
phases covered a lot of the same ground only in greater and
greater detail. After that they went through an E&E
(Escape and Evasion course) for 10 days to two weeks with the
graduates of all the other SF training courses. They then
graduated and were assignment to a Group.
Forces Medical training was taught by senior SF Medics and
regular Medical Staff (doctors, nurses, Medics, lab techs,
etc). They learnt how to do surgical procedures (minor
surgery, reset compound fractures, and treat gunshot wounds),
fill teeth, prescribe drugs, diagnose diseases, analyse blood
and do other laboratory procedures and even treat tropical
diseases and animals. They spent ten weeks on-the-job training
in an army hospital, rotating through each section to gain
hands-on experience. Officially two weeks of this was in the
Emergency Room and would prove the most important phase of
their training in the months to come. Especially important
here was the amount of suturing and minor surgery they had to
do. Unofficially, the SF students spent most of their times
and weekends in ER due to their enthusiasms, (sometime to the
displeasure of ER supervisor, as the regulars medics were not
getting the experience)!
The hospital training was followed by
another stint at Fort Bragg known as "dog lab". In
this, each medic was issued a dog to serve as a patient.
Though they used anaesthetic for pain, they were not generally
allowed to use any medication. Instead, they had to use
debriding and natural wound healing. (In some cases the use of
antibiotics were permitted to learn their management)
Then, when deployed, the SF Medic had to be
ready to function as an instructor to teach his recruited CIDG
medics (from the local population), the skills necessary to
Beyond the medical training and the
required Airborne School, they received training in jungle
warfare, demolition, weapons, psychological warfare and even a
would like to thanks SGT Harlow Short Medic (A-5O2/CIDG
hospital at Bien Hoa 1969/70) , for helping in my
research on the training of SF Medics.
Aug 1969, Medic graduation course
The training course was 32 weeks divided into sections:
I) Special Forces Basic Aidman's Course-
conducted at Ft.Bragg,NC
8 weeks Program for the Special Forces Basic Aidman Course (MOS
General Subjects 14
Anatomy and physiology 27
Common medical diseases 22
Medical techniques 30
Management of emergency conditions 47
Nursing techniques 54
Preventive medicine 25
Transportation/care of sick & wounded 22
TOTAL 295 hours
II) 300 F-1 Course (MOS 91B)-
conducted at Ft.Sam Houston, TX
10 weeks Program for Special Forces Aidman's Course (MOS 91B):
Dental: Dental first aid 10
Dept. of Medicine & Surgery:
Orientation subjects 3
Basic Science subjects 26
Medical Conditions 64
Surgical Conditions 25
Medical & Surgical Nursing Care 74
Examination, Discussion, Review 27
Aeromedical evacuation 2
Basic Combat Psychiatry 9
Military preventive medicine 55
Pathology & Laboratory Science:
Clinical Laboratory 29
Aspects of Veterinary Preventive 12
Medicine and animal care
III) OJT (On-the-job training)- conducted at
varius army hospitals., TX
Program for OJT:
Emergency Room 40
Dispensary of Outpatient Service 24
General Medicine Service 56
General Surgery Service 56
Orthopedic Service 24
Dental Service 24
IV) AMTS (Advanced Medical Training School)-
conducted at Ft. Bragg,
NC Total of 7 weeks in 2 sections:
a) Advanced Medical Lectures -3 weeks
b) Advanced Surgical Laboratory-4 weeks (this was otherwise known as: Dog Lab)
Program for Advanced Medical Training School:
Patient diagnosis 8
Human diseases 56
Emergency Medical treatment 20
Operating Room Procedures 2
Patient Care 2
Surgical Procedures 94
Laboratory Procedures 20
V) Oral Boards- Final
examination by cadre members
Days in the
life of A-113 Sr Medic, Loyd Little Gia Vuc (Sept 8-2Nov 1965)
Week of Sep. 12, 1965:
Two patrols ambushed this week. Four Hre wounded by
bullets; four Hre wounded by punji stakes; and then our XO Lt.
Brown was wounded by splinters/metal shavings when a bullet
shattered the stock on his carbine, sending dozens of
splinters/some metal pieces into his buttocks. All the
wounded were treated in camp; however, one punji stake
appeared to have done serious damage to nerves in one Hre's
arm, and I sent him to Danang.
19 September 1965:
Typical day in the camp dispensary: One Hre got a punji
stake in the shin on a patrol. Stake hit the shin bone,
glanced sideways and into the calf muscle. 9 stitches.
Another Hre striker caught a bullet about 2 inches above the
elbow. The bullet hit the elbow joint, slid sideways and
came out about 2 inches below the elbow. Cleaned.
About a half-dozen sub-cutaneous stitches, a dozen stitches on
top. 5-6 malaria attacks. 3 acute asthma.
5-6 dysentery. Usual assortment of stomach aches, sore
backs, painful teeth, colds. Sept. 25, 27:
One Hre trooper got mad at himself about something and shot
himself in leg. More damage than I could handle.
Med-evacced out. Two days later, we showed a movie to the Hre.
It was a western, but I don't think a John Wayne western.
Several hours later, gunshots broke out in the Hre area.
We thought it was an attack, but found out that two brothers
(drunk) got into an argument about the fast-draw techniques
they had seen in the movie. They decided to try it with
rifles. They started back to back, walked so many feet,
turned around and open fire on each other. One brother's
bullet caught the other in the elbow, which spun him around.
A second went through his lower back, lopping off part of his
liver as it exited. I operated and did the best I could.
It was 18 hours before a Vietnamese chopper came for him.
I kept him alive until the chopper took off, but he died on
the way to Danang.
Oct.8 1965: Junior medic wounded
It was a recon/medical patrol lead by Sgt. Dominick Tantalo of
Waterloo NY. Sgt. Norman Bircher of Topeka, Kan. (my
junior medic) and Sgt. James Harrison of Baltimore were the
other USSFers on the patrol along with about 15 Hre strikers.
Also along was Gene Basset, a cartoonist who worked for the
Scripps-Howard chain and who was visiting Gia Vuc.
Reconstructed story: The patrol was at its deepest point
and about to turn around. They were on a rocky half-dry
creekbed. Both sides were sheer cliffs covered with
dense jungle vines and scrub. Suddenly a BAR opened up
behind them. Gene turned and saw a line of bullets
kicking a straight line down the column toward him. He
dove behind a rock. A Hre striker in front of him turned
for cover when suddenly his forehead exploded as a tracer
bullet still glowing red tumbled out with about half his
brains. The Hre dropped. The next round hit Bircher.
It went through his left thigh and through his right leg,
missing the bone but doing considerable damage. We
decided the bullet had been cross hatched to make it spread
out. It took a huge portion out of Bircher's right thigh
as it exited. The BAR was so close that Harrison said
they could hear the VC talking. Finally, our boys got
return fire going and the VC quit. Bircher couldn't be
moved. They called camp and for a med evac. Hicks,
Minnicks and myself took off on a forced march and arrived a
few minutes before the choppers. Under covering fire, I
checked Bircher. He already had a shot of morphine in
him (Harry had pinned the needle to his pants leg as we were
instructed) but was asking for a second one. I gave it
to him and pinned my needle beside the other one.
Bircher said that when he went down, he didn't move on
purpose, pretending to be dead. That probably saved his
life. The morphine was doing its job because at one
point Bircher shouted to Minnicks, "Hey Skip, no offense
or anything, but fuck that extension."
The choppers arrived and in as heroic as anything I'd ever
seen dropped straight down this narrow ravine (they had less
than 40 feet of extra clearance on each side of the blades) to
pick up the dead and wounded. They got sniper fire
coming and going but made it out OK.
By the way, about half of the Hre strikers in the patrol had
fled sometime during the firefight.
We got hit twice more on the way back to camp. The first
time, we were crossing a rice paddy when the familiar
ratp-ratp-ratp of a BAR opened up from across the paddy about
300 feet away. We dove behind a two-foot dike at the
edge of the rice paddy. I was lying there trying to hit
the BAR (I could see the flashes) when Gene the cartoonist
suddenly shouted. I thought he was hit. It turned out
that hot rounds from my carbine were scorching his bare back.
Finally, the VC broke off. Gene picked up his sketchpad
and found a bullet had creased the back of it.
About 30 minutes later, Hicks decided to cross a wide creek
(maybe the Song Re) first with a striker behind him. As
soon as they were on the other side, we heard gunfire.
Minnicks shouted across, "Hey captain, are you getting
fired on?" Classic understatement. Hicks
shouted back, "Hell yes, we're getting fired on."
Skip, barechested and big, leapt into the creek, shouting,
"Let's go, men." Gene the cartoonist hit a
deep hole in the creek and flipped head over heels in it. We
joined Hicks and the VC broke off. Returned finally to
(Note: Gene Basset later wrote about this incident and I have
a copy of the article that was in the Washington Daily News.
As soon as I get a scanner, I will scan it in and send it to
24 October 1965:
Delivered a lovely, bouncing baby boy to a Hre woman this
morning in the dispensary. The Hre have the equivalent of midwives
who normally help out at births. Actually, most Hre women will work right up to
the birth of the baby.
Although I never saw it, team members say they've seen babies
born in the rice fields. Woman
squats down and catches the baby in her hands. Anyway,
this particular woman had been in labor about eight or nine
hours before she and her husband (and a handful of other relatives) came to the
dispensary. She was in considerable pain, and the
midwife had finally suggested she come to us. She was a
lovely 18 years old and worried and in a lot of pain.
Our training included births; however, we were also taught to
use pain-killers only as a last resort.
I talked to her, examined her as best I could (the husband
stood there the whole time which meant no internal examination
for that would have seriously offended the Hre), and talked to
her. Gave her water, etc. She was running a slight
fever but everything was normal as near as I could tell.
After 3-4 more hours, I returned to the team house to eat.
And got involved in a pinochle game.
I had my senior Hre medic watching her. He rushed in
several times to get me, but they were false alarms. Another 3-4 hours passed and
my Hre came running in again. I had a great pinochle hand and said I'd be there
in a minute. By the time I got there (about three minutes later), there was a
six-pound baby boy crying between her legs. Everyone was OK. I cut
the cord and then found one reason for the lengthy birth. She was too small. I
had to put in a half-dozen or more stitches. The relatives all crowded in and
congratulated at great length the father who was now cradling the baby. It was their
custom that the father was the one to be slapped on the back and cheered. I
held the mother's hand and told her she did a wonderful job and that her baby was
beautiful. Story and photos thanks to A-113 Sr Medic, Loyd Little Gia Vuc (Sept 8-2 Nov 1965)
PHOTO GALLERY OF ONE LOYD'S MEDCAP
Unidentified Gia Vuc SFer watches as members of a Hre recon
party cross the Song Re river near Gia Vuc, 1965.
Special Forces Medic Sgt. Loyd Little (foreground in camouflage) holds sick
call in a Hre hamlet during a medical patrol from the SF Camp of Gia Vuc in the
summer of 1965. The soldier on the back left is one of the Hre strike force
guards. Many of the Hre women did not wear shirts or blouses, much to the
delight of the young American Special Forces soldiers.
Two Hre strike forces soldiers stand by during a medical
patrol visit to a hamlet from the Special Forces Gia Vuc camp in 1965. Behind
the soldiers on the porch of a hut is a young mother with her five children, all
of whom look to be less than five years old.
A Vietnamese Special Forces medic (counterpart to SFer Loyd Little) wraps a
bandage on the ankle of a Hre man during amedical patrol to one of the villages
around the Gia Vuc Camp in 1965. This particular LLDB medic was described as
"especially well trained" and came to the Gia Vuc SF camp in the fall of 1965
with a glowing report from his previous SF team
Member of a Gia Vuc Hre camp strike force relax as they approach Camp
Gia Vuc after spending the day on a medical patrol to hamlets scattered in the nearby hills. This road was part of an old French
highway that once connected major cities in the highlands. Only bits
and pieces of it survived into the early 1960s when this picture was
taken. I believe that the other side of the highway sign (on the
right) read "19," which would have been the old French Highway #
Picture taken in 1965.
BAC-SI at Gia Vuc, SFC, W. D. Libby, Senior Medic A-725 1963/64
from going on operations as any other Team members, SFC W. D.
Libby had his hands full in providing medical treatment for
the Strike Force and families and 1500 or more Camp
dependants. On days when not on Ops, first thing in the
morning he used to run the camp 3/4 ton truck down the runway
looking for any sign of mines which may have been placed
during the night and then went on to open the dispensary.
Here he used
to greet his 10 village health workers (nurses) dressed
in blue uniforms with a red cross on the sleeve (all provided
by the A-Team) who he was training in basic first Aid and
sanitation. All together, they used to load the truck and then
went out of the camp to conduct their MEDCAP.
Each day they went to the two villages North and South of the
Air landing strip and to the large fortified Strike Force
village about 200 metres outside the main camp perimeter. They
used to give treatment to the sick, extract teeth etc.
Dale was on Ops his Junior Medic assumed the same tasks. While
on MEDCAP their security was undertaken by the village Strike
Force and by the fact that they were in sight of the camp
guards and the hill outposts. They made a point of never being
at the same place at the same time.
When both of them were not on Ops his Junior Medic would be providing the camp Strike
Force sick call at the camp dispensary while Dale went on to
do his MEDCAPs. The dispensary was the only block building inside the camp. It
comprised of three rooms, one was an eight bed ward, one was
the treatment room and the last one was the medical storage
room. Photos and story thanks to
SFC, W. D. Libby, Senior Medic A-725 1963-64
MEDCAP to Leng Tie village on the road
to Bato east of Gia Vuc. This was unusual for us to have five Americans on a MEDCAP, but we
needed some "staybehind" with the vehicles, as the village was a short distance from the road. The village chief had given us some
intelligence information earlier and we were showing our
1LT Bud Brown, the team XO walking back to the truck where I am siting.
Note the 30cal mounted on a gun pedestral on the passenger side. In the other photo you will see a BAR gun on the hood.
James Harrison was the driver and Norm Bircher was riding
the second truck The third guy was not a
member of the A Team. I believe he may have been a civil affairs officer that
was attached to us.
The VC had put a road block on the road from Gia Vuc to Bato. We thought that
they might have put a few grenades under the trunks. So, Harry
Combs, senior demo sergeant who replaced John Baca, used C4 and det
cord around some of the trunks to blow a pass through them. We could tell by the
secondary explosions that the VC had positioned grenades under some of the trunks.
Harry decided that he didn't think there were anymore booby traps so he drove
the truck through the rest of the road block. The rest of us moved away in
case! He was right!
Village children dressed in "Vietnamesse flag" t-shirts for the occasion.
Norm Bircher with his open M5 medic bag, ready to give medical aid to the villagers
Information and photograph
thanks to CSM (Retired) David Klehn SSG A-113(April 65 - November 65) Sr Commo Sgt
Photo of a Gia Vuc CIDG beeing treated in the camp dispensary after having stepped on a booby trap. Photograph
thanks to CSM (Retired) David Klehn SSG A-113
A group of Montagnard
villagers are shown in front of the village dispensary, along with junior RTO
Charles Woodson (right), and an unidentified Australian from the Mike Force in
Danang, who was visiting on a recon for future actions in the Gia Vuc vicinity.
MEDCAP at Gia Vuc Village 1967 Photos courtesy
of Cpt V Carter A-103
Photos showing a local village medcap at Gia Vuc (1) or
(2), I forget which. There were three Gia Vuc villages in proximity to the
A-Camp, as I remember. We had a school, a dispensary, a country store, and some
other miscellaneous tin-metal buildings in the villages from which we would hold
Medic Benjamin Long listens to
interpreter Dinh Nghia describe the girl's symptoms, before
Our jeep (mutt), which we used for
civic action activities in one of the local Montagnard villages where we had a
"country store" where we dispensed cooking oil, soap, etc.
Day-time Medcap patrol:
This is a rather large day-time medcap patrol.
The fact that few if any CIDG are wearing rucksacks indicates a single day,
there-and-back operation. The size of the patrol indicates a patrol of either
some length or to an area of questionable security. The Americans pictured
in this photo are not A-103 team members, but are a team of special medical
researchers from Nha Trang who came to Gia Vuc for pursuing medical research
on Montagnards and from blood samples, trying to determine how they might be
related to other Asian groups migrating into the area hundreds of years
before. Don't ask me why they were here doing this kind of stuff. You can
tell, however, that they weren't regular team members or folks used to going
to the field by: 1) mixed tiger fatigues and regular jungle fatigues; 2)
wearing sunglasses and fatigues with yellow NCO stripes! Excellent ways to
stand out at a long distance and to make a target of one's self. Team
members either wore all tiger uniforms or black pajamas (particularly at
night when dry and warm change of clothes were called for) so that at a
distance and at night it would be very difficult or impossible to tell who
was CIDG and who was SF. These guys gave it all away! Fortunately, they
returned to continue their research elsewhere.
Photo and information thanks to Cpt Virgil Carter, A-103 XO, January 1967 to July
Sgt R.M. Hilgartner senior Medic A1- A-414 at "Phey Srunh"
in the Tuyen Duc province ,
E-mail send by Robert M. Hilgartner jr
"I thought you might like to see these pictures.
these pictures are my Dad, Robert Milton Hilgartner, A SF Medic taken in South
Vietnam sometime in late 1963 or 1964. He was doing TDY trips in and out of
Vietnam from 1962 to 1965.
I wish I could relate some of the stories he told
me about his days there, but they are few and mostly broken stories. He passed
away in March 2000 from Cancer that first took his throat and voice box and then
later attacked his lungs, liver and brain." My Father's illness was
directly attributed to Agent Orange Poisoning / Contamination, after a 5 year
battle, we were able to claim a disability and support from the Veterans
Robert M. Hilgartner jr
Because of the specialrole of the SF medic on operations (ie leader or assistant
leader of patrols etc) most of the conventional medical gear
was not carried. Flexibility and adaptation has always
been the primary concern for them, so the contents of their
"ruck" and choice of medical gear on "Ops"
always reflected their mentality.
SF Medics, were not generally issued kits like regular line
Medics as they controlled and operated out of fully stocked
dispensaries, which included anti-biotics, narcotics, etc. So
any kits that they used were what they made up!
Unlike a regular Medic who had all sorts of supervision, SF
Medics were THE medical authority at the A-team level and at
most other places they worked.
The items shown below are some typical US Army Medical
equipment but were not always the preferred choice of the SF
Medic due to the nature of their missions.
M3 medical bag
Case Medical Instrument and
Supply Set, Non-Rigid, Number 3, know often as "Aid Bag" or "M3
This is an post 1968 version made of rubberized cotton (the earlier type was
made of heavy canvas cotton).
The contents will vary according to the mission but you will often find typical
items like instrument set and field medical cards, dressings/bandages, Vaseline
gauze, aspirin, anti-malaria tablets, antihistamine, salt tablets, ointments,
blood-volume expenders etc.
Minor Surgery Surgical, Instrument Set
On the top
left of the kit are Surgeon Needles, Suture Silk and Surgical Blades, in the
pouch itself you can find scissors, tweezers, and various "clamps".1
x case, Minor Surgery Surgical, Instrument Set, Empty
1 x Forceps, Dressing, Straight
2 x Forceps, Hemostatic, Straight
1 x Holder, Suture Needle
2 x Pkg, Blade Surgical Knife Detachable No10, 6s
2 x Pkg, Blade Surgical Knife Detachable No11, 6s
1 x Handle, Surgical Knife, Detachable
1 x Pkg, Needle, Suture, Surgeon, Regular, 3/8 Circle, Cutting Edge, Size 12, 6s
1 x Pkg, Needle, Suture, Surgeon, Regular, 3/8 Circle, Cutting Edge, Size 16, 6s
1 x Probe,General Operating, 5 in
1 x Scissors, General Surgical, Straight 51/2 in
2 x Pkg, Suture Set, Non absorbable, Surgical Silk,
Braided, 3 sizes
1 x Pkg, Suture Set, Non absorbable, Surgical Silk,
Braided, Size 0, 18 inch, 3s
M5 medical bag
Sorry, but nothing known on the M5 bag.
This example is dated 1987 and was filled with 60/70's Medical stuff for
my Medical exhibitions!
I believe the 60's bag was identical.
This could be worn as a normal "rucksack" or attached to any ruck
Photograph of Lew Merletti, A-502 Medic in
This photo was taken at "Da Hang", a small outpost located high
in the mountain ranges above Nha Trang. Da Hang was often referred as the
MSS (Mission Support Site). The photo shows Lew carrying an M3 Medic bag.
When this photo was taken, Lew has been sent to Da Hang for about a week
long stay. He knew that no S.F. medics had been up there for awhile, and a M3 Medic bag was
prepared and taken to provide sick call each day and in case of some of the
Strikers up there needed medical care. During combat operations, only the
small surgical instrument kit would be taken with two or three large bandages
and a tourniquet as well as regular combat load to include ammunition, grenades,
strobe light, flares etc.
Lew Merletti, A-502 Medic 69/70
Ha Thanh like all CIDG camps had its own
This was a powerful tool in the USSF Hearts
and Minds campaign in Vietnam as the dispensaries
provided modern medical treatment to camp CIDG's
and to the local population.
It is rare to see photo from the inside of such
but thanks to Senior Medic Michael Fairlie, A-104
we can can give you an insight into
Ha Thanh dispensary.
USE THE LINK ABOVE
Steve Sherman the
the Special Forces and Special Operations Associations
Need your help!