Corpsman and Medic overlapping comparisons and differences

15 June 2022

From Douglas Stutz

There’s 58 names affixed on Naval Hospital Bremerton’s Heroes Wall of Honor.Everyone is a Navy hospital corpsman who lost their life after 9/11.There are no medics listed, which is not in any way to disparage or lessen the tremendous care, compassion and courage of any U.S. Army combat medic or U.S. Air Force aerospace medical service technician.
There’s 58 names affixed on Naval Hospital Bremerton’s Heroes Wall of Honor.

Everyone is a Navy hospital corpsman who lost their life after 9/11.

There are no medics listed, which is not in any way to disparage or lessen the tremendous care, compassion and courage of any U.S. Army combat medic or U.S. Air Force aerospace medical service technician. Especially those who gave their all for another.

It’s because there are no medics in the U.S. Navy.

Nor have there been any since the inception of the Navy Hospital Corps, June 17, 1898.

There have been a few iterations of hospital corpsmen over the years, such as surgeon’s mate, surgeon’s steward, loblolly boy, nurse, apothecary and bayman, hospital steward, hospital apprentice and pharmacist’s mate.

But no medic.

Apparently that accumulated 124 years of legacy, along with the years stretching back to the Revolutionary War and Civil War, have somehow become a forgotten fact in more than one national publication, including several specifically tailored to U.S. military audiences.

What to make of such a gaffe?

“It is frowned upon for a hospital corpsman to be referred to as a medic. Corpsman is our identity,” said Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Romualdo ‘Jay’ Humarang, Navy Medicine Readiness Training Command Bremerton Medical Service Directorate leading chief petty officer and independent duty corpsman.

Yet it does happen, usually based on unfamiliarity, lack of insight and possibly due to just as many overlapping similarities as there are differences.

“During my second deployment to Iraq in 2004 with 3rd Battalion 7th Marines India Company, I was tasked to work with a U.S. Army unit. When they saw my corpsman shield with caduceus, I was asked if I was the medic. I simply said, “No, I am a corpsman,”” related Humarang, noting that both Navy hospital corpsman and Army medics symbolically use the caduceus which prominently features two snakes encircling a winged staff.

The caduceus is the rating insignia for Navy, whereas the symbol is on the Army’s combat medic badge which is earned by those – colonel and below – whom support wounded soldiers on the field of battle. (If we’re keeping score, that’s a similarity shared).

Navy hospital corpsmen are the most highly decorated rate in the U.S. Navy, to date being the collective recipients of 22 Medals of Honor, 199 Navy Crosses and 984 Silver Stars. Over 50 Army medics have received the Medal of Honor for their valor in combat (fearlessness under fire another shared trait).

As the Navy’s enlisted rating with the most personnel, there are more than 24,000 active duty and Navy Reserve hospital corpsmen assigned to Navy, Marine Corps and joint command assignments, with nearly 30 percent women, compared to over 39,000 active duty, Army Reserve and National Guard combat medics, with over 28 percent women (yet another commonality).

Are there any actual differences between a Navy corpsman and an Army medic, putting aside the point of pride which both have earned?

“When I’ve been asked if I’m a medic, I usually just say that I’m a corpsman which is the Navy equivalent to an Army medic,” shared Chief Hospital Corpsman Jesus Albarran, Naval Hospital Bremerton Family Medicine leading chief petty officer.

Both are obviously in the armed forces, albeit in different service branches.

As the nation’s military treatment facilities transition administration and management over to the Defense Health Agency as part of a congressional mandate to merge Air Force, Army and Navy military hospitals and clinics, military medical personnel still answer to their respective service branches. The Navy focus remains at sea and the Army emphasis continues on land.

The military occupational specialty for Army combat medics is called 68W, referred to by the call sign Whiskey. A Navy corpsman earns what is referred to as a Navy Enlisted Classification code.

Both receive training to learn the fundamental aspects of their chosen job, along with additional training available to become more specialized.

“I feel our training gives more qualifications and we work in a wider variety of areas. We’re like a medic, but as corpsmen, where we travel is a little different compared to an Army medic,” remarked Hospital Corpsman Rachel Shultz.

Corpsmen like Shultz tailor their skillset in some 39 specialties - from squadron duty as an aerospace medical tech to undersea assignment as a deep sea diving independent duty corpsman to a shipboard IDC – all with advanced training opportunities.

Conversely, an Army medic can further hone their skills and become a Special Forces medical sergeant learning trauma and critical care medicine, and how to identify illnesses and handle injuries in the field. A trained medic can be part of a combat unit or get specialized training in such fields as physical therapy or as surgical technicians.

Another common denominator all branches share, and what sets them completely apart from their civilian counterparts is that all those who wear the cloth of the nation can be called away at a moment’s notice to provide support when needed.

They also all deploy. Away from home. For months at a time.

Combat medics get assigned to infantry units across the globe, as well as working at stateside military treatment facilities. They lend support during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief needs.

During the pandemic, the Army medics helped set up a 250-bed field hospital up the road from Joint Base Lewis McChord at Seattle’s (then) CenturyLink Event Center to help treat non COVID-19 patients.

For corpsmen? Its haze gray underway, either surface, subsurface or airborne. Corpsmen are also stationed at hospitals and clinics, considered prime teaching and training platforms.

Perhaps most notably, corpsman deploy with Marines. Side by side. Battling and bandaging. Those who earn their Fleet Marine Force qualification are able to provide medical and operational support. They earn being referred to as ‘doc’ by their Marines.

Or ‘Devil Doc’ by the ‘Devil Dogs’ if we’re getting technical.

“Being a Fleet Marine Force corpsman is a sense of accomplishment. There’s no greater feeling that knowing my Marines have confidence in me as their doc,” noted Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Alexander Casaul, adding that his advanced training has allowed him to provide medical support in such areas as on the ‘green side’ with the Marines and in a hospital and clinical setting.

As Navy Medicine shifts priorities from those years spent down range in Afghanistan to preparing for peer-to-peer adversarial combat, a FMF corpsman or IDC might not have medical evacuation support in a timely manner. They might be on a guided missile destroyer in the vastness of the Pacific, attached to a Marine Expeditionary Group in the northern Atlantic, or somewhere in between. It’s up to them to care for their troops, whether it’s holding daily sick call, prescribing medication or dealing with minor surgical needs without the presence of a Navy Medical Corps physician or Navy Nurse Corps officer.

The services are also combining more exercises and operational commitments to ensure Navy, Army, and Air Force personnel can work together, as well as in joint environments with other nations.

“In the past two decades, plenty of efforts have been made to associate a similar training plan with the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force,” Humarang said.

Yet perhaps the most comparable quality between hospital corpsmen and medics is both have demonstrated over the years a selfless legacy of service before self on the field of battle to care for those wounded.

“The Hospital Corps is the most decorated rating in the Navy for a reason. Medics and hospital corpsmen each own a rich history fighting side by side with our brothers in arms,” Humarang said.

Corpsmen and medic share another notable – and somber – characteristic when answering the call of duty. Some don’t return home, leaving a nation to grieve at their loss.

As was such the case earlier this year for both service branches.

NMRTC Bremerton added Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Maxton Soviak to their Heroes Wall of Honor in January, 2022. He was killed during a suicide bombing August 26, 2021, at the Abbey Gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan.

Former soldiers gathered at the Medical Educaton and Training Campus, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in March, 2022, to remember their fallen comrade-in-arms, Army medic Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Sebban, killed in action in Iraq over 15 years ago, during a building dediction named in his honor.
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