DEPMEDS and Top Hats…

home-of-the-combat-medic-corpsman-and-pararescue_mousepad_LOGO-MPAD-1_larger_1378527981_largeI learned right away, through fucking it up, what was expected of me as a medic in 12th Evac.. After P.T. every morning, I was expected to be in formation at 0900 “standing tall and looking good”. My uniform would have to be ironed to a crisp press every morning. My boots, black leather and laced with an industrial type string, would have to be spit shined as well. My squad leader, SSG (Staff Sergeant E-6) Hunt, would be in my face every morning during formation inspection. “Face time” with SSG Hunt consisted of uniform and haircut inspection, questions regarding medical treatment and breath smelling. Breath smelling, according to SSG Hunt, was an alcohol check. Soldiers were not allowed to drink during duty hours or report to formation under the influence of alcohol.

SSG Hunt, a female, was a L.P.N. (Licensed Practical Nurse). All of the squad leaders in Medic Platoon were L.P.N.’s. Our Platoon Sergeant, a SFC (Sergeant First Class E-7), was the only Combat Medic N.C.O.. In those days, promotions were given by the Department of Defense on a point system. Points were earned through combat experience, Army schools and college credit. It took a lot of points to get promoted to N.C.O. as a medic. SSG Hunt, unlike most of her contemporaries, enlisted in the Army as a L.P.N.. Most of the other squad leaders went to the Army L.P.N. school. SSG Hunt had a lot of nursing experience compared to the rest of the platoon. Failing her “face time” medical questions resulted in pushups. Any inspection failures resulted in disciplinary action of one sort or another. Her biggest pet peeve was the smell of alcohol. Failure to be sober in the morning meant hell to pay, according to the more seasoned privates in my squad. Multiple failures resulted with Company level discipline from the commander.

After morning formation we reported to the Motor Pool. Our platoon was responsible for a few 5-ton trucks, a few Deuce and a half (2 1/2 ton) trucks, a GMC early model S.U.V. and a Hum Vee. Every vehicle was parked dress right dress in the motor pool, painted O.D. green camouflage and had a manual in a secured box attached to the outside of the cab. I had no idea what to look for on a vehicle to see what was wrong with it. My experience with vehicles, up to this point in my life, consisted of unlocking the door, inserting key into the ignition, turning the key to turn vehicle on and driving. The manuals showed us, step by step, how to do P.M.C.S. (Preventive Maintenance and Check Systems).

Most units had one day per week designated for P.M.C.S.. Medic Platoon, 12th Evacuation Hospital, did P.M.C.S. every other day of the week. The remaining days of the week, Medic Platoon learned about the Milvans lined up next to our vehicles. Our Milvans and vehicles were lined up “dress right dress” next to each other. It was quite the spectacle to see.

Milvans, special steel like containers used for shipping and storage, were also painted O.D. Green. Inside the Milvans was the newest technology of Field Hospital the Army deployed called “DEPMEDS”. DEPMEDS, Deployable Medical Shelter/Systems, consisted of a rubber like weather/chemical/nuclear fallout resistant exterior with an aluminum skeleton frame that had interlocking parts. The system itself was designed to include generator based electricity, air conditioning/heat, entrance vestibules designed to block contaminated air and attachable ISO’s. ISO’s are expandable specialty containers that attach to the hospital itself. 12th Evac had an O.R. ISO, a X-Ray ISO and a pharmacy ISO.

Every other day, while Medic Platoon drilled over and over how to set up DEPMEDS and inventory medical supplies, the X-Ray/O.R. platoon expanded their ISO’s. These became timed platoon level competitions rewarded by nothing other than bragging rights. The contents were extremely heavy, awkward and had to be off loaded/re loaded in a precise manor. We worked as a team using “chain gang” methods to complete the tasks of the multi stage objective. SSG Hunt, although just a squad leader, was the leader of DEPMEDS storage, application, competitions and training for Medic Platoon. Because of her high expectations and rigorous repetitive training, Medic Platoon always won the competition. We became so efficient at the task of building, tearing down and storing a 400 bed hospital that being a 12th Evac Medic on post was reward enough. Army society is a respect based society. Respect, once earned, was worth more than gold.

The medics of Medic Platoon, 12th Evacuation Hospital, were 75% men. The remaining soldiers, females, over time became as strong competitors as the men. We became equal teammates in competitions. Due to the rigorous physical demands of regular competition, mixed with daily P.T., we were all extremely physically fit. None of us, however, could compete with SSG Hunt. She was the all around best at it all. Her uniform stayed pressed, her boots were shined the best and physically she was an equal to all of us if not stronger. She was an experienced nurse with an Emergency Room background. She was a fucking warrior. She became the ideal for what leadership means to me. “You can’t ask someone to do something if you can not do it yourself”.

Our off duty mission, as was Army tradition, was to play hard. We worked hard so by right of passage we partied like animals. The single medics living in the barracks would head out together, every weekend, to the “American themed” West German dance club Palm Beach. Sometimes we would go get a “top hat” before clubbing. A “top hat” was a plastic, made to scale, top hat with an unknown mixture of alcohol made for 12 people. There was a German bar right off post that offered top hats. We drank from the hat with straws and never went more than 8 people to a top hat. If there were more than eight of us together we would get another top hat, of course, and split the difference equally per hat. The objective was to be as drunk as possible by the time we got to the club. Our mission was always accomplished.

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