When you have one of the most important jobs in the world, defending a nation, you must be physically fit. As a combat medic specialist providing emergency medical treatment to wounded soldiers, one must be strong minded, too.
“It’s good being physically fit as it allows you to help casualties. Mentally you have to be fit so you can continue to think about higher-level care,” said Joshua Mutchler, a combat medic.
In the field, combat medics are first responders to help wounded soldiers. They must act fast and rush into horrific scenes and sort out care among mangled bodies and bloodied warriors.
The stress of combat care can take its toll. A recent study by Dr. Paula Chapman, a Department of Veterans Affairs behaviorial health scientist, found that during deployment, a combat medic is less likely than other soldiers to experience feelings of anxiety, stress and depression, because they are focused on healing and saving a life.
However, the impact of their battlefield experience sometimes takes its toll when medics return from their deployment. Among soldiers, medics are more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder, regret and remorse from having not saved a life or having to take the life of another human being, Chapman’s study found.
In a 2014 interview with Stars and Stripes, Chapman said the study, which looked at Army medics within a year of their deployments, is just the beginning for understanding the impact of combat on these soldiers.
“The next step is to look longitudinally at the combat medic, from training through post deployment,” Chapman told the publication.
To become a combat medic, soldiers must first complete basic training, where they are conditioned to stay healthy and meet physical fitness standards. During basic, soldiers work on their stamina and build up to meet Army standards.
After soldiers successfully complete basic training, they receive an intense 16-week training in emergency medicine.
Pfc. Christina Westfall, a former high school cheerleader from Tennessee, is in her first year of service and said her former training in cheerleading helped her complete the necessary training to become an Army medic.
“Lifting girls during cheer competitions and our cheerleader events helped me prepare by being able to lift casualties during my medical training,” she said.
Now Westfall opts for yoga instead of cheer routines to balance her physical and mental fitness regimen.
Once deployed to the battlefield, a combat medic’s key duties include field sanitation, stabilizing injured soldiers and managing evacuations of the wounded. They also need to be ready to physically carry a patient twice their size.
“Carrying a soldier with their gear can add an extra 40 to 100 pounds to a person’s base weight,” said Mutchler, who has been deployed to Afghanistan twice. Mutchler, a former high school basketball player and runner turned soldier, is 6-foot-8, and says he needed the physical and mental stamina when he did his two tours overseas.
To stay fit these days, Mutchler does cardio and strength training and says these activities help clear his mind to focus on his job and help him with the stress of his duties.