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Taking Charge of a Medical Platoon:
The First Steps

A medical platoon leader is usually a lieutenant who is charged with developing a combat health support (CHS) plan for his battalion of 500 soldiers, a task that can prove daunting for a junior officer. If you are newly assigned as a medical platoon leader, we’d like to present three key steps that, taken early in your assignment, will make your job much easier.

Talk to Key Players

First, you need to know how well the platoon executes its mission. Talk to your platoon sergeant. He should have those answers at his fingertips. Some of the questions you want to ask him are—

• What are the platoon’s strengths and weaknesses?
• What tasks are included on the platoon’s mission-essential task list?
• Does the platoon have a standing operating procedure (SOP)? If so, when was it last reviewed? Does it clearly delineate everyone’s roles and responsibilities during convoy operations? Does the SOP provide for rehearsals of operations such as occupying a new location, setting up a helicopter landing zone, or conducting triage at night? When were the last rehearsals conducted? Refer often to Field Manual 4–02.4, Medical Platoon Leader’s Handbook. It provides guidance on planning, rehearsing, and conducting CHS and provides tactics, techniques, and procedures for directing, controlling, and managing CHS at the medical platoon level.

• What is the platoon’s personnel strength? Have critical losses within the next 30, 60, or 90 days been identified by military occupational specialty (MOS)? Are these shortages being reported on the unit status report?
• What is the status of MOS 91W transition training of your medics? [The Army’s medical specialist (combat medic) and licensed practical nurse positions, designated MOS 91B and 91C, respectively, have been merged to produce MOS 91W, healthcare specialist.]
• Who in the platoon has a current driver’s license?
• Do all of the vehicles in the platoon have a user-level maintenance manual, and is it used?
• Are there load plans for all vehicles, and are they current?
• Are there current packing lists for all medical equipment sets (MES)?
• How many combat lifesaver bags are on hand in the battalion? Do they have packing lists? How are they packed?

Next, contact the physician assigned to your platoon through the Professional Officer Filler System (PROFIS) (a system that assigns personnel from table of distribution and allowances units to table of organization and equipment units during wartime). If you don’t know who your PROFIS physician is, ask the battalion S–1. The physician will appreciate your being proactive and bringing him onto the team early. It is your duty to ensure that the physician is integrated into the platoon; understands the platoon’s mission, tactics, techniques, and procedures and SOP; and is part of the predeployment training plan. A certified physician can provide vital medical training, such as emergency medical technician and basic trauma life-support training, for medics during predeployment training.

Ask the physician to inventory your MES and make sure that they are up to his standards. The sets should reflect what the “Doc” wants to keep; however, any medic should be able to go into the sets and find what he needs. Work with your physician to develop a quality assessment and quality control program to keep the medications in your MES current.

Visit the Division Surgeon’s Cell and talk to the Chief of Plans and Operations. The chief, who is the division’s senior medical tactician, manages division medical operations and can assist you with any medical questions you may have. Ask the chief questions about the medical rules of engagement, air medical evacuation procedures, or class VIII (medical materiel) operations in theater. The officers in the Division Surgeon’s Cell have years of experience in medical operations and can give you guidance on any medical topic. They also can point you in the right direction to get resources to train soldiers to qualify for the Expert Field Medical Badge or start an emergency medical technician course.

Review Supply and Maintenance Procedures

Next, you should visit the Division Medical Supply Office (DMSO) to learn the tactical procedures for class VIII resupply. You may need medical materiel not included in your unit assemblage listing (UAL) for missions such as humanitarian assistance, and the DMSO can guide you on how to stock noncombat sets and where to get the money to fund them. Ask the DMSO how to ensure that deploying units not only have sufficient medical materiel for the initial 48 hours but also have coordinated with the Forward Support Medical Company for push packages.

Visit the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency (USAMMA) Web site (www.usamma.army.mil/ apps/nana_uaweb/index.htm) and download the most current UAL for all sets, kits, and outfits (SKO). Get the most current packing lists for your MES, and inventory them to ensure that you have current equipment and supplies. You will need a copy of your modification table of organization and equipment (MTOE) so you can cross-reference the line item numbers or unit identification codes on it with the SKO on the USAMMA website. If you do not have your MTOE, you can download a copy from the U.S Army Force Management Support Agency Web site (https://webtaads.belvoir.army.mil/usafmsa). You will need a user name and password, which will take only about 5 minutes to get.

After you have your current UALs, coordinate with your battalion S–4 to use a local warehouse or gym for conducting an inventory. These buildings provide space, security, and protection from the elements. Inventory all of your SKO, combat lifesaver bags, aid bags, and so on using the latest USAMMA SKO packing lists to ensure that your SKO are fully stocked. During the inventories, you may be short many of the items on the UAL, especially if the previous platoon leader used an outdated UAL during the last inventory. Note the equipment you need on your shortage annex and order it. Your supply sergeant should attach the change documents to your hand receipts and update the hand receipts as the equipment comes in. If you need a refresher on the basics of inventory procedures, read Major Patrick Flanders’ article, “Change of Command Inventory 101: Tips on Counting Your ‘Stuff’ Before You Sign.” It is available on the Internet on the company command Web site (www.companycommand.com) and in the July–August 2000 issue of Armor magazine. Use old supplies and equipment for combat lifesaver training or combat medic training.

Next, look at the maintenance posture of your platoon’s vehicles. Get the “ground truth” on the maintenance status of the vehicles in your platoon from your platoon sergeant and battalion maintenance officer and get the needed parts on order. (“Ground truth” refers to a baseline transportation or supply plan prepared in a normal environment based on unclassified, real-world data.)

Each week, conduct a communications check with platoon headquarters, update Department of the Army Forms 5988E (Equipment Inspection and Maintenance Worksheets) to reflect known faults and required parts, check the status of parts on order, and make sure that the new parts that have arrived are installed. Talk to your platoon sergeant to find out which parts, such as cables, starters, track pads, batteries, and heaters, cause recurring problems, and put those parts on your battalion’s prescribed load list so they are always on hand.

Medical maintenance technicians in the DMSO can assist with the maintenance of your medical equipment. Visit the USAMMA Web site if you have any questions on operator-level maintenance standards for your equipment.


Update the Tactical SOP

The last step is to update your platoon’s tactical SOP. Remember that a picture is worth a thousand words, so make your tactical SOP a playbook of medical actions to take in different scenarios. Map out your platoon actions on contact using flow charts, pictures, and checklists. Include in your playbook a battalion communications plan for both ground and air medical operations, a plan for evacuating casualties from the point of impact to the casualty collection point and the battalion aid station, a plan to set up a helicopter landing zone during the day or night, a mass casualty plan, and a class VIII resupply plan. These critical functions are sometimes left out of the tactical SOP. After you get their input and have created your tactical SOP, test soldiers on their understanding of it and rehearse it often.

When updating the tactical SOP, be sure to consider the PROFIS physician’s recommendations about the types of medications to stock and the quality assessment and quality control rotation schedule for medications.

Taking charge of a medical platoon is a huge task for a junior officer. Attention to these important first steps will go a long way toward making your job less daunting. ALOG

Captain James D. Clay is a medical observer-controller at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana. He has a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from the University of Pittsburgh and a master’s degree in engineering systems management from Texas A&M University. He is a graduate of the Combined Logistics Officers Advanced Course and the Army Combined Arms and Services Staff School.

Sergeant First Class Raymond F. Sanders is a medical observer-controller at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana. He has an applied associate of science degree in general studies from Georgia Military College and is a graduate of the Advanced Noncommissioned Officers Course, the Battle Staff Course, the Army Recruiter Course, and the Airborne School.