Medical Service Corps: 106 years of diverse health service

US Army | Jun. 26, 2023

By Christopher Hurd, Army News Service

Soldiers assigned to 129th Area Support Medical Company and Forward Support MEDEVAC Platoon, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division conduct patient movement operations for aeromedical evacuation during a training while attending Saber Guardian 23 in Slobozia, Romania, June 1, 2023. Saber Guardian 23, a component of DEFENDER 23, is an exercise co-led by Romanian Land Forces and the U.S. Army at various locations in Romania to improve the integration of multinational combat forces by engaging in different events such as vehicle road marches, medical training exercises, and river crossings.
Soldiers assigned to 129th Area Support Medical Company and Forward Support MEDEVAC Platoon, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division conduct patient movement operations for aeromedical evacuation during a training while attending Saber Guardian 23 in Slobozia, Romania, June 1, 2023. Saber Guardian 23, a component of DEFENDER 23, is an exercise co-led by Romanian Land Forces and the U.S. Army at various locations in Romania to improve the integration of multinational combat forces by engaging in different events such as vehicle road marches, medical training exercises, and river crossings. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Laura Torres)

WASHINGTON: Whether in everyday patient care, clinical research or by performing the administrative tasks needed to run Army hospitals, Medical Service Corps officers have provided health care to veterans, Soldiers and their families for 106 years.

The corps is home to a diverse collection of Soldiers in more than 20 specialties, including behavioral health, laboratory sciences, preventative medicine, administrative health services, aeromedical evacuation, pharmacy, optometry, podiatry and health service maintenance.

“We are kind of the connective tissue of Army medicine in a lot of ways,” said Maj. Bryan Spear, a health care administrator currently serving as the deputy secretary for the general staff of the Office of the Surgeon General. “At one point, we are doing the strategy and implementation of day-to-day operations, and at another point, we’re on the front lines of research and patient care.”

U.S. Army Medical Command features six medical officer corps: Army Medical Corps, Medical Specialist Corps, Veterinary Corps, Army Nurse Corps, Army Dental Corps and the Medical Service Corps.

The service corps’ roots date back to the Civil War with an ambulance corps and medical storekeepers and then to World War I when the Army established a Sanitary Corps to relieve physicians of some administrative and scientific duties. That is where the Medical Service Corps gets its birthdate of June 30, 1917.

Then in 1947, Congress joined the Sanitary Corps with the Pharmacy Corps and Medical Administrative Corps to form the service corps.

Now more than 8,000 National Guard, reserve and active-duty Soldiers support Army medicine on the battlefield and on garrisons as MSC officers.

“The people in this career field are special,” said retired Maj. Gen. David Rubenstein, 16th chief of the Medical Service Corps. “The drive that keeps Medical Service Corps Soldiers going, I believe, is the drive of wanting to ensure we provide the very best health care possible to our Soldiers and their families from pre-birth through the end of life. Some do that as clinicians, some as scientists and about half the corps as non-clinical administrators, planners and policy developers.”

U.S. Army Capt. Craig Neal, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear officer at 30th Medical Brigade (top), helps Capt. Julio Rodriguez, a health services plans, operations, intelligence, security and training officer at 30th Medical Brigade (bottom) on his computer while trying to find documentation for a mission during a Command Post Exercise on Rhine Ordnance Barracks, Kaiserslautern, Germany on March 16, 2023. The Command Post Exercise was held to prepare junior Soldiers and senior leaders for Defender ‘23 using real world scenarios.
U.S. Army Capt. Craig Neal, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear officer at 30th Medical Brigade (top), helps Capt. Julio Rodriguez, a health services plans, operations, intelligence, security and training officer at 30th Medical Brigade (bottom) on his computer while trying to find documentation for a mission during a Command Post Exercise on Rhine Ordnance Barracks, Kaiserslautern, Germany on March 16, 2023. The Command Post Exercise was held to prepare junior Soldiers and senior leaders for Defender ‘23 using real world scenarios. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Spc. Samuel Signor)
Capt. John Eads, chief medical entomologist for Public Health Command-Pacific, holds an Oriental odd tooth snake under rehabilitation at the command’s headquarters at Camp Zama, Japan, July 10, 2020.
Capt. John Eads, chief medical entomologist for Public Health Command-Pacific, holds an Oriental odd tooth snake under rehabilitation at the command’s headquarters at Camp Zama, Japan, July 10, 2020. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Winifred Brown)
Maj. Larry Decker, an optometrist in the U.S. Army Reserve assigned to the 94th Combat Support Hospital, 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support) out of Seagoville, Texas, performs an eye exam during Tropic Care 2018 in Kea’au, Hawaii, June 23, 2018. Tropic Care 2018 is an Innovative Readiness Training event that runs from June 18-28 designed to increase Soldier readiness while also serving the community of Kea’au, and its surrounding areas.
Maj. Larry Decker, an optometrist in the U.S. Army Reserve assigned to the 94th Combat Support Hospital, 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support) out of Seagoville, Texas, performs an eye exam during Tropic Care 2018 in Kea’au, Hawaii, June 23, 2018. Tropic Care 2018 is an Innovative Readiness Training event that runs from June 18-28 designed to increase Soldier readiness while also serving the community of Kea’au, and its surrounding areas. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Reserve Photo by Sgt. Stephanie Ramirez)

With such a wide range of jobs in the corps, many of them differ in their career paths.

The scientists and officers caring for patients usually serve in their respective fields as they take on increased levels of responsibility as their careers progress.

The medical evacuation pilots must gain experience in aviation and Army Medical Department operations. They will generally stay in aviation for up to eight years before transitioning to an administrative position.

Administrative health service officers typically start in operational units performing several roles before selecting a specialized administrative field. This path can include institutional training and advanced civilian education.

That's exactly what happened to Spear. After entering service as a medical planner, he was assigned as a medical operations officer for the 101st Airborne Division. He deployed twice to Afghanistan before being selected as a health care administrator.

That allowed him to attend the Army-Baylor University graduate program, where he received his joint master’s degree in health care administration and business administration.

"That opportunity to learn while on active duty for two years with a residency was phenomenal,” he said. "If you think about the opportunities [this career field has] given me, it's more than I could have ever imagined. I cannot encourage people enough to join the Medical Service Corps."

Medical Service Corps officers are often called into action in times of crisis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they deployed to support the Javits Center temporary hospital in New York City and to other locations throughout the country. Army MedEvac pilots supported the Ebola outbreak response in Africa last decade.

Maj. Stacey Bateman, a microbiologist and the chief of Immunology and Molecular Diagnostics at Madigan Army Medical Center in a Tyvek suit and powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) working with Ebola patient samples outside Monrovia, Liberia in December 2014.
Maj. Stacey Bateman, a microbiologist and the chief of Immunology and Molecular Diagnostics at Madigan Army Medical Center in a Tyvek suit and powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) working with Ebola patient samples outside Monrovia, Liberia in December 2014. (Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Stacey Bateman)
U.S. Army Soldiers, 1138th Engineering Company, Missouri Army National Guard, simulate a medical evacuation during the 2019 Golden Coyote Exercise at Rapid City, S.D., June 15, 2019. The Golden Coyote Training Exercise is a three-phase, scenario-driven exercise conducted in South Dakota and Wyoming, which enables commanders to focus on mission essential task requirements, warrior tasks and battle drills.
U.S. Army Soldiers, 1138th Engineering Company, Missouri Army National Guard, simulate a medical evacuation during the 2019 Golden Coyote Exercise at Rapid City, S.D., June 15, 2019. The Golden Coyote Training Exercise is a three-phase, scenario-driven exercise conducted in South Dakota and Wyoming, which enables commanders to focus on mission essential task requirements, warrior tasks and battle drills. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Reserve photos by Spc. Jamaal Turner)

"There is unlikely to be a major event that the Army, from a medical position, will take part of that you won't find a Medical Service Corps officer right there in the fight," Spear explained.

Over the past 20 years, as the Army has shifted from counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan toward large-scale operations in the battlefield of tomorrow, Army medicine and the Medical Service Crops has continued to adapt as they provide patient care to veterans, Soldiers and their families.

“We are going to be able to address the future challenges because we have dealt with the unknowns before, and we have navigated that very well,” Spear said. “That is all because of what makes us unique, which is our competence, our expertise and our professionalism in each one of the respective areas that we represent inside of the Medical Service Corps. [The corps'] strength lies in its diversity."

If you’re interested in joining the Army as a Medical Service Corps officer, visit GoArmy.com for more information.

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