Are US Army doctors in the field armed?

This is based on last night’s episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”, but it is a factual question, so I’m putting it in GQ.

Do US Army doctors at field hospitals in Iraq go around armed? In the show mentioned, there’s a flashback scene where at least 3, possibly 4 doctors are playing soccer outside their hospital, which is basically just a bunch of tents. A chopper comes in, so they call the game and start putting on their gear, which includes handguns and I think one M-4. Would this be SOP in the field for actual doctors - not medics, but M.D’s.

Second question - how likely is it that a field hospital like that would run out of supplies? There’s a part where they’re treating a few (5 or so) patients who’ve just come in, one of the doctors asks for a certain kind of bandage, and is told they’re all out, so he has to make do with a towel and a trash bag. How realistic is this - for a field hospital reachable by helicopter and road to have run out of vital supplies? If there’s one thing I thought the US military had down reasonably well, it was logistics.

The time frame based on the show is probably 4-5 years ago.

Yes. The son of one of my mom’s friends was an Army doctor in the Green Zone for a while in Iraq. He had to carry his side arm at all times. He said the exam rooms would have hooks by the doors where they could take off their belt and hang the pistol while with a patient.

Yes. I had a friend, semi-pacifist type, who was a military doctor. He objected strongly to carrying a gun. His commander was sharp enough to tell him that regulations required him to carry a gun, and that if he was seen without one he could be up on charges – but that nobody was likely to check to see if he actually had it loaded.

Probably quite likely.
I frequently encounter things that are out-of-stock in Target or my local grocery store. And those stores are far closer to their suppliers, and without any armed enemy trying to prevent re-supplying them.

Just visited the dentist a couple weeks ago. He was armed the whole time.

Hell, if my job consisted of jabbing painfully sharp objects into the mouths of strangers with access to firearms, I’d carry a gun whether the regs required it or not!

Sure, but no one is going to die if you can’t get your cross-packed sardines. I would just think that if they can get food through, they’d get the vital medical supplies that are the whole point of having a field hospital through as well.

In Italy?

Maybe he was afraid you were going to bite him, Bear.

My son is not a doctor, but he is a Hospital Corpsman, working as a field medic for the Marine Corps. He carries a side arm while in the field.

Huh…I’m surprised to learn that military docs carry sidearms. Are they now considered combatants under the Geneva Convention? I think they used to be considered non-combatants…but I’m not sure.

Also, any documented instances of doctors/medical types participating in combat?

Wearing the Red Cross/Red Crescent/Red Crystal makes you a non-combatant. Knowingly attacking someone with that clearly displayed is a war crime.

I think the US has found that it often faces people who don’t care about the legalities, and think the red x on the helmet “marks the spot”, and so forgo the markings and arm the medics.

Next time you get to talk to him or write him, pass along the thanks from some dude on the internet, Devil Docs are a special breed.

Many people believe that the Geneva Convention requires that doctors/field medics be unarmed in order to retain protected status. That simply isn’t true, from my reading of the convention )as an admitted layperson–but the text is pretty clear). The issue came up before here relating to hospital ships–and the answer was the same. Instead, the geneva convention (in principle) allows military medical units to be armed without losing their protected status as medical units–as long as they are noncombatants exclusively engaged in treating wounded.

They lose protected status for engaging in the battle–not simply because an MD has a sidearm.

My guess as to where the belief that medical personnel must not be armed is that (at least when we had a draft), many medical personnel would be conscientious objectors–and hence would be unwilling to carry arms–so as a matter of fact, most medical personnel would not be armed.

Missed the edit window:

One reason for permitting medical units to possess small arms (that was seen in the case of hospital ships)–is that if they don’t have weapons to protect themselves/keep order, they’d need to be closely protected by combatants. That would mean that those combatants were, in effect, “shielded” by the hospital ship–the enemy must either (1) not shoot at combat units, (unpalatable tactically) or (2) shoot way too close to a hospital ship (unpalatable from a humanitarian viewpoint). The better solution, adopted by the geneva convention, is to allow the hospital ship to carry sidearms to protect itself, and not allow warships near it.

As you can see above, the rules are slightly different for hospitals–they can be protected by soldiers if unarmed–but it seems that the “preferred” solution is an armed hospital with no combatants protecting it.

To add to the above chaplains are the only people in the army that don’t carry a firearm into combat. Every chaplain has a chaplain’s assistant; in combat the chaplain’s assistant is first and foremost the chaplain’s body guard.

I think this was best stated by Hawkeye Pierce:


Some others don’t.

OK, I should have specified that I meant today. No medic in the US army today is going to get away with not carrying a weapon. Cite: I just spent four years as an army medic and one of my greatest fears during that time was that I would actually have to shoot someone.

Its going back a bit but I recall that medics were protected persons under the G.C.
They were allowed to carry weapons for personal protection only.
If captured by the enemy they weren’t P.O.W.s but still protected persons.
In effect this didn’t actually make any difference to their being prisoners or the conditions in which they were held.

Today most conflicts in which Western troops are involved are police actions rather then de facto wars so I don’t think the G.C.s provisions come into play but I might be wrong.
Their opponents most certainly don’t consider themselves to be constrained by any conventions.
My apologies if I AM wrong but as I say its been quite a while since I had the training.

“Police actions” are de facto wars, and the Geneva Conventions still apply.

Tell that to Dick Cheney and his crew. To this day, he still claims the Geneva Convention doesn’t apply to various “enemy combatants” picked up in Afghanistan and Iraq, but his reasoning for that determination sounds to me like basically “the Geneva Convention applies only when we say it does”.

On a different note – to reply to the comments above about chaplains not carrying weapons – actually, in the US Army, that’s optional at the discretion of the chaplain (or at least it was during Vietnam, unless they’ve changed it since). The minister of my last church often said that he chose to carry a weapon while he was a chaplain in vietnam. He never mentioned whether or not he ever used it, and he did indicate that his choice was somewhat unusual, but apparently it is an option allowed under US army protocol.

The “enemy combatants” he referred to were those who do not belong to a government’s armed forces and are not members of a uniformed military. Medical personnel of the United States Army do not fit that description.