By Henry Cuningham
Being a doctor in uniform at Fort Bragg is unlike anything in the civilian world, maybe even the military world.
A doctor might be working at an on-post clinic providing care to soldiers and their families and, a week later, be on the battlefield as a battalion surgeon responsible for 400 soldiers. Those duties can range from training combat medics to taking care of combat casualties. They might even train Afghan soldiers or civilians performing humanitarian assistance.
Womack Army Medical Center's deployable docs might be affiliated with a military unit with orders to go overseas at a scheduled time. Or they might be associated with a unit that could call them away at a moment's notice.
For starters, in addition to medical skills, Army doctors must march with rucksacks, maintain their weapons qualifications and sometimes stay qualified as a paratrooper or even jumpmaster.
"Our No. 1 mission is to take care of the soldier down range," said Col. Frank Christopher, an emergency physician and Womack's deputy commander for clinical services.
The brigades and battalions may not need doctors while they are at Fort Bragg, but they do when they are overseas.
"At any one time, we've got about 140 soldiers from Womack that are on a deployment list," Christopher said.
Fort Bragg physicians are also assigned to combat support hospitals throughout the United States as well as other forward surgical teams and brigade combat teams. Short-notice deployments can leave the medical center in a bind. Sometimes, surgeries or appointments have to be canceled or shifted. The alternative is an Army Reserve physician, depending on availability. The next option is a contract provider.
Christopher has seen the system from both sides. He has deployed five times - three times with a joint special operations task force, twice to Afghanistan and once to Iraq.
"In my current job, I'm the donator, so to speak, of those assets," he said. "As the division surgeon and certainly as a medical battalion commander, I was the guy on the receiving end."
Contributing editor Henry Cuningham can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3585.