This is what the average 'doc' carried on patrol in Vietnam

Throughout military history, the gear our ground troops wear has changed with advances in technology, fluctuations in the budget, and the weather (for the most part).

The needs of the mission and the environment determine what gear our infantrymen haul on their backs, around their waists, and even what they stuff into their many cargo pockets.

But the endgame of the mission always remains the same — win the war at all costs. Not all troops serving on the ground are given the same gear, however. Equipment varies with occupation.

So, here’s what the average infantry ‘doc’ carried to render care to their wounded brothers during the Vietnam War.

Related: This is how Hanoi reacted to the epic Ken Burns ‘Vietnam War’ documentary series


No such luck.

For the most part, the ground-pounders wore t-shirts, flak jackets, and many donned WW2-style helmets due to a lack of budget.

The helmets were not bullet-proof and were only intended to protect the troop from flying shrapnel — sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

Corpsman in Vietnam,

Hospital Corpsman James Kirkpatrick (my handsome dad, on the right) gearing up to head out on patrol in Vietnam, 1968.

Also Read: 4 ways the wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan are the same

Main weapon system

Just like today, the docs of Vietnam served as riflemen until one of their brothers were injured. Most Corpsmen and medics carried M16A1 rifles with 10-14 magazines of 18 rounds. Their magazines could carry up to 20 rounds, but the majority of the grunts didn’t want to compress the spring to avoid a weapons malfunction.


The average doc carried his .45 caliber pistol with five to seven magazines of seven rounds.

Other gear

Docs also carried three to five hands grenades, which were worn either on the flak jacket or stuffed into cargo pockets, two to five flares to properly mark landing zones, and a “woobie” or poncho to stay as dry as possible.

And, of course, you couldn’t forget to bring several packs of smokes, depending on how long the patrol was supposed to last. In the Vietnam era, patrols could last up to several days depending on the mission.

And they didn’t forget to stash away plenty of dry socks.

Medics in Vietnam

Medics SP4 Gerald Levy and Pfc. Andrew J. Brown with a wounded soldier and a paratrooper of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Bien Hoa, Vietnam. (Photo by Horst Faas)

An unmarked med-bag

These green pouches were stuffed to the brim with abdominal dressings (large bandages), battle dressings (medium-sized dressings), four to five rolls of gauze, and five to 10 morphine syrettes.

Today, morphine syrettes are considered serialized gear and the medic could be punished if they lose one in the field.


Some corpsmen and medics carried I.V. solution if they managed to hustle a bag or two away from the local medical aid station. In some cases, medevac helicopters would transport them to the on-ground medical personnel instead, as needed.