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The Army Medical Department Civilian Corps:
A Legacy of Distinguished Service, Page 3

The Army Medical Department Civilian Corps: A Legacy of Distinguished Service

The Army Medical Department Civilian Corps: A Legacy of Distinguished Service, page 2

As with all wars, the end of World War I began a rapid reduction in military strength. Medical personnel were furloughed and discharged along with the combatants, so that the Medical Corps dropped from 12,731 officers in 1919 to 1,948 a year later.3 The budget appropriation declined commensurate with the personnel numbers, forcing Surgeon General Merritte Ireland to decree that no existing civilian vacancies would be filled after 1 January 1920.4 The number of civilians working in the AMEDD dropped precipitously, but the need for their services did not. When it became necessary to hire civilian lab technicians, dietitians, administrative personnel, and other essential positions, Major General Ireland required his personal approval for each hiring action. Although their numbers were dwindling, a few contract surgeons continued to provide essential service to the Army. In 1918 the Army approved a special insignia for contract surgeons—a bronze caduceus with a superimposed CS monogram—so that an appropriate uniform was available to them, although few if any contract surgeons wore uniforms between the world wars.

In 1940 America was preparing for the possibility of another major overseas conflict, and the Medical Department again found itself desperately undermanned. In order to ensure the availability of uniformed personnel for combat units, Surgeon General James Magee allowed stateside hospitals to rectify personnel shortages by hiring civilian employees as long as their numbers did not exceed 20% of the total staff. Despite this limitation, persistent shortages of military personnel meant that fully half of some hospital staffs were civilians. By 1943 the ever-increasing need for military personnel overseas compelled the AMEDD to reverse its policy limiting the percentage of civilians, and instead work to maximize the civilian personnel in US-based facilities so that all deployable personnel would be available for assignment overseas. There was a cascading quality to the policy directive, designed to ensure that those most needed for combat service were utilized that way:

In general, men qualified for overseas service were to be released as rapidly as possible from assignment to all zone of interior installations. In replacing them commanders were not to assign men to positions that could be filled by women; they were not to assign military persons, male or female, to those that could be filled by civilians; and they were not to assign officers to duties that could be performed by enlisted persons or civilians.5

In the last year of World War II the War Department established a goal to increase the number of civilian employees to about half the total force. Surgeon General Magee had objected to this policy at first, but after four years of fighting, the benefit of a robust corps of civilians was

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3 Percy Ashburn, A History of the Medical Department of the United States Army (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1929), p. 377.
4 Mary Gillett, The Army Medical Department, 1917-1941 (Washington: Center of Military History, 2009), p. 476.
5 Clarence M. Smith, The Medical Department: Hospitalization and Evacuation, Zone of Interior (Washington: Center of Military History, 1956), p. 249.