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Section II, Chapter VI







For many years before the World War an elaborate system for the education and training of Medical Department personnel had been in operation.1 Quite naturally, this had functioned mainly in the Regular Army, but it had been extended also to the National Guard as well as to a few Medical Reserve officers. A much nearer approximation to the war system was afforded by the Mexican border mobilization of 1916-17. Here military field instruction appropriate to Medical Department personnel was generally given to Regular Army and National Guard and to both their officers and enlisted men. This plan of Medical Department training was approved by the commanding general, Southern Department, on August 4, 1916.2 The scheme followed here was later used as the basis for the World War plan of instruction, which was administered in the main by instructors familiar with it from practical experience on the Mexican border.

Before we entered the World War the Personnel Division of the Surgeon General’s Office was in charge of education and training, as well as all other matters relating to personnel, and no special training division existed. But no delay occurred when war came. In fact, on the day that war with Germany was declared the Surgeon General had put in his possession a letter from the medical officer later in charge of Medical Department training, urging the immediate necessity of instituting training for Medical Department personnel, with an outline plan.3 A more comprehensive plan for practical execution of the project was then prepared, after conference with the Bureau of Militia Affairs, which had just had a valuable experience in a similar line by the preparation of a short course of armory training for the Medical Department of the National Guard. In the final statement of the plan was outlined a thoroughgoing course for student officers at training camps, with the centric idea of inculcating in the shortest possible time the basic military duties of medical officers through intensive training, and this especially for duty with troops in war. From the officers thus trained it was expected to develop, in addition, instructors for both officers and men of the Medical Department who naturally would be required in very large numbers.
The Surgeon General, in forwarding the final plan to The Adjutant General, on April 21, 1917, made the following remarks: 4

1. The attached scheme affords a plan for starting, without delay, the necessary training of the officers and men of the Medical Department. It can be modified later as experience may warrant. It proposes to carry out an intensive training of both officers and enlisted men, both in special training camps and in addition to necessary service with troops. For the former class the course covers three months; for the latter, six months.


2. The nature and scope of the proposed course, sample of (daily routine, list of textbooks, etc., are given therein.

3. For the above instruction purposes it is believed that four medical training camps should be established. The Medical Department, among other cogent reasons, can not furnish instructors or equipment for more than this number. They should be established in (conjunction with the  general officers’ training camps at Fort Oglethorpe, Fort Riley, Leon Springs, and Fort Benjamin Harrison, and later, if found desirable, one on the Pacific coast; but if a suitable camp and maneuver ground can be found on the Atlantic seaboard south of New York, this should be substituted for Fort Benjamin Harrison.

4. If approved, I recommend that the necessary facilities for shelter, messing, supply, etc., be provided without delay for the use of these training camps at the above points.

5. Authority is also requested for the bringing to these training camps of a training staff of approximately 1 officer instructor to each 50 student officers, together with such enlisted personnel as may be necessary.

6. I also request that one ambulance company and one field hospital be sent to each of these training camps, and that three additional ambulance companies and three additional field hospitals be organized at each without delay. Also that each training camp be further provided with an enlisted force equivalent to six regimental sanitary detachments. The above personnel is necessary to visualize medical organizations, equipment, and fieldwork, and to serve as a service corps in looking after the training camp and the many hundreds of student officers to be in attendance.

7. Authority is further requested for the establishment of a training course with sanitary personnel with troops, the appointment of officers as training officers with divisions or separate camps, and the establishment of a system of inspection sufficient to insure the efficiency of same.

8. It is requested that this matter be given decision as soon as possible. It is understood that the general training camps are to begin operations on May 15. The Medical Department should begin its work at least by that time, and, if possible, one or more of its camps should be put into operation before that time.

9. Attention is invited to the fact that the work of the Medical Department actively begins the moment troops are raised or brought together, and that the equipment of these training camps, the detailed organizations of the training course, and the provision of the staff of instructors should therefore be made as soon as possible.

The plan was approved and acted on by the War Department, as follows:4

[Ist ind.]
War Dept., A. G. O., May 11, 1917.
To: The Surgeon General, with the information that the establishment of additional subdivisions of the work in the office of the Surgeon General, as referred to herein, is approved with the following exceptions:

That no increase in the Medical Corps in number or grades shall accrue therefrom;

That the chief of the Sanitary Section may consult with and make recommendations to the Quartermaster General in regard to construction of a sanitary character, and may also recommend  anitary orders, but all orders will be issued in the way now prescribed by regulations; and

That four medical training camps, to begin June 1, 1917, with an attendance of officers for training at each to be not over 600, are approved; and that the tentative scheme of instruction is approved and will be submitted in form to be published as a general order.
On receipt of this approval the Division of Medical Department Training was at once established in the Surgeon General’s Office.5

On the same day, May 11, 1917, the War Department instructed the Quartermaster General to provide cantonments with accomodations for 600 officers at each of the four medical training camps.6 Cantonments for four ambulance companies and four field hospital companies were also ordered constructed at each of these stations, and each camp was to be ready for occupancy by June 1, 1917.6

The camp at Leon Springs was never established, as it was found impossible to provide instructors for more than three camps.7 A little later War


Department authority was received to raise the quota of student officers at each of the three camps actually established from 600 to 1,000:7 thus there was a net increase of 600 in the total number of students. To each of these camps a teaching staff of selected regular medical officers, each a recognized expert in his own particular line, was assigned. These staffs varied in numbers from 10 to 12 officers and were increased as soon as student officers could be taught so as to serve as additional instructors. The work of instruction was started as soon as the camps opened. As the first need for trained medical personnel would obviously be for the divisions shortly to be organized, a course of instruction was worked out to meet their needs, and as these were to be combat divisions, this course was specially adapted for the zone of operations.8 This was designated as the basic course and continued to be so through the whole period of instruction. It was prescribed in a letter of instruction from the Division on Medical Department Training and was found so satisfactory that there was no reason to change it. Early it was supplemented to a moderate extent by instruction for the lines of communication, for different kinds of hospitals, and by a limited amount of professional work relating mainly to military surgery and war psychoses.

In the early part of the war, under the various professional divisions of the Surgeon General’s Office as was appropriate in each case, and not under the training division, special professional courses for medical officers were very generally given at medical centers, but a little later it was concluded in the training division that such courses could be given to greater military advantage at the training camps. By the time the change had been approved by the different professional divisions in the Surgeon General's Office that were concerned, the training camp at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Ind., had been abandoned, leaving only two Medical Officers’ Training Camps still in operation, the one at Fort Riley, Kans., and the other at Camp Greenleaf, Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.

Professional instruction was started at the camps in a small way by the establishment of schools of roentgenology, orthopedics, and internal medicine. The effort was made to select as students for these schools medical officers who were specially qualified for the particular line of work. Some of these had been reserved for special work by professional divisions of the Surgeon
General's Office, but this was not the case with all who were selected.

From these small beginnings was finally developed at Camp Greenleaf, after Fort Riley was closed, a postgraduate school of wide scope. In it were found special schools on military surgery, internal medicine, anatomy, roentgenology, laboratory technique, neuro-surgery, otolaryngology. ophthalmology, applied hygiene and sanitation, and epidemiology.a 9

The three camps opened on June 1, 1917, which was the (late originally set for student officers to report, although an effort was made later to have their orders amended so as to have them report on June 15. This attempt at delay failed through clerical error in the War Department, and considerable numbers of student medical officers arrived at the camps on June 1 and immediately thereafter. This, though regretted at the time, proved to be fortunate, as it gave an extra fortnight of much-needed training to many students.

    a See histories of divisions covering the subjects named.


What this training meant may he inferred from the fact that notwithstanding the general state of unpreparedness when the student officers reported on June 1, on August 27, 1917, one week before drafted men were to arrive at National Army divisional encampments, there left from each medical training camp five trains of medical officers and enlisted men of the Medical Department.10  Each train carried medical personnel to its own camp. The camp quota was about 60 medical officers and 310 enlisted men, who were not only suitably organized for the formations with which they were to serve, but for each detachment officers and men had been specially selected at the training camps for fitness in the duties which they were intended to perform.10 These 900 medical officers and 4,600 enlisted men went to the 15 divisions that were ready for them, and were able to provide for themselves, to attend to sanitary matters, and to arrange for the handling of recruits in great numbers in advance of the arrival of the latter. By this means, very largely, the Medical Department met the strain imposed upon it at the start.
The Medical Department personnel sent to camps for training was never sufficient in numbers, in respect to officers or enlisted men, which was demonstrated by the continued necessity of ordering them away before their training was completed.11 Instances occurred in which enlisted men were ordered elsewhere as soon as they were equipped and of medical officers who could be held for training but two or three weeks. While through the training camps it was hoped to create a fully trained reserve of officers and men, this never proved possible, as the demand was always too great to meet the needs of the Medical Department in caring for sick and wounded. So far as enlisted men were concerned there was always a shortage of one-fourth to one-third of the total number which should have been enrolled in the service to comply with existing standards of organization. This shortage in the gross enrollment seriously interfered with their training in the camps, as not enough could be sent and those who actually arrived could not be retained long enough to complete the course of instruction.11 The number of medical officers sent to the camps proved sufficient in numbers to meet drafts for personnel made on them, but not sufficient to insure that officers so drafted would be adequately trained.11 In this connection the recommendation was made that on account of the needs of the Medical Department 3,000 medical officers, 500 officers of the Dental Corps, Veterinary Corps, and Sanitary Corps, and 35,000 enlisted men, Medical Department, as a minimum, be kept constantly under training.11 Such large numbers as this, however, never were attained during the war.

With the armistice, the need for special war training disappeared, and, having wound up its business, the Division of Medical Department Training in the Surgeon General’s Office was discontinued on November 11, 1918.12


(April, 1917, to December, 1919.)
Bradley, Alfred E., Brig. Gen., M. D., chief.
Munson, Edward L., Brig. Gen., M. D., chief.
Ashburn, Percy M., Col., M. C., chief.
Morris, S. J., Col., M. C., chief.

    b In this list have been included the names of those who at one time or another were assigned to the division during  the period April 6, 1917, to December 31, 1919. The names have been arranged alphabetically, by grades, irrespective of chronological sequence of service.



(1) Manual for the Medical Department, 1916. Art. II, 56.
(2) Memo. of Instructions for Medical Officers and Sanitary Units, Headquarters, Southern Department. Fort Sam Houston, Tex., August 12, 1916. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 167580 (Old Files).
(3) Annual Report of the Surgeon General, United States Army, 1918, 405.
(4) Ibid., 405 and 406.
(5) Memo. from Col. E. L. Munson, Al. D., to lieut. Col. F. W. Weed, M. C., April 24. 1922. Subject: Office Orders Establishing a Training Division in the Surgeon General's Oflice. On file, Historical Division, S. G. O.
(6) First indorsement. A. G. O., to Quartermaster General, Mlay 11, 1917. Subject: Medical Training Corps. On file, Mail and Record Division, A. G. O., 2581692 (Old Files).
(7) Annual Report of the Surgeon General, United States Army, 1918, 406.
(8) Letter from the Surgeon General to all division surgeons, October 3, 1917. Subject: Training of Sanitary Personnel of Divisions. Copy on file, Historical Division, S. G. O.
(9) History of the Medical Officers' Training Camp, Camp Greenleaf, Ga. On file, Historical Division, S. G. O.
(10) Annual Report of the Surgeon General, United States Army, 1918, 407.
(11) Ibid., 409, 410.
(12) Office Order, No. 97, S. G. O., November 30, 1918.