Operational Medical Orderly

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Operational Medical Orderly
Ops Medic Badge.jpeg
Ops medic qualification badge
CountrySouth Africa South Africa
BranchSouth African Military Health Service
TypeMilitary Medical Support
Motto(s)"Audaces Servamus" Serving the Brave

The Operational Medical Orderly, better known as the Ops Medic is the collective name for the South African Defence Forces Medics. The Ops refers to the Operational area and was used to indicate that the medical orderlies deployed to the Operational area or theatre of operations of the then South African Defence Force (SADF). The Operational area referred to the border or cutline between Namibia and Angola where the Angolan Bush War conflict or border war was taking place from the 1970s to 1989.

The Ops medics was distinctly different from the Sick Bay and Hospital medics of the time because they were trained in infantry fighting doctrines and other doctrines as necessary to deploy with the armed forces of South Africa.

Until the early 1990s the Surgeon General authorised Ops Medics by the trained and qualified SADF/South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to work within their scope of practice while treating SADF/SANDF personnel. In the late 1990s the Health Professions Council required all practising Ops medics to register with the council to practice in South Africa and on South African Military operations worldwide.

Ops Medics are carried on a separate Operational Emergency Care Orderly roll of the Professional Board for Emergency Care of the HPCSA, although many have chosen to either dual register as Ambulance Emergency Assistants (Intermediate Life Support, Civilian Qualification )or to forgo registration as Operational Emergency Medical Orderlies in favour of registering as AEA's instead. This is motivated by the OECO qualification frequently being poorly understood in the civilian emergency care community, so Ops Medics wishing to moonlight while in service, or seeking EMS employment after leaving military service often find it easier to do so when registered as an AEA rather than as an OECO.

The structure of OECO training has changed over the years, and is no longer a stand-alone course as was previously the case. Currently prospective OECOs are trained first to the civilian Basic (BAA) and Intermediate Life Support (AEA) standard, and are then undergoing further military emergency care training to qualify them as a fully-fledged OECO. In line with the move away from the "short-course" emergency care programmes in emergency care in South Africa, the OECO course as it stands is due to be phased out by 2015, and replaced in its entirety by the newly introduced 2-year Emergency Care Technician national certificate. As is currently the case with OECO training, military ECTs are first trained in the baseline civilian qualification, and then undergo further military specific emergency care training. The ECT course was introduced in the South African Military Health Service (SAMHS) in 2008, and is anticipated to replace the OECO course entirely by 2016.[1]


In 1975 the South African Defence Force launched Operation Savannah; Warrant Officer II Rowley Medlin of the South African Military Health Service (SAMS) was ordered to prepare a National Service intake for medical operational duty.

"In about July 1975 I was called in and I was told to take over the training of the RMOs. At that stage we were starting to call them [unofficially] Ops Medics because they were going into the Operational Area. At that stage it was all south of the South West African border. I was briefed that these chaps had to be highly trained. They had to be able to go out with the infantry, the artillery, the armour. They had to be familiar with their tactics [sic] and be able to function as medical orderlies. I had to devise my own training programme at that stage. I was given a three-month training period which I was quite happy with. I divided it into six weeks of medical work and six weeks of field training. I started with my first batch [July 1975] and it went quite well. Just before the end of the three months I was given orders to dispatch them immediately to the border, which I did. I got in another batch; we started training. At that stage I did not have a company commander, the officer commanding … was … Brigadier Daantjie Brink. This [the nascent 'Ops Medic' course] was totally my baby." Warrant Officer II Rowley Medlin[2]

In 1979 The SAMS started structuring of the medical battalion group concepts instead of the Field Ambulance system of the World War II-Korean War era. It is here with the formation of the medical battalion group concept that the Operational medical orderly came into play, "To be deployed operationally with the fighting forces at platoon level." Commandant Gerhard (Vonk) Beukes SAMS[2]

Training cycle[edit]

Aspirant Ops Medics first have to complete the South African National Defense Force's Basic Military Training at any one of the four arms of service. On completion of Basics the aspirant can apply to become an Operational Medic. The South African Military Health Services conduct their own basic military training and the nucleus of students come from these intakes.

Aspiring Operational Medical Orderlies had to pass the Basic life support course. Aspirant candidates are required to pass the BLS level III course and achieve a minimum of 70% prior to be allowed on the Ops Course. A fitness test equal to the SADF fitness test also had to be passed. They were then transferred to what was known as OPS Company for training. The Training Cycle consisted of the following.

Medical phase[edit]

Medical Phase are divided in two phases a theoretical part and a hospital phase.

The Ops Medics are fortunate to do a practical phase in Hospitals who service some of the most violent neighbourhoods in South Africa namely Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Leratong and Kalafong. At these hospitals the aspirant health practitioner could easily witness and treat horrific injuries not unlike to be expected on military operations. These Hospitals service some of the worst Township (South Africa) in the country where faction in fighting are common.

The aspirant medic will during this phase deliver babies , treat emergencies like Intracostal drains , severe burns , gunshot wounds , stabbings etc. After completion of the hospital phase the Ops medic would have inserted countless drips , suitered countless wounds and delivered a lot of babies he would be ready to go into the Operational area and do hearts and minds operations by treating the local population in remote areas where the nearest hospital could be hundreds of kilometres. He would also be able to handle anything expected in war. In later years the Ops Medcis were also allowed on the emergency response vehicles where they were even more exposed to emergency care on the streets of Johannesburg

During the theoretical phase the candidates were taught everything they were likely to encounter they were also taught a very comprehensive pharmacological course to operate and dispense medicine in remote areas. Subjects covered were:

  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • Pharmacology (Emergency and Primary Health Care Drugs)
  • Emergency Care
  • Primary Health Care
  • Environmental & Personal Hygiene

Driving and maintenance[edit]

Mfezi Ambulance

Driving and Maintenance of military vehicles including the Casspir, Rinkhals and the Mfezi Ambulance. (Armoured)


Bush Phase during this phase the Ops Medic were taught Infantry fighting skills as required for deployment with the armed forces.

Detached duty and the Medical Battalion Groups[edit]

After completion of Ops Company the Ops Medics were detached to a Medical Command or Medical Battalion Group under the Command of the Parent unit the Ops Medic would be attached to the Infantry and other units during operations and exercises to return to the unit after completion of detached duty.

Ops Medics also supported the South African Police and Koevoet during operations. The SAMHS were structured with 8 Medical Battalion Groups.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ HPCSA Professional Boards: Emergency care regulations
  2. ^ a b Whittle, Marius (2006). "OPS Medic – operational medical orderlies during the Border War". Joernaal vir Eietydse Geskiedenis. 31 (3): 326–348. ISSN 0258-2422.