In 1919, the Army Surgeon General wrote a letter to the Quartermaster General stating a need to have a dedicated maintenance depot for surgical instruments and other medical equipment. In 1922, a depot was established at Jefferson Barracks, St Louis, Missouri. Maintenance was provided by plant maintenance and signal personnel, as well as equipment manufacturers. Twenty years later, the Army established the Medical Equipment Repairer occupation and began planning for a dedicated training school at Jefferson Barracks. In 1946, the first class started a 3-month training program. Including both Army and Navy students, these technicians would go in to serve at maintenance Depots Army-wide.
As the Air Force stood up, it started sending students to the Army school. By 1955, the Air Force had determined a need to shift from a depot-level maintenance operation to that of an in-house model to help reduce contract costs. The Air Force determined Gunter AFB, Alabama would serve as the site of the Medical Equipment Repair Specialist school. In 1957, the first class arrived for a 3-month school. Taught by instructors who graduated from the original Army school, these Airmen built the foundation for today’s BMET career field.
In 1966, the school moved to Sheppard AFB, Texas. Electronic fundamentals, including soldering, took place in a separate building with other like career fields. Once complete, students then attended the actual BMET school, a large building added to an original missile bay (subsequently used as a trainee break area) housing multiple enlisted medical training programs. The entire program lasted approximately 44 weeks.
Operations continued there virtually unchanged through 1998, with the obvious occasional upgrades to equipment and curriculum. At that time, a new school was constructed adjacent to the original to house the new DoD school. The school incorporated electronics fundamentals into the actual BMET curriculum. In addition, the basic curriculum was reduced from 44 to 41 weeks. The new school was driven by a DoD initiative to combine Air Force, Army and Navy biomedical equipment technical schools into one central location with one overarching curriculum. As such, it provided a test bed for combined training and laid the foundation for the DoD to expand the initiative. In addition, it opened its doors to international students. The program currently hosts 1 to 2 international students per year.
Subsequently in August 2010, the school was relocated to Fort Sam Houston, Texas as part of the Medical Education & Training Campus (METC), a state-of-the-art facility designed to combine the vast majority of medical specialty training across the DoD on one campus as part of the US Congress’ 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) plan.
The current curriculum encompasses a 41-week basic technical training cycle, as well as several targeted advanced courses. As of 2011, all Airmen go through the Basic Course, then are sent to their first duty stations. Some return back for various advanced courses, based on local need and course availability. This differs from the Navy, which sends their students through the entire basic and first five courses of the advanced curriculum all at once, encompassing nearly 18 months of training.