CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit grimaced as they were shown pictures of real-life combat injuries. The graphic result of a gunshot wound to the head and the human carnage from an Improvised Explosive Device explosion definitely grabbed everyone’s attention.
Marines typically expect to attend a medical brief like this before deploying, but just four months after returning from a deployment that took them to Operation Unified Assistance in Indonesia, and combat operations in Iraq, 15th MEU Marines were back in a classroom for some scheduled medical classes about combat injuries, diseases, and hygiene and sanitation.
Every Marine receives basic medical training during boot camp, but after that a Marine’s command is responsible for maintaining and advancing that knowledge. Coincidentally, this training was scheduled right as the 15th MEU was put on stand-by to deploy to the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to assist with the hurricane relief effort.
During its last deployment the 15th MEU, along with Expeditionary Strike Group 5, participated in one of the largest humanitarian efforts in history. They were called upon to assist victims in Indonesia and Sri Lanka after a tsunami ripped through the Indian Ocean killing more than 200,000 people. This time, the MEU was ready to offer relief from a natural disaster that hit much closer to home.
“The initial medical brief was more focused on us going to assist with [Hurricane] Katrina,” said Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Jesse G. Arzate, a San Antonio native that has been with the 15th MEU since September 2003. As the Marines learned in Indonesia and Sri Lanka less than a year ago, the combination of decaying bodies with the stagnant water can cause many diseases to spread rapidly, and it was Arzate’s job to inform the Marines on some of the situations they may face.
But as the 15th MEU was getting their gear ready to head for the Gulf Coast, they were told to stand down and remain on Camp Pendleton. Arzate immediately changed his focus for the classes from humanitarian effort, to combat wounds and every-day medical issues.
“After getting the word to stand down, I focused the next class more on injuries that the Marines were more likely to encounter during a deployment,” said Arzate. “We show the Marines pictures of battle wounds and diseases to better prepare them in case they come across the situation in real life. Now if they see similar injury to the ones on the slides, it won’t be a total surprise and they may respond quicker.”
“The pictures were pretty gruesome,” said Cpl. Mathew R. Loper, a field radio operator with the 15th MEU. “But I think they were beneficial, so it won’t be such a shock if we actually ever see one of those injuries.”
Arzate still briefed the Marines on a lot of common diseases related to humanitarian efforts such as tuberculosis and malaria. “Because of our position [as a MEU] there are many times when we find ourselves in a situation to help others,” he said.
Among many things discussed in the medical brief were the effects that a projectile has to the body, and what an explosion’s shockwave can do to your internal organs. Arzate informed the Marines on how a shockwave, although not causing any visible damage to a person, can still cause serious internal injuries.
“We are sticking to the basics for treating the wounds,” said Arzate. “Casualty evacuation has improved so much over the years that the time it takes a wounded service member to make it to the operating table is much shorter.”
Arzate wrapped up the training with information on basic field hygiene, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, and other medical concerns that Marines need to be aware of in everyday life.