RUTBAH, Iraq -- The Marine Corps, which has no medical personnel to meet the rigors of the battlefield, relies on the Navy to supply qualified men and women to care for sick and injured Marines.
Corpsmen commonly referred to as ‘Docs’, go to Navy boot camp, and then to hospital corps school to learn the basics of medical care.
The corpsmen assigned to Marine units then receive additional training at the Field Marine Service School, according to Petty Officer 3rd Class, hospital corpsman, Julian D. Hernandez, senior line corpsman, Echo Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable).
“It’s a seven week course. We learn most of the Marine Corps history” Hernandez said. “We learn weapons systems and how to interact with Marines and what to expect from them.”
Once corpsmen are assigned to Marine units, and deployed, they participate in the same duties as the men and women they are charged with looking after, according to Christopher M. Russell, Team Leader, Bravo Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion attached to the 15th MEU (SOC).
“They participate in patrols just like everyone else,” Russell said.
Corpsmen work alongside Marines, performing many of the same daily duties, while also carrying out their responsibilities as healthcare providers. Hernandez says their duties entail much more than responding to life threatening situations in combat,
but also requires them to keep an open ear for the Marine who needs to talk. This keeps the working end of the tip of the spear always ready to fight, according to Hernandez.
“If a Marine isn’t mentally 100 percent,” Hernandez said, “he won’t be physically, either.”
One of the most important assets Docs bring to their unit, according to Russell, is their duty to train their Marines in lifesaving knowledge and techniques, in case a corpsman isn’t around in an emergency situation.
“They’ve done their best to train all of us individually as Marines and also to be first responders in the event that they aren’t immediately at hand,” Russell said.
Senior Chief Petty Officer, Hospital Corpsman, Christopher A. Visperas, Medical Planner, 15th MEU (SOC), agrees.
“They come to me asking what training I can give them or review them on,” said Visperas, “we try to provide them a better idea or understanding of not only their job of being a Marine, but also what they can do to help corpsman treat their fellow Marines.”
When corpsmen attach to Marine units, they are given many of the same duties and responsibilities of the Marines they serve with, said Visperas.
“There’s no separation between the Marine and their corpsmen. What they do out in the field, we do. If they sleep under the moon, we do that to; if they dig fighting hole, we dig fighting hole.”
According to Hernandez, corpsmen being assigned to Marine units and taking part in the hardships of day-to-day life on deployment is instrumental in keeping Marines in the fight.
In cases where a Marine has to be removed from combat, it is a corpsmen’s duty to track their patient and update the Marine’s command, according to Petty Officer 2nd Class, hospital corpsman, Jennifer L. Hill, assistant medical planner, 15th MEU (SOC).
This is a fulfilling mission for the corpsmen who liaison between medical facilities in the United States, Germany and the deployed units, according to Hill.
“A lot of my job is patient tracking, just to let (the command) know that the Marine who got hurt or sent back home ended up being discharged from the hospital and are back with their families,” Hill said.
To Hernandez, the access of medical care on a moment’s notice is reassuring to the Marines who know a corpsman is by their side. “I’m just happy that we, as corpsmen, are able to share the legacy with the Marines,” said Hernandez.