PENSCOLA, Fla. — In a flash of history more than 62 years ago, a Navy Pharmacist Mate — forerunner of today’s Hospital Corpsman — was the lone sailor among a handful of Marines made famous by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Flag Raising on Mount Suribachi.”
Pharmacist Mate Second Class John Bradley earned the Navy Cross for his actions in combat only days before the flag-raising.
According to the citation, Bradley observed a wounded Marine in an open area under a barrage of mortars and machine-gun crossfire. With complete disregard for his own safety, he ran through the intense fire to the side of the fallen Marine, tied a plasma unit to a rifle planted upright in the sand and continued his life-saving mission. The Marine’s wounds bandaged and the condition of shock relieved by the plasma, Bradley pulled the man 30 yards through intense enemy fire to a position of safety.
Since its inception, the Navy Marine Corps team has exemplified the motto — “One team, one fight” — and it still does today in Iraq.
“As the shooting began, and wounded began to filter in — you just never know when (or how) you’ll react. I was thinking, ‘I’m (only) 19 years old (and have) these Marines’ lives — both young and old — in my hands,’” said HM3 Courtney Seals. The four-year Navy veteran was a Fleet Marine Force corpsman assigned to a Marine Expeditionary Unit during the Battle of Fallujah in fall of 2004.
Specialty-training is crucial for FMF corpsmen. It’s beyond the training given to general duty corpsmen. The average FMF corpsman or ‘Devil Docs’ as Marines affectionately refer to those corpsmen, is in their early 20s. They attend Hospital Corps School, and go through an intense eight-week course at the Field Medical Service School at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
The FMF corpsmen attend a 10-day course in Operational Emergency Medicine where they get hands-on training and the opportunity to treat different combat wounds. Every corpsman is taught how to treat injuries ranging from routine to catastrophic. The priority is to stabilize injured Marines for medical evacuation.
“Stop the bleeding and control intestinal spillage,” says Dr. Noyes, a general surgeon who works at Naval Hospital Pensacola.
Additionally, the Marines teach the corpsmen to be active members of the infantry unit. This includes practicing patrolling and weapons-handling. While Marines teach their corpsmen the basic skills of an infantryman, the corpsman educates the Marines on first aid and buddy-aid techniques.
This is important because a corpsman cannot be everywhere at once. If multiple casualties are taken, “Doc” needs the Marines to be able to react and provide medical attention to their own until he can get to them.
With today’s technology, if a Marine can be stabilized and taken to a major medical unit within the “golden hour,” it dramatically improves the chances of their survival.
Pensacola is home to a number of Navy corpsmen and Marines who have recently returned from combat tours in Iraq including two FMF corpsmen — HM2 Felix Colon and HM3 Courtney Seals — both assigned to the Naval Branch Health Clinic at the Center for Information Dominance at Corry Station, Pensacola, Fla.
“The role of the corpsmen stateside or in Iraq is similar — taking care of our patients. In a hospital, you will be taking care of dependents of deployed service members, as well as taking care of ‘Wounded Warriors’ who have returned for treatment,” Colon said. “The Corpsman’s role in Iraq is to ensure that wounded service members get that first initial medical care; and stabilize them before sending them back to the rear.”