Friday, March 28, 2008


(note, I didn't write this, just using it by permission, it tells a bit about what I do)

I recently was engaged in a heated argument with a young sergeant during this argument the sergeant said to me “You are just a corpsman” This angered me to no end, as we continued with the patrol I thought about his statement. You are just a Corpsman.

I realized that even though he may have thought he was disrespecting me he paid me one of the highest complements that could be given to a warrior. Yes I am just a Corpsman.

You can call me a squid, pecker checker, sailor you can make fun of my Dixie cup hat and bellbottoms but let me tell you about myself………….

A common description of 8404 hospital corpsmen could be found in the 1980 book, Green Side Out Marine Corps Sea-Stories by H. G. Duncan and W. T. Moore, Jr.

– "A long haired, bearded, Marine-hatin' Sailor with certain medical skills, who would go through the very gates of Hell to tend to a wounded Marine

I have my own symbol the Caduceus. It is very old and understanding its origins can be somewhat confusing. The link between the caduceus of Hermes (Mercury) and medicine seems to have arisen by the seventh century A.D., when Hermes had come to be linked with alchemy. Alchemists were referred to as the sons of Hermes, as Hermetists or Hermeticists and as "practitioners of the hermetic arts". There the caduceus was the magic staff of Hermes (Mercury), the god of commerce, eloquence, invention, travel and theft, and so was a symbol of heralds and commerce, not medicine. The words caduity & caduceus imply temporality, perishable ness and senility, while the medical profession espouses renewal, vitality and health.. Like the staff of Asclepius, the caduceus became associated with medicine through its use as a printer’s mark, as printers saw themselves as messengers of the printed word and diffusers of knowledge (hence the choice of the symbol of the messenger of the ancient gods). A major reason for the current popularity of the caduceus as a medical symbol was its official adoption as the insignia for the Medical Department of the United States Army in 1902.

I myself think that the Hermes angle is better because, I will sell my soul to save your life. If I have nothing left to use I will invent a way to save your life, I will travel through anything including the very gates of hell to save you and I have often stolen you from the very hands of death.

But I am just a Corpsman.

I am Francis Junior Piece who while continuously under fire while carrying out the most dangerous volunteer assignments, I gained valuable knowledge of the terrain and disposition of troops .Caught in heavy enemy rifle and machinegun fire which wounded a corpsman and 2 of the 8 stretcher bearers who were carrying 2 wounded marines to a forward aid station I quickly took charge of the party, carried the newly wounded men to a sheltered position, and rendered first aid. After directing the evacuation of 3 of the casualties I stood in the open to draw the enemy's fire and, with my weapon blasting, enabled the litter bearers to reach cover. Turning my attention to the other 2 casualties I was attempting to stop the profuse bleeding of 1 man when a Japanese fired from a cave less than 20 yards away and wounded my patient again. Risking my own life to save my patient I deliberately exposed myself to draw the attacker from the cave and destroyed him with the last of my ammunition, Then lifting the wounded man to my back, I advanced unarmed through deadly rifle fire across 200 feet of open terrain. Despite exhaustion and in the face of warnings against such a suicidal mission, I again traversed the same fire-swept path to rescue the remaining Marine. On the following morning, I led a combat patrol to the sniper nest and, while aiding a stricken Marine, was seriously wounded. Refusing aid for myself I directed treatment for the casualty, at the same time maintaining protective fire for my comrades. Completely fearless, completely devoted to the care of my patients, I inspired the entire battalion.

But I am just a Corpsman.

I am John Bradley who is immortalized in the Marine Corps memorial. I am the one with an empty canteen pouch. It is empty because I gave the last of my water and canteen to a wounded Marine 24 hours earlier.
But I am just a Corpsman.

In August of 1942, the first major USMC assault landings against the JapaneseEmpire occurred in the Solomon Islands, Pacific. The island chosen for the invasion was Guadalcanal. As they moved inland, four Marines were walking point into the jungle. Advancing into an open area without cover, they came under heavy fire from the entrenched Japanese. All four Marines were wounded but managed to crawl into a shell crater, about fifty yards from where they had emerged from the jungle. I ran from cover into the crater with the wounded Marines, and ran back to cover, under fire. Having dressed the wounds of the Marine, I sprinted back for another, only this time I was hit. Not stopping to dress my own wounds, I carried the second Marine to cover receiving a second wound. After giving aid to the Marine, I was hit for a third time going into the crater. Staggering toward the tree line with the third Marine, I was again struck by enemy fire. When the third Marine's wounds were dressed, I started after the last Marine in the crater. I still did not stop to care for my own wounds. In a final valiant effort, I stumbled toward the crater, where I was brought down by concentrated enemy machine gun fire. I lunged forward into the crater falling across the fourth Marine, finally giving up I life. But I am just a CorpsmanFifteen Corpsmen were counted among the dead following the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983.

But they were just Corpsmen

I am John Harlan Willis who was constantly imperiled by artillery and mortar fire from strong and mutually supporting pillboxes and caves studding Hill 362 in the enemy's cross-island defenses, I administered first aid to the many marines wounded during the furious close-in fighting until I was struck by shrapnel and was ordered back to the battle-aid station. Without waiting for official medical release, I quickly returned to my company and during a savage hand-to-hand enemy counterattack daringly advanced to the extreme frontlines under mortar and sniper fire to aid a Marine lying wounded in a shellhole. Completely unmindful of my own danger as the Japanese intensified their attack, I calmly continued to administer blood plasma to my patient, promptly returning the first hostile grenade which landed in the shell-hole while he was working and hurling back 7 more in quick succession before the ninth one exploded in my hand and instantly killed me.

But I am just a Corpsman.

I am fearless, dedicated, tough and caring. I have delivered babies and treated the old. On submarines I have performed appendectomies even though I am no surgeon, I do this because it is what needs to be done. I will tranfer my own blood to your body from mine if that is what I have to do. I have the skills to keep you breathing even if you have no face. I will stop the blood from leaving your body in an singleminded effort to save your life while ignoring everything else including my own safety.When you are injured there are three things you scream out Oh God ,Momma and Corpman up. The first two usually don’t show up and the only thing that will stop me from getting to you is death itself. I have taken an oath to do this. I take that oath very serious.

I am just a Corpsman.

I have always been with you don’t you remember? Was I not there during the freezing winter in the Chosin resevoir. Did I not help you semaphore 100s of injured Marines. Did I not fight as hard as you did on Okinawa. In Belleau wood did I not keep you alive so that you could continue to do what you do best? Do you not recall during the TET offensive how I carried all that extra weight in the form of equipment to keep you alive? Was I not in Somalia? In desert storm did I not repel the enemy out of Kuwait with you.. Im sure you realize that I am still here with you fighting next to you in Iraq. I have spilled my blood here too. I have saved your life here as well. Don’t you remember?Was I not in Fallujah, Ramadi and Habaniyah. I know you realize that right now I am on a mountain in Afghanistan . I live in that battle position with you, I sleep next to you. I patrol with you, I suffer where you suffer.

I am just a Corpman.

I stand by you with pride don’t I deserve the same? have I not earned your respect?.I cry when you cry, I cheer when you cheer. Your battles have always been mine. I practice medicine through firepower. I will gladly take a life to save yours and give mine in your stead. That is what I am here for. I am just a Corpman. When the Marine Corps Hymn plays I stand a little taller and a tear wells up in my eye because I know that it is also my song. I have earned that by blood. You did not give it to me, don’t you see? Just like the Blood represented by the stripe running down your leg my Caduess is also red.

I am just a Corpsman

Thursday, March 27, 2008

New nickname

My doctor dubbed me the Grim Reaper last night and to others, mentioned the name, Angel of Death. You know, that guy with the pale bony face who supposedly appears right before someone kicks the bucket? Not that anyone has kicked the bucket in my presence for a long time but because all of my injured Marines have been kind enough to do it when I happen to be taking pictures with my camera. Yes, I have caught every single accident with the mechanism of injury for all of the trips to the hospital. My last shot of each of these days is usually what ever it is that took them out.

Guess that's one of the strange perks of being a corpsman/unit photographer. For my last two patients I took over, I was there in the ER talking to the Doc on duty, telling them the story about what happened and the patient history. Towards the end of me passing on the info, a light would flare in my head and I would say "wait", pull out my camera and sure enough, there it is.
Sort of spooky, because when I see the injured Marine, my brain goes into crisis mode and the camera goes down into the bag and I forget that I even had it then at the hospital. Then the thought would rise up in my consciousness, was I filming or taking pictures when it happened? I never remember actually taking the picture and the actual memory of the event has always been different then the reality that my camera shows.

It's first hand proof for me that adrenalin does warp space and time.

Another thing that sinks afterwards is all of the aches and pains that comes from running on that adrenalin and manhandling people around. I'm getting old. I also didn't miss the waking up in the middle of the night trying to figure out how I could have done something different and second guessing myself. I'm not afraid of dying or getting blown up, what I'm afraid of is having those I'm responsible for get hurt and not being able to save them.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter and Juno

Just lying in my bed watching Juno and my roommate is across the way is watching wrestling which seems to be on out here every other night. I’m totally digging the movie and typing this at the same time which calls for much editing later. But got to write when the feeling calls.

We had a Bar-b-q for Easter Sunday, even though we’re at the edge of the world, our PX still carries frozen t-bones, hamburgers and chicken. Had a good turn out, 60’s music playing and horseshoes were making ting sound in the background. I donated a rice cooker full of sweet rice and everyone pitched in something, chips, soda, non alcoholic beer, ack, non alcoholic beer. For the moment, it was almost like we weren’t on the opposite side of the world from everything we love.

The weather people say that there’s a sand storm on the way and I can feel the hairs on the back on my neck sticking up. Of course it all could be my imagination but I think it’s a big one is coming.

It’s late and I wonder how all of my people are doing back in the states. Lonely times and this movie makes me miss home.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Coping Cliques

Coping Cliques

We each find our way of coping with the distance. Being a Corpsman of Marines, it's turned me into a watcher of people and being tapped as the unit photographer, that gives me an unbiased license to see everything.
Humans are social beings, the interaction between people give me hours of enjoyment just observing. Lately my focus has been on the unconscious cliques people form to deal with the stress of deployment.

If you're watching us from the outside, the first people to catch your eyes are the PT Studs in all of their muscled glory. In some past life before they became Marines, they were probably jocks or someone who had dreamed of being a jock. Now they're deployed and are unencumbered by the social niceties of family and network television and have free reign to shape their bodies into an Arnold-like state of physical perfection. Back home, it’s rare to be able to fit a daily three-hour workout into your schedule. But here? Once work is completed, a distraction-free day provides optimal work-out conditions.

Another group is the Halo/Call of Duty/Unreal Tournament Super Virtual Soldiers, they're sort of an upstart group, only appearing in the last decade or so. These guys spend a good percentage of their deployed lives training their brains into becoming one with their warrior avatar till they find that cyber nirvana of being where they are able to last waste to that online countryside that the game produces and bask joyfully in the sound of curses and moans of the Marines whom they have fragged. In decades past, their ancestors were probably D&D players. The hardest task these guys have when returning to the states is remembering that they have responsibilities outside of the game.

No matter where you go or how primitive the environment is, you'll find a group of people who live to play cards. They spend hours each night practicing telepathy on each other, not that it works but watching from the outside, you expect to hear a eureka moment that never happens. They lie in wait with an empty chair at the table waiting for fresh meat to have a seat and when they lose to the outsider, their moans can be heard for weeks. The banter of card players has become the familiar drone that has laid the backdrop for every conflict for centuries and don't think it's going to stop anytime soon.

Myself? I follow more of the nerdy studious crowd. I walk around with a paperback in my cargo pocket and when I'm not reading, I spend a fair amount of time online catching up with email and talking to people around the world.

There are as many categories as there are people, I just named a few that stick out. The folks who end up having the problems out here are the ones who haven't developed a good method of spending their free time.
They spend hours dwelling about being in the middle of the war or feeling lonely, many of a clock ticking in their heads counting off the seconds to that date far off in the future when they get to go home.

These are the people I watch the closest and when I have to, intervene.
I've learned over the years, the more time you hold in your head, the less space you have to use for other things. The old adage of taking things "one day at a time" actually works.

I'm lucky in most respects, to sort of quote one of my SSgt's, "There's too many Frikkin happy people around here!" It's true. This trip I've deployed with a cheery bunch, every morning, I'm forced though a gauntlet of smiling Marines saying "Hi Doc!", "What's up Doc?", "Good morning Doc!" with high fives. You think I'm kidding? Nope. At least they like me and it makes it hard to be down for too long. Most days, it’s difficult to imagine these guys as lean mean fighting machines but I've seen them slip on their battle skins and then it's hard to believe that they were ever soft.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

It's a small world

Back in the late 90's I was stationed at NWS China Lake, a Navy base down the street from Death Valley and worked for this cranky old first class named Mark Lawrence. Mark was famous for making grown men cry, an act I had witnessed every couple of months while I was there. But for some reason, Mark and I got along like peanut butter and jelly and made a great team running the Aviation Medicine Department.

He retired and moved out in the local community but we still hung out. Mark had 3 sons who were in high school and the oldest one was talking about joining the Army which drove Mark batty to no ends. Soon thereafter I got out of the Navy and tried to find my fortune as a mechanic in Arizona and Mark and I lost touch.

Then 9/11 happened and it made me feel like I was wasting the talents that I had spent years perfecting in the Navy, so I came in and though a mix up in paperwork, I ended up at Edwards AFB, 60 miles south of China Lake, same hellish desert, talk about bad luck. Well not really, I ended up loving the challenge of my job and I had left behind some lifelong friends back at Ridgecrest(the small town outside of China Lake) whom I could visit on a regular basis.

And I found out that Mark was living next to Edwards in a town called Palmdale and was remarried to another lady named Patty. And we were regulars at visiting each others again.

This was back in 2002, now fast forward to 2008, I'm back in Iraq for my fourth tour. I was walking by the front desk and there was a visitor waiting for me. It was Mark's older son, who was also named Mark, he joined the Army and their unit was stationed here. Funny thing is, we're both the same rank now, he's now a Staff Sergeant. One thing about the Army these days, you make rank a lot quicker then the Navy.

We hung out, shared some stories and talked about home for a while. Good times, thanks for coming by Mark, it made my week.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

When a sailor talks about coffee, he talks about it like he would a lover. Any Navy place you go to, there’s a coffee mess, usually with a tip jar towards supplies but it actually doesn’t matter if someone puts money in there or not. Because there is always going to be someone like me or my doc who will pay out of pocket to fill the thing up just to make sure it’s stocked.
In Iraq, I’m drinking some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. Why? Because of the soldier support folk who send out some amazing coffee care packages. Starbucks? Got it. Hand made hippy French Roast? Yup. Voodoo Child Jimmy Hendrix coffee? Got that too. Sweetened condensed milk to go with espresso? Oh yes. Thank you Doc’s sister Penny, birdlady and others, my happiness is in direct proportion to the volume and how good my coffee is.
Thank you , my taste buds are very happy these days.

You notice the espresso machine on the right? Before you go and think about how spoiled I am (I might be), let me tell you the story behind it. A couple of months ago, my mom and I were going garage saling around Prescott Arizona and saw a sign for 50% off everything at a garage sale. That espresso machine had a sticker for 5 bucks on it, I brought it up and they gave it to me for 2.50. Can’t beat that. It was a wedding present to a Mormon couple who didn’t drink coffee. Bonus! Probably the best two-fifty I spent last year and it’s going to give years of great service to this department long after I’m gone.

The French press arrived today, it was a gift for Doc from his sister Penny along with that huge sack of Gimme! French Roast Coffee out of Ithaca, New York. Some of the best coffee that has touched my tongue. Thank you!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Groundhog Day

The rituals are starting to sink in, the little idiosyncrasies, the quarks that each of us do to stay sane with the sameness. Our secret pet peeves are now common knowledge and the people we spend 16 hours a day with are as well known as the back of our hands. One thing about being out here, it wears out the buttons we all have inside of our head because someone is always there pushing them to get a rise.

I have my clique of buddies that I hang out with but at the same time, I stay above the fray. Being the doc, I have to get along with everybody and mostly, I’m pretty good at that but occasionally even I have someone whom I just rub the wrong way and nothing I can do will fix it. That’s where my stellar self control comes in but my invisible armor has a fluctuating power source, there are days where it’s a thin veneer shell, fragile and waiting for that sharp word to make it shatter but usually, it’s so thick and flexible that I can take a mortars falling from sky and not flinch.

It’s a game of give and take, some day you got game and others you don’t. The days are starting to mix into each other and I have to make a conscious choice to look at the calendar to see what day it is. Not much changes, we walk the same mile of property day after day, each of us maintaining in his own way. Got to get to sleep so I can start it all over again, good night.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Blogging Thumbs Up

Last May when I went to the Milblog Conference, there was talk about us being in the last days of milblogging. That military was cracking down on blogging from the front. Being someone who has spent a fair portion of the last 4 years blogging from Iraq, I’m beginning to think it was all a Net Myth.

Unlike many of the anonymous Milbloggers, my real name has been attached to my blog since day one and all over the internet. I talk to our Public Affairs Office (PAO) on a regular basis. In fact, I know for a fact that the New Media Division on the Marine side is embracing blogging done by troops on the ground.

We follow the same rules under the UCMJ that apply to anyone in uniform. They compare it to talking to a Rotary Club, we’re not allowed to say anything that could be embarrassing to the military or talk bad about public officials and to follow OPSEC and the Privacy act. That’s a bare bones description but it covers the basics.

If you watch the news about Iraq, unless it’s something that goes boom or there’s an argument for or against us being here, we really don’t get much air time. The official military sources (PAO’s) are putting out stories every day but are writing for mostly a military audience, unless you’re connected with the military, you’re not going to see much of their work. Main Stream Media is geared towards finding that big story, something that will sell papers and grab peoples attention or something that they can run for 24 hours for most of a week.

I call it the “cute missing blonde story”, notice how much airtime blondes get when they go missing? To me, that kind of news is totally worthless and the cable news people who make the decisions to try overwhelming the public with this garbage are no better then spammers. Maybe there is a reason why bloggers talk so bad about the MSM sometimes. The News could be great if they only had a brain in control.

Between the PAO’s stories and the main stream media, there’s a huge vacuum with thousands of stories that are left untold plus an entire demographic of folk who spend a major portion of their lives just reading blogs. Ignoring them would be a waste and that’s where people like me come in and fill a small corner of that news vacuum. We try giving you a glimpse of our lives and occasionally, you’ll find a diamond in the roughness of cyberspace. Take what we write with a grain of salt, you are getting an objective story told by one person, not the big story, just what I see.

Back to the point, as Milbloggers, we all follow a loose framework of rules, no one tells us what to write as long as we fall inside of that set of boundaries and if we get outside, we try policing each other before the powers that be notice. I’ve talked with the guys in charge of keeping track of blogs and they haven’t asked me to change a single thing about my writing nor push forward a message. They prefer us to be raw and original and I’m totally okay with that.