USS IWO JIMA, USS NEW YORK, USS GUNSTON HALL -- Tens of thousands of Marine Corps dads around the world celebrated Father’s Day Sunday, but June 17 was also a significant day for another group of special people within the Corps – Navy corpsmen.
Marines and sailors from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group gathered together to celebrate the 114th anniversary of the Navy Hospital Corps Sunday evening aboard the amphibious ships of the Iwo Jima ARG.
Corpsmen attached to both the 24th MEU and the ships’ crews took part in cake cutting ceremonies aboard the USS Iwo Jima, USS New York and USS Gunston Hall. The youngest and oldest corpsmen cut the cake, a practice that represents the experience of veteran Sailors and the youth and energy of the future.
Many shared stories about why they became corpsmen, with the 24th MEU sailors discussing their decision to go “green-side,” meaning a Navy corpsman specifically trained for Marine units.
“I wanted to be a medic, but I also wanted to be a Marine, so a green-side corpsman is the best of both worlds for me,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Julian Guidry, a Rayne, La., native, and senior medical representative for the 24th MEU’s command element aboard the New York. “Our most distinguished history is with Marines. We are the only enlisted corps’ in the military and the majority of our heroes served with Marines.”
The importance of gathering together and celebrating the birthday of the Hospital Corps is that it reinforces the reason corpsmen exist and highlights them outside of a dangerous environment or one where they’re noticed more easily. Oftentimes, corpsmen are a “speck of blue in a sea of green,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Jones, a native of Honolulu, and the senior medical representative for the 24th MEU’s ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, aboard the New York. Jones has been on seven previous deployments in his career and is serving on his third consecutive deployment with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. His last two deployments were to Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively.
“I wanted to be green-side because I wanted to do medicine,” Jones said. “I was once the senior corpsman in charge of 250 Marines at a forward-operating base in Afghanistan and there are Marines out there whose lives I’ve saved. I think about them, their wives, their children, and there’s a very special camaraderie with those guys that I never could have experienced working in a hospital or anywhere else.”
The fact is Marines rely exclusively on the U.S. Navy for their medical needs. Presently, 63,000 Navy medicine personnel provide health care to the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, their families and veterans, according to a message released June 15 from Vice Adm. Matthew L. Nathan, U.S. Navy surgeon general and chief, U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.
The 24th MEU, currently deployed to the U.S. Central Command area or operations aboard the ships of the Iwo Jima ARG, carries 96 Navy medical personnel as they navigate the world’s seaways as a theater reserve and crisis response force.
“We attach our corpsmen to the smallest-unit levels so they can transfer hospital medical skills into expeditionary medical skills to keep more trigger-pullers down range and in the fight,” said Navy Lt. Peter Lapen, the BLT medical officer and native of Lancaster, Mass.
Indeed, the 24th MEU currently enjoys one of the newest additions to the expeditionary medical field by having its own organic shock and trauma platoon, a section of 10 officers and enlisted medical personnel attached to Combat Logistics Battalion 24. The purpose of the STP, as it’s often called, is to offer the 24th MEU a team of medical professionals that can provide primary stabilization for Marines in a forward area where ships and hospitals cannot.
The idea is not necessarily a new one – past MEUs have had similar capabilities aboard ARG ships. However, in 2010, the Marine Corps decided Marines needed full shock and trauma complements in forward combat areas, said Lt. Jeremy Selley, officer-in-charge of the 24th MEU’s shock and trauma platoon.
“We’re specially trained for serious life-threatening circumstances in a forward-deployed environment. We can manage acute airway control and hemodynamic resuscitation, which means we can better control bleeding and even give blood to someone who is suffering from severe blood loss,” said Selley, a native of Logan, Utah. “We also bring high-skilled diagnostics, including ultrasound capability, to the MEU.”
While these tangible elements of 24th MEU medical assets are sure to pay dividends when necessary, it seems the simple idea of camaraderie and esprit de corps prompt most corpsmen to the green side, including Petty Officer 3rd Class Mason Wilson, a native of Tucson, Ariz. Wilson used to be a deck seaman in the Navy but changed rates to be a blue-side corpsman to gain expertise in the medical field and better himself personally.
“I worked with a chief [petty officer] who always talked about the attachment he had to his Marines when he served with them as a corpsman,” he said. “He told me to go green side as soon as possible.”
Wilson is presently a corpsman with the Marines of Combined Anti-Armor Team 1, Weapons Company, BLT 1/2.
The Navy Hospital Corps was officially founded June 17, 1898, and is the largest rating in the Navy and most decorated in the United States.
The medical personnel with the 24th MEU, along with sailors from the Iwo Jima ARG, left the shores of Virginia and North Carolina in March. They will serve in the U.S. Central Command area of operations to conduct theater security and maritime security operations for the Navy’s 5th Fleet until a West-Coast-based MEU replaces them later this year.