CAMP RIPPER, Iraq -- From head colds to large wounds, ankle sprains to broken bones, mole removal to removal of shrapnel, the Naval corpsmen with Regimental Combat Team 2 have seen it all and always possess the medicine for what ails their Marines.
Since deploying in February, the corpsmen have supported all of the operations conducted by RCT-2, whether major or minor, on the frontline.
“I love my job and it can be addicting,” said Zion, Ill., native, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan A. McNabb, a hospital corpsman. “Saving lives is what we do and we do it well.”
McNabb, like many of the other corpsmen here on their second tour in Iraq, takes pride in doing every aspect of his job.
“It’s definitely a big difference from being a field corpsman and hospital corpsman,” said Seaman Hipolito V. Avitia, a field corpsman from Albuquerque, N.M. “Here you have more administrative issues and you can always learn or get help from other corpsmen.
“In the field with the grunts you are the leading expert on everything medical and the added stress of being in a dangerous environment keeps you on top of your game.”
All the corpsmen go into the field to gain invaluable experience, but they also return to the rear to relax. The experience they bring back to the rear is a teaching tool for other corpsmen.
In the rear, they work at the regimental aid station where they also train and play sports to build camaraderie. They treat walk-ins, give classes on basic first aid, help keep track of injured service members and on their free time they trade war stories of past field operations.
“During Operation Steel Curtain, I was working at a displaced persons camp handing out food, blankets and helping run a clinic to treat anyone that was injured,” the 21-year-old Avitia said, telling of one of his experiences. “A bomb had exploded in the city and a kid had gotten injured so we had to stitch him up. It was sad and a little weird working on a kid like that, but I was glad to help.”
“We are so used to working with adults who usually indicate what is wrong with them and when you have a situation like that it’s awkward,” remarked 25-year-old McNabb. “I treated this little boy once and he wouldn’t stop crying so I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him.
“Another ‘doc’ came up and knew immediately that he had in ear infection because he had children of his own. That was a learning experience for me.”
Sometimes age is not the only problem. When it comes to treating patients, the language barrier is the most common problem.
“When trying to ask a person if they have any allergies before you can administer medicines and they sometimes say ‘yes’ when they really mean ‘no’ and that can lead to deadly results,” Avitia, a 2001 Rio Grande High School graduate, explained. “Or trying to explain what you are doing or going to do so they won’t panic is a struggle that we all go through.”
The ‘devil docs’ policy to treat anyone within their means gives them versatility to treat all types of injuries to include dog, snake and insects bites.
Even through all the hardships, the ‘docs’ proudly proclaim their job to be the best job in their service.
According to Avitia, the best part of his job here besides treating patients is when he gets down time.
“If that happens,” he said. “That means no one is hurt.”
“Not only that, but you have one of the most respected jobs in either service,” McNabb said. “No matter what rank you are, when you’re a ‘doc’ you’re a ‘doc’ and everyone loves the ‘docs.’