AR RAMADI, Iraq -- With his medical pack synched tightly on his shoulders and sweat just beginning to bead off of his forehead, Seaman Martin Shepherd races to help an injured Marine.
A rocket had just impacted only moments earlier and a Marine was suffering from shrapnel wounds throughout both legs.
In minutes Shepherd makes it to the scene -- his heart beating like a bass drum in a speed-metal song. His hands are surprisingly calm, despite the blood coursing through him as his heart pounds with the adrenaline rush. That’s because he’s been ready for this moment his entire life.
“It was my first actual experience in Iraq and it made me realize that all the training we did before we came and that we still do -- does pay off,” said Shepherd. “Saving lives is what I do and I did my job that day.
“I found out the Marine made a pretty good recovery and he’s at home with his family.”
Shepherd is a hospitalman, or Corpsman, here with the 2nd Marine Division’s Battalion Aid Station and has been assigned as the Corpsman for the division’s Marksmanship Training Unit (MTU). It’s a challenge he’s been striving for since he joined the unit.
“My job is to help people and it makes me feel like I’m accomplishing my goal when I do that,” said the 20-year-old Elizabeth, N.J. native.
Shepherd will be an integral part in the advanced training of the newly formed Iraqi military. He and the MTU Marines he supports are in the process of building a schoolhouse at Camp Habbaniya in the western part of Iraq’s Al Anbar Province. The school will be somewhat modeled after the Marine Corps’ School of Infantry, only on a smaller scale.
The MTU instructors will teach Marines from the division’s regimental units how to instruct Iraqi soldiers in combat techniques. Shepard’s part in the training scheme is to instruct the Marines in how to teach Iraqi soldiers basic lifesaving methods.
The 2003 graduate of Elizabeth High School already began this training months ago when he taught members of his battalion in the combat lifesaver’s course.
“The purpose of the course is to teach Marines how to take care of each other and themselves in combat because Corpsmen can’t be everywhere at once,” said Shepherd. “In serious instances, the course teaches them to stabilize someone until the medevac arrives.”
Shepherd grew up with a legacy. Corpsmen and military members are a part of life in his family. Both his mother and father were Corpsmen. His grandfather was a Corpsman and his great grandfather was a fighter pilot in WWII. He decided he needed to continue that legacy.
On his journey, Shepherd has a mentor – Petty Officer 1st Class Nona R. Sanders, a fellow Corpsman from Jacksonville, N.C. She guides him in order to bring him to the next level in his career.
“He works above his level,” said Sanders. “Sometimes we all fall off track, and I’m here to make sure he stays on it. He’d be doing even better if he would listen to me,” she said jokingly.
Corpsmen can either work green or blue side. Blue side is called shore duty as the Corpsmen care for fellow Navy personnel in stateside hospitals or aboard ship. Green side is with the Marines, a traditional role for the medical personnel who throughout history have stood in the Corps’ ranks in great battles like Iwo Jima in WWII to Khe Sahn during the Vietnam Conflict.
“I terminated my shore duty to go greenside,” said Shepherd. “There’s just more opportunity to expand. I’ve learned more here in a couple of months than I learned in a year in a Navy hospital. I just don’t see going back.”
Shepherd has been getting more experience working with the doctors who fix broken bones and sprains. They allow him to help with casts and get more of a first-hand education rather than from the books.
“Here, the docs give me more freedom to do things,” said Shepherd. “I can help with small operations and start IV tubes. In a hospital nurses usually take that responsibility.”
Shepherd is striving to become an IDC, an Independent Duty Corpsman. These Corpsmen are somewhat like physician’s assistants in that they can actually perform minor operations and give the shorthanded doctor staff a break.
“I like seeing patients,” said Shepherd. “It’s kind of like being a detective. You go in there knowing nothing other than the small clues from the injury and eventually it leads to the answer. That’s the best part of being a Corpsman.”