CAMP HURRICANE POINT, AR RAMADI, Iraq -- Paul W. Champion, 25, of Iron Mountain, Mich., made history July 15 when he was meritoriously promoted to the rank of petty officer 2nd class during a ceremony here.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” said Champion, a hospitalman and the senior line corpsman for Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, humbly on his day of advancement. “I’m just doing my job the same as any other corpsman. I’m certainly happy I was recognized, but I don’t feel like I earned it any more than the other corpsmen out here.”
Modesty aside, Champion’s promotion was a Navy first.
Under the Navy’s newly mandated Combat Meritorious Advancement Program, Champion was one of only two Sailors selected to pin on the rank meritoriously while serving in combat.
The program was created to advance Sailors in enlisted pay grades of E1 through E5 in recognition of uncommon valor and extraordinary deeds demonstrated while engaged in, or in direct support of combat operations, according to Navy Administration message 077/05.
Just like his name, “he’s a Champion,” said Maj. Phillip J. Treglia, the operations officer for 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, shortly after pinning Champion’s new rank insignia on the collar of his camouflaged blouse. “His actions proved that last year (in Fallujah).”
Champion was awarded a Navy Commendation medal with combat V device for his actions in Fallujah April 7, 2004 with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.
“HM3 Champion exposed himself to the full volume of enemy rifle, machine gun and rocket propelled grenade fire as he gained access to a courtyard to treat a wounded Marine on the rooftop of a building,” wrote 1st Battalion, 5th Marines’ commander, Lt. Col. Eric Smith, in his letter nominating Champion for the program.
While exposed to heavy fire from the enemy, Champion climbed to the roof using a ladder, grabbed the wounded Marine and proceeded to carry him off the rooftop to safety, according to Smith’s letter.
“HM3 Champion’s strong back and incredible inner strength showed as he moved the Marine from the rooftop,” read Smith’s letter. “In order to protect the Marine during the decent from enemy fire, HM3 Champion used himself as a human shield for the egress down the ladder. In training, without enemy fire, and with protective gear, very few individuals could have carried another Marine down that exposed, narrow ladder.”
The Marine returned to full duty days later and continued combat operations because of Champion’s efforts, added Smith.
In addition to his heroic actions that day, Champion is also credited with being directly responsible for the casualty evacuation of 12 urgent, 10 priority, 15 routine and eight Iraqi civilians with gunshot wounds and blast injuries as a senior corpsman with Company A last year during Operation Valiant Resolve.
An enemy mortar round injured Champion and five Marines, and according to Smith’s letter, Champion rendered aid to the wounded Marines before seeking attention for his shrapnel wounds.
He also qualified as an Enlisted Fleet Marine Force Warfare Specialist last year in Fallujah.
“Champion is on his second deployment to Iraq with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and continues to display an outstanding level of performance,” wrote Smith.
He has built a cohesive unit of corpsman, who’re responsible for the treatment of 14 wounded Marines, according to Smith. Champion was also selected as the infantry battalion’s Sailor of the Quarter.
Chief Petty Officer Rodney J. Lewis, the senior medical department representative for the Battalion Aid Station, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, believes Champion’s promotion is well deserved.
“He’s been operating at and above the rank of E5 since I’ve known him,” said Lewis, who joined the infantry battalion October 2004. “He’s dependable and mentally and physically tough.”
“He’s one of the most motivated corpsman I know,” added Petty Officer 1st Class Nathan W. Sims, a hospital man and the independent duty corpsman for 1st Battalion, 5th Marines’ BAS.
Champion, who joined the Navy January 17, 2002, is happy with his past three plus years of service as a corpsman and plans to reenlist soon.
“I like serving alongside my Marines,” said the 1999 Kingsford High School graduate, who also has an Associates degree in Criminal Justice for Northern Michigan University. “The camaraderie is great. I live, train and fight with them, and they seem to hold their corpsmen close to their hearts. We’re a family.”
Champion, who’s a self-described “outdoorsman” with an enthusiasm for fishing, surfing and playing football, is a second generation sailor. His father, Stephen Champion, served in the Navy for 20 years as a machinist mate and retired in 1999.
Possibly the reason why he was able to carry that wounded Marine down the latter a year ago was because of his other favorite pastime – lifting weights. The 6-foot 180-pound Champion hits the gym regularly.
“I try to go a couple hours each day,” he said. “It’s a good way to relieve tension.”
Champion enjoys being a corpsman and is content with remaining one because he “eventually wants to pursue a career in health care after the Navy,” he said. “I plan on going to Independent Duty Corpsman School. I’ll have to leave (1st Battalion, 5th Marines) to do so, but I want to return. This is my family here.”