HADITHA DAM, Iraq -- Known as one of a Marine’s best friends, the Navy field corpsman spends most of his time keeping Marines healthy and battle-ready while operating in the most hostile combat environments.
Santa Ana, Calif., native, Petty Officer 2nd Class Carlos A. Lopez, not only spends his day performing basic corpsman duties but also keeps Marines in the fight as a physical therapy technician.
“Muscle-skeletal injuries are my bread and butter,” said the 26-year-old Lopez. “It is a great feeling when you see a Marine who was hurt but after a treatment plan, is back to doing everything they did before they got injured.”
As a physical therapy technician, Lopez treats patients on an almost daily basis for common injuries in Iraq, dealing with knees, ankles, and lower back problems. The amount of patrolling with more than 50 pounds of combat gear keeps the corpsman gainfully employed.
“I have three patients I see regularly right now,” Lopez commented. “But with Marines out at the bases all the time, some of my other patients I don’t see except every once in a while.”
When a Marine comes into the battalion aid station with a muscle-skeletal injury, they see Lopez, who spends time taking down symptoms, performing a physical exam and then coming up with a treatment plan. After talking with the medical officer and gaining approval, Lopez puts his treatment plan into affect, hopefully bringing the Marine back to 100 percent combat effectiveness.
“Seeing people progress from an injury to being 100 percent again is what makes the job great,” said Lopez, a 1997 San Marcos High School graduate.
Becoming a physical therapy technician in the Navy takes weeks of training. Because it was something Lopez really wanted to do, he got his chance to see what the therapy course had to offer after going on a deployment and being part of two different Marine units.
The eight-year Navy veteran got to test his skills as a physical therapy technician right after graduating the course. He was stationed at Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill., where he worked for almost three years with Navy recruits performing initial training.
“It was there that I really found out physical therapy was my thing,” he commented. “It was most rewarding actually seeing the recruits fully recuperate, graduate and become a part of the Navy.”
Along with his physical therapy technician duties, Lopez treats sick and wounded Marines who come from the field. He also helps treat Iraqi civilians and ensures the battalion’s area is free of insurgent activity.
“When a wounded Iraqi civilian comes in and has to be treated, I don’t see any difference than any other patient we have in here,” Lopez said. “To me, a patient is a patient, there is no difference.”
While treating patients on a daily basis, Lopez also takes time to help the junior corpsmen with any questions they might have. His collateral duties also include filing daily reports on patients and helping the medical officers with many matters that affect the BAS.
Helping the medical officers is something Lopez would like to do once done with his deployment. His plans include finishing his associate’s degree and putting in a package to be a physician’s assistant, which will further his career that he hopes lasts longer than 20 years.
“I would like to become a physician’s assistant, who is basically alongside the doctor at all times,” commented Lopez. “It is something I have wanted to do for a while now.”
And all the experiences he has had with the battalion while in Iraq may give him that chance to see another aspect of being a Navy corpsman.