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'Docs' answer Marine call for corpsman up

15 Apr 2004 | Sgt. Jose E. Guillen

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Thomas J. Cupo doesn't count on being promoted soon.  He missed his promotion test to join his Marines for the battle that waged around Fallujah last week.  He's been days without a shower and is just as weary as the Marines with whom he serves. 

And the hospital corpsman wouldn't trade it for the world.

"I wouldn't be anywhere else," Cupo explained.  "My Marines are more important than a test."

Part of the reason, he said, was because of the tactical medical skills he's learned working on the "green side" of Navy medicine.  Serving with the 1st Marine Division in Iraq put his life-saving skills beyond those of his counterparts working at Naval hospitals. 

He knows he's not the only one.  For every 30 Marines, there are two 'docs' to tend for them.  They take care of everything from blisters to gunshot wounds, while maintaining the same battle skills as Marines.  They are the lifesavers for the Marines on the front lines.

Cupo is assigned with Scout Platoon, 1st Tank Battalion, based out of Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.

"I've been with scouts for almost three years and I've memorized the allergies of just about every Marine in the platoon," Cupo explained.

Corpsmen such as Cupo run across the battlefield with packs weighing up to 75 pounds, stuffed with syringes, gauze and battle dressings.  Their other hand grips a 9 mm pistol.  Between the two, they balance the responsibilities of a Marine "doc."

"Aside to dental responsibilities, we have to familiarize ourselves with weapons systems and radios," Cupo said. "If my driver goes down, I'm ready for the big what-if factor.  If I'm not doing corpsman stuff, I'm doing Marine stuff - not picking flowers."

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeffrey L. Morrison said it's no small task performing both duties.  It's a matter of learning how Marines operate and adapting.

"I try to think like a Marine so that I can respond effectively as a corpsman," said Morrison, a preventive medical technician for Regimental Combat Team 1 at Camp Fallujah.

Corpsmen may be small in numbers, but their value to fighting Marines is immeasurable.  

"They are often unrecognized, but we rely on them extensively," said 1st Lt. Travis D. Carlson, platoon commander for Scout Platoon, 1st Tank Battalion. "The corpsmen I've served with have always been in the fight and ready to deploy for combat with Marines.  'Docs' are just one of us."