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Steely-eyed sailors prove their mettle

12 Jun 2006 | 1st Lt. Nathan Braden

Many months of preparation, including hours upon hours of diligent study and practical application rehearsals, and a grueling four-hour oral examination were finally rewarded here June 12.

Four Navy corpsmen assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5’s Regimental Aid Station were awarded the Fleet Marine Force Warfare Specialist designation.  Even better, they were pinned by RCT 5’s Commanding Officer Col. Larry D. Nicholson. 

The awardees were Navy Petty Officers 3rd Class Orlando A. Soriano, John W. Harper, Andrew W. Tuohy and Seaman Bounmy Meunsy.

The designation authorizes the sailors to wear the FMF insignia, commonly referred to as the ‘FMF Pin.’ It signifies they achieved a level of proficiency in Marine Corps war fighting. 

“The FMF pin gives the corpsmen instant street credibility with the Marines, and that’s pretty damn important,” Nicholson said. 

Any Navy personnel serving in the “Fleet” can earn this pin.  The four corpsmen mastered 20 different subjects – from Marine history and organization to communication procedures and infantry weapons. 

A two-part written test – one for basic topics and a second that’s specific to their command – was part of their test.  In their case, the RCT-5 corpsmen focused on ground combat. 

The sailors passed both portions before going before an oral examination board.

The end result, though, was wearing their pride on their chest.

“It’s a symbol of knowledge and dedication to the hospital corps and the Marine Corps,” said Harper, 22, from Dublin, Calif.   Harper started working towards his pin while stationed with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in Okinawa, Japan, last year. 

“We have the experience and skill sets to operate compatibly with the Marines,” he said. 

“The guy we think about the most and always want by our side is the corpsman,” Nicholson said.  “It is my great honor today to recognize their great skill and dedication.”

“It’s a rite of passage,” explained Soriano, 23, from Martinez, Calif. “People look at you differently.” 

The Regimental Aid Station here is making strides to provide all their sailors the opportunity to earn the designation. 

“We are pushing our corpsmen to get it while we are out here because there is more of a prestige to earn the pin in combat,” said Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Pete D. Villanueva, RCT 5’s senior medical department representative, 47, from Manila, Philippines.  “It’s also harder because of the high operational tempo here.” 

“Getting the pin in Iraq is an added bonus. I guess it's added bragging rights,” Harper said.  “Not everyone is able to get their pin in Iraq because everyone is so busy.  It takes a lot of dedication by the corpsmen to put down their Playstation and pick up the books for an hour at the end of the day.”

The sailors said their greatest obstacle was the oral review board.

“The board was the toughest part,” Harper said. “They can ask you anything from the 20 something chapters of material.” 

The sailors’ board started at 9:30 p.m. and lasted until 1:30 a.m. 

“I kid them and say that they are the first sailors in the Navy to have a two-day long board,” Villanueva said. 

The close-knit sailors of the RAS spend hours in group training sessions, studying and conducting practical application.

“We make it hard because we wanted them to feel they earned it, and they did,” Villanueva said. 

The FMF insignia consists of the Marine Corps emblem of an Eagle, Globe and Anchor, above crossed rifles, in front of a wave, with the words “Fleet Marine Force” written across a banner along the bottom edge. 

“We try to get as much knowledge as possible about the Marines since we are one team, we are not outsiders,” Soriano said.  “I feel more comfortable operating with the Marines.  If I had to, I could use ‘land nav’ or get behind a weapon system.  It was well worth the effort.” 

The significance of the designation represents more to than just a grade on a test or a piece of metal to hang on their uniform.  It represents corpsmen who came before and set the standard of service.  

“Corpsmen have a very long, honorable and distinguished history serving with the Marines.” Harper said. “This pin represents some of that and we don’t take that lightly.” 

“Earning this is testimony to your great devotion to your profession, even if it’s for a short period,” Nicholson said.