AL QA’IM, Iraq --
You will rarely find a group of Marines performing combat operations without a Navy corpsman by their side. The time-honored unification of Marines and corpsmen has created an immeasurable bond, indescribable to most.
For one proud Navy corpsman, this bond has been held from both sides.
Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Leonardo E. Benitez joined the Marine Corps out of high school nearly 2 decades ago. With a wealth of family tradition, Benitez enlisted as an infantryman in 1989.
“All of my uncles were Marines,” said Benitez. “I wanted to see what was out there. I wanted to get out of Brooklyn, (N.Y).”
Benitez left the Marine Corps in 1994 and pursued a career as an emergency medical technician at a Veterans Affairs hospital for 8 years.
After 9/11, Benitez was again inspired to serve his country, though, at the age of 32, Benitez could not re-enlist as a Marine Corps infantryman.
“I wanted to fight, or be close to the fight,” said Benitez. “I went to the Navy and became a corpsman.”
Benitez now brings his vast medical and military knowledge to his fellow Marines and corpsmen of Task Force 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5. He was recently selected as the 3RD Bn., 2nd Marines Sailor of the Quarter for the pride and professionalism he holds for his work.
“I’m proud to be a part of this Task Force,” Benitez said. “There’s a pride in putting on a uniform to me. It defines who I am and what I am; being able to be a part of history.”
On his second deployment with the battalion, Benitez serves as corpsmen for the battalion commander’s jump platoon.
“This deployment, the (Iraqi) people have a different attitude, and I think they accept the fact that we’re here to help,” Benitez said.
Recently, Benitez developed a unique program amongst his platoon.
“When we got here, we noticed a lot of the (Iraqi) people had bad dental cases,” Benitez said. “Over Christmas, we got so many care packages out here with supplies like toothpaste and toothbrushes. I didn’t want to see that stuff go to waste. Me and the guys take as much as possible and hand it out whenever we can.”
Though Benitez has a significant presence due to his extensive knowledge and experience, the fact that he is a former Marine, is 6 feet 1 inch tall, weighs 250 pounds and has a thick New York accent, gives him a unique distinction.
Becoming a corpsman has given Benitez his longing to again work hand-in-hand with Marines. He is now exactly where he wants be; fighting from the front with his brothers-in-arms.
“I’ve always had a theory about the Marine Corps,” said Benitez. “About Marines from the ‘50s, all the way back to when the Marine Corps began; the training has changed, but the essence of the Marine Corps is still there. You can feel it around these guys. There’s nothing else I want to do in the world except this.”