Marines provides critical link between battlefield care, higher headquarters

15 May 2003 | Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Jones

As a flute player in the 1st Marine Division Band, Cpl. Victoria R. Ortiz has played at countless ceremonies, homecomings and parades; each time boosting the morale of the Marines she played for. While deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, she lifted the spirits of those around her while never playing a single note.

Ortiz served for two months as a hospital liaison at the 86th Casualty Support Hospital, taking care of Marines and boosting their morale. She and the other hospital liaisons were the critical link between the battlefield hospital and the parent unit of the injured Marine.

In the past, wounded Marines' information would sometimes be lost in the paperwork shuffle.

"The units were very concerned about the status and condition of their Marines," said the 19-year-old corporal.

To correct this problem, the Marine Corps has taken a proactive approach and created the hospital liaison position to keep the command informed.

The main responsibility of a hospital liaison is to gather the name, rank, service number, parent unit, next of kin information of the patients and how exactly their injuries were obtained.

Ortiz would talk to the injured Marines to find out the necessary information. The items were entered into a personal casualty report and sent back to the I Marine Expeditionary Force administration section, she explained.

Sometimes the Marines were in too much pain or were under too many sedatives to answer the questions, so she would have to wait until they were able to communicate with her to obtain the details surrounding their injuries.

Ortiz was at a level two hospital, a hospital that received Marines directly from the front lines. She encountered many battle wounds while there.

"There was one case where a Marine had been run over by a vehicle and both of his legs had been crushed, " she said.

Ortiz, who has been in the Marine Corps for one year and nine months, was much more than simply an administrative clerk while at the hospital.  She spent countless hours with the injured Marines helping them cope with their injuries. 

Often she would be in the emergency room trying to comfort the Marines while they were receiving the initial treatment for their wounds.

"I would try to ease their pain during their time at the hospital," she said.

"I tried to take their minds off the injuries by talking to them about their home, their wife, their girlfriend...whatever would keep their mind off the pain they were in," said Ortiz. "One Marine's pain was so intense that he would cry out all day. I would go and talk to him but as soon as I left the room I could hear him scream again."

Once Ortiz obtained the initial information from the patients, she had to keep track of the injured Marines while they were at the hospital. After a Marine left the hospital, she also had to ensure that the location of the injured Marine was updated, either to return back to the unit or to receive further treatment elsewhere.

Ortiz saw more than just injured Marines while serving with 86th CSH forward; she also saw enemy prisoners of war and wounded Iraqi children.

"The cases that bothered me most were not Marines but the children; those are the memories that will stick with me. These children did nothing wrong, they were innocent," Ortiz said.

A particular hospital stay was especially difficult for her.

"One day I saw one of the Army nurses I worked with come out of the operating room and start crying. I went to ask him what was wrong and he said that I would not believe it if he told me. I went to the door and looked through the window. What I saw, I will remember for the rest of my life. There was a baby, no more than six months old, who had burns all over his face. I can still see the child," she recounted.

Despite the terrible sights Ortiz witnessed, her experience as a hospital liaison was a positive one due to the newfound appreciation for her fellow Marines on the front lines.

"These Marines risk their lives giving up every modern convenience to protect people they do not even know," she said.

The injured Marines always seemed to remain motivated and positive despite enduring gunshot wounds, loss of limbs, shrapnel wounds and countless other injuries, said Ortiz.

"One Marine had been shot four times, each time in a different part of his body. Every time I went and talked to him, he was always positive and very happy to see me," she said.

"The Marines were very thankful that we were there to help them. They thanked us and commented on how nice it was to have a Marine there," Ortiz said. "It is great to see these Marines doing better and back with their units," she added.

Ortiz will be returning to Camp Pendleton soon with the rest of the deployed Marines. But when her patients see her again, she will no longer be lifting their spirits as a hospital liaison.

She will be lifting their spirits through music as she plays alongside the rest of the band when the 1st Marine Division comes home.