CAMP BABYLON, Iraq -- Nearly six years after enlisting into the U.S. Navy as a 36-year-old recruit, Petty Officer 2nd Class Del J. Cochran received his Fleet Marine Force designation as a corpsman at Camp Babylon, Iraq, June 26.
The 42-year-old activated reserve sailor serves with Detachment C, 4th Air-Naval Gunfire Liaison Company at Camp Babylon. 4th ANGLICO is supporting the Multi-National Division Central-South, led by the Polish army.
The unit’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Thomas R. Morgan pinned on Cochran’s silver-colored wings, inscribed with “Fleet Marine Force,” during a small morning ceremony. The newly acquired insignia was placed right below his gold jump wings.
“It’s been a labor of love for the last three years to get pinned,” said the native of Cape Corral, Fla.
Before entering the Navy, Cochran worked as a physical therapist, which he still performs on the civilian side. He holds associate’s degrees in chemistry, physical therapy and liberal arts.
So why would an accomplished civilian drastically change his course in life to join the Navy?
“It all started in 1995, when my little sister was murdered,” said Cochran. “It really hit me hard. It gave me a wake up call, and made me want to do more with my life.”
As the years passed, Cochran searched for what he was after.
“During that time, my wife was really supportive of me,” he said. “I guess I was going through a mid-life crisis.”
He decided he wanted to do everything life had to offer. He wanted no regrets.
“Well, instead of buying a new sports car or finding a 19-year-old girlfriend, I decided to join the military,” Cochran said, chuckling.
The thought of joining the military had always been in his mind, but he always put it off – telling himself “now wasn’t a good time” throughout periods in his life. He finally got sick of waiting and decided to act.
Cochran had his heart set on becoming a corpsman from the beginning. It seemed like the wisest career path, since he had both the experience and love of helping people.
However, the Navy placed him in a different field.
This did not deter Cochran’s dreams, however, and after two years of perseverance, he finally got his wish.
After going through traditional corpsman training, he got the opportunity to transition to what is simply called the green side and work with the Marines.
The blue and green sides of the naval medical community differ greatly, according to Cochran. In the Navy, corpsmen mainly work inside a normal hospital setting, similar to the civilian world. Cochran wanted no part of that; he wanted to be in the field with a pack on his back – the same as the Marines. And he got what he asked for.
He was sent to West Palm Beach, Fla., to serve with ANGLICO – a unit that serves a liaison between Marine Corps air and naval assets and different U.S. services and foreign nations.
“I love the green side, some corpsman don’t,” he said. “Once you enter a Marine unit, you become one of them, and they take care of you at all costs.”
Thus, a new quest began with Cochran – obtaining the FMF designation.
To achieve the designation, corpsmen must learn Marine Corps knowledge such as history, weapon systems and land navigation. In a nutshell, the basic skills Marine recruits learn at boot camp.
“I can’t be a detriment to the team during a combat mission,” he said. “I might be needed to hop on a crew served weapon and start laying down rounds to protect the Marines.”
Not only did Cochran learn general Marine knowledge, he was equipped with the specific mission of ANGLICO. He learned how to operate radios and call for fire to destroy enemy targets from the land, air and sea.
ANGLICO Marines had been training Cochran for more than two years before he tackled a practical examination and a 564-question exam in Iraq.
“I’ve always engrossed myself with knowledge,” he said. “I don’t want to be that corpsman who says ‘What do I do?’ when every second counts to protect Marines lives. Passing is really a true testament to all the Marines who worked with me.”
“Doc’s a great guy,” Lance Cpl. William Meyer, a field radio operator from Indianapolis. “He’s always there when you need him.”
Cochran’s abilities as a physical therapist fit right in with the ruggedness of a Marine unit –especially one that jumps out of planes and totes around 40 pounds of combat gear on a regular basis. He puts his therapeutic skills to use by aiding Marines inside their compound daily.
He has found “a new love for medicine” and plans on attending Nova University, Fla., to become a physician assistant when he returns home from his seven-month deployment.