BORDER FORT NINE, Iraq --
He can be an intimidating sight to his patients, but as the Border Tansition Team 4222 corpsman, he’s always there to help.
At 6’3” and 210 pounds, Petty Officer 2nd Class John H. Holscher is a veritable tower of care and comfort for the people here, Iraqi and American.
Not that any of them have a choice, because the next nearest medic is more than 100 kilometers away.
“The biggest challenge to being out here is being the only doc. (Iraqi) medics depend on me to train them, Iraqis patients depend on me, taking care of the Marines, going on every patrol, and then the villagers, I can’t take care of them all,” said Holscher.
With a squad of Marines, a handful of interpreters, hundreds of Iraqis and countless civilians to care for, it’s a surprise ‘Doc’ Holscher doesn’t crack under the pressure. His cool demeanor and “can do” attitude were forged from his first deployment.
He wasn’t yet a petty officer when he deployed aboard the USS Comfort.
“It was the opening day of (the invasion into) Iraq, the USS Comfort was there for the first casualties of the war,” said Holscher, 28, New London, N.C.
Holscher said his team treated 75 patients in 20 minutes. He said it seemed like service members flying on the casevac helicopters had only enough time to pass casualties into the arms of corpsmen and take off again, due to the sheer volume of incoming calls for help.
"It was an intense learning experience,” said Holscher
Holscher’s life experience aboard ship complements his educational experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in health science, and spends much of his downtime at Border Fort Nine reading field medical manuals.
He’s not just a good student of health, the combination of study smarts and street smarts has made Holscher a good teacher, Marines here said.
“He spent extra hours training us in (combat lifesavers), so if he wasn’t around we would know how to treat multiple things, or if he went down,” said Capt. Will D. Whaley, operations officer, Border Transition Team 4222.
Whaley said there was a memorable moment in training when Holscher “went down.”
“During our (pre-deployment training), we had an index of all our medical training,” remembered Whaley. He said the team was conducting a training patrol through a mock city when they took ‘contact’ from instructors posing as insurgents.
“And of course, the corpsman is the first one to go down,” said Whaley, 32, Phoenix, Az.. Holscher had been pegged as a “casualty” in order to test the team’s medical knowhow.
“All I remember is fireman’s carrying his big (body), and running him into doorways, he was hard to get through doors,” Whaley said, laughing.
That’s not the only time the Marines tested Holscher’s mettle. It was also during pre-deployment training that the Marines tested his marksmanship.
He and the team’s commanding officer went toe-to-toe for rifle competition with a Russian Dragonov sniper rifle, said Gunnery Sgt. Rob T. Mantilla, operations chief, BTT 4222.
Of all the other navy corpsmen who took part in the training, Doc was one of the best shooters, said Mantilla. “He could tear the center out of a target.”
Mantilla said the competition was tight, but in the end Holscher took the prize: a can of sardines.
“What kind of prize is that? A can of sardines? And to top it off, they stunk up the hooch that night eating them,” Mantilla said.
Marksmanship isn’t the only reason Marines here describe him as a straight shooter. Straightforwardness, patience and knowledge are a few of the traits Mantilla said Holscher displays out here.
“Of all the docs in (advisers training group), he has the most experience, he’s a straight shooter and I trust him,” said Mantilla. “It’s got to be hard being the only sailor out here with a bunch of Marines, but he’s earned his right to be here, they didn’t just hand it to him.”
A tight knit unit of Marines, far away from the forward operating base, can be a hard group to get along with, said Mantilla.
The respect and brotherhood also have something to do with Holscher’s ‘never say die’ attitude.
“I bring the experience that the human body can endure a lot, it can take a beating and it can survive, and there’s always hope, there’s always one more thing you can do for that person, there’s never ‘I quit,’” Holscher said.
That’s why the Marines here love him.
It’s not just because he can shoot. It’s not just because he’s straightforward or knowledgeable.
It’s because they know if their lives are ever in his hands, he’ll never quit.