CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- Service members with Regional Command (Southwest) gathered June 17, 2014, to celebrate and honor the 116th anniversary of the U.S. Navy Hospital Corps during a ceremony aboard Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan.
“It is my honor to be here and celebrate the 116th anniversary of the United States Navy’s Hospital Corps, especially while being deployed in Afghanistan,” said Sgt. Maj. Douglas E. Berry, Jr., sergeant major, Regional Command (Southwest), during his speech as the ceremony’s guest of honor. “Chesty Puller once stated while addressing a group of corpsmen: ‘You guys are the Marines’ doctor. There is none better in the business than a Navy corpsman.’”
In 1898 the Hospital Corps was officially established. Made up of entirely enlisted sailors, the Hospital Corps is one of the largest and most decorated ratings in the U.S. Navy. There have been 22 Medals of Honor, 174 Navy Crosses, 31 Distinguished Service Medals, 946 Silver Stars, and 1,582 Bronze Stars awarded, as well as 20 Navy ships named after noteworthy hospital corpsmen.
Since the American Revolution, Marines and sailors have served side-by-side on land and at sea. In 1834 Congress declared that the Marine Corps would become an official component of the Department of the Navy. An ironclad bond was forged during those early years; it was the start of a lasting brotherhood.
“For 116 years there has been a special relationship between Marines and the Hospital Corps,” said Berry. “You have been with us in peace and war. You have taken care of our families. You have kept us healthy, kept us training, kept us company on watch, and most importantly, kept us alive and kept us ready. You are like my fellow Marines. You are sarcastic as hell but caring, dependable and rugged. You are the one who is more afraid of letting me down than you are of dying, and willing to go through hell to make sure I don’t get there before they are ready to have me.”
Hospital corpsmen have a variety of duties including: preventing and treating disease and injuries, rendering emergency medical treatment, and assisting naval health care professionals in providing medical care to Navy and Marine Corps personnel and their families. They work in every clime and place, from hospitals to clinics; aboard ships and submarines; with air squadrons and special operations commands, as well as field medical support units with the Fleet Marine Force.
“We are very talented and diverse,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Rudy Contreras, an independent duty corpsman with RC(SW). “Our job isn’t always about giving shots and handing out pills, sometimes we are the mother, father, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, cousin, that is looked upon outside of the command. There is some sort of a sanctity and safe haven when a Marine comes to a corpsman.”
Leading up to their birthday in Afghanistan, RC(SW) corpsmen participated in a movie night, where they watched a documentary on the history of the Hospital Corpsman. On the morning of their birthday, they joined together in a 3-mile motivational run led by RC(SW) Command Master Chief Frank Dominguez and Berry to pay tribute to those men and women who paved the way for today’s generation of corpsmen.
“When you look at yourself or judge yourself, don’t ever say that you are just a regular corpsman,” said Berry. “I will remind you that you have served, fought and sacrificed with Marines at Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, the Chosin Reservoir, the jungles in Vietnam, Beirut, Panama, Desert Storm, Somalia, and Kosovo. There are 42 corpsmen who have paid the ultimate sacrifice over the last 13 years during (Operation Iraqi Freedom) in the cities of Nasiriyah, Fallujah and Ramadi in the Al Anbar province and during (Operation Enduring Freedom) in the streets of Marjah, Musa Qala and Sangin in Helmand province. There is nothing regular about who you are, what you have done and what you will continue to do in the future. There is nothing regular about being ‘Doc.’”
Whether stateside or in a deployed environment, it is important to celebrate and reflect on the histories, traditions and lineage of one’s organization, especially during the anniversary.
“This has everything in the making of being a historical event,” said Dominguez. “First, we are in a combat zone. Second, we are closing the chapter of the coalition forces here in RC(SW); and third, since 2001, since the Marine Corps has been in Afghanistan, a corpsman has been here alongside the Marines. This is truly an honor and privilege to be out here and alongside this generation of hospital corpsmen, who are doing phenomenal things, making vital decisions that determine whether or not a Marine or sailor will survive on the battlefield. I am honored to be serving with the men and women here and celebrating our birthday together on our last deployment to this country.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Dominguez and Berry presented and cut a celebratory cake and took part in a time-honored naval tradition: serving the first pieces to the youngest and oldest sailors in attendance.
“May your hands be steady and sure as a rock, when we go down with a wound or shock, let you be close when we bleed in the mud, with tourniquet handy to save Marine blood,” said Berry. “Congratulations on another successful year as the world’s finest Hospital Corps! Happy 116th, Doc. Semper Fidelis.”