Camp Pendleton --
The sun has yet to peak its head above the tall hillsides surrounding Camp Pendleton, but the students of the Field Medical Service Technician Course are poised and ready. In a few moments, the class will kick off its 6-mile hike around the winding hills. Their packs weigh 60 pounds each and the trail is an uphill climb, yet smiles can be seen creeping upon the faces of the students.
“We’re still getting them used to hiking to the standards of the Marine Corps,” says Staff Sgt. Keith Harris, an instructor with Field Medical Training Battalion West and an infantry platoon sergeant with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.
“These are future corpsmen for Marine units, so we get them used to long hikes.”
During the course, students are required to complete three hikes: a 4-mile, today’s 6-mile, and finally, an 8-mile hike. The 6-mile stretch on Sept. 1, 2015, was their second of a series that supports their journey to become a greenside corpsman, working alongside Marines. The day’s trail itself is difficult. It is six miles of rocky terrain with changes in elevation. It is the same as what corpsmen might traverse in the field.
“These corpsmen are coming from a hospital environment to being in the field,” says Harris, a native of Dallas. “It’s a completely different mentality, hospital work and field work are equally important but being in the field is much more intense.”
This type of training enforces the concept that someday the students may have to trek several miles of terrain to render aid to a wounded service member.
“It means becoming the best,” said Hospitalman Martyn Duckett, a corpsman and student with FMTB West. “I’ve wanted to become a greenside corpsman since I joined the Navy.”
The training may seem grueling, but for the students it means getting to put on the Marine Corps uniform and possibly save lives on the battlefield.
“Out here, you’re in the field; it’s way different than being in a nice air-conditioned hospital,” said Harris. “We got these guys in the dirt and sleeping in tents. Their mind has to be strong for that.”
Suddenly the expressions of grim determination and steely resolve give way to the light-hearted smiles they wore before they stepped out this morning. They have succeeded. Two hikes down, one to go.
“This type of training is crucial,” said Harris. “Corpsmen with Marine units are first responders. When a Marine goes down and we don’t have a properly trained corpsman there, that Marine might not get up again. It makes the training we do out here all the more important.”