CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - For the last eight years, Petty Officer 2nd Class Kim Hugo, a corpsman attached to 1st Dental Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, of Orange County, Calif., strived to expand the knowledge of his junior sailors by teaching them different medical procedures and sharing his past experiences. His dedication to mentoring his fellow sailors did not go unnoticed, and he recently received the DN Thomas A. Christensen Memorial Award for his efforts.
Q: What is your role within first Dental Battalion?
A: "Right now, I work out of education and training. We’re in charge of making sure the battalion completes any required training. If they have any courses that they want to go to, we can enroll them. I do Isolated Personnel Report training as well. Those deploying provide us with information that may allow us to identify them if they were, for example, kidnapped on deployment."
Q: What makes your job so important?
A: "There’s some training corpsman must complete yearly, or they can’t see patients. It allows those who do complete it to meet mission accomplishment. Without my job, they couldn’t do that. Another example is going back to the ISOPREP training. Without that, you can’t deploy.
I’m also a Basic Life Support instructor. That’s another training requirement for sailors in my job field – becoming BLS certified. In dental, we sometimes deal with things like anesthesia. I’ve seen patients get so nervous about the procedure they’re about to undergo pass out. If the providers aren’t comfortable to do BLS and administer CPR, then there’s a problem. Instructors like me train them to be confident enough to perform CPR."
Q: What made you want to be an instructor?
A: "It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. When I first joined the Navy, I had a problem with public speaking and just being in front of a crowd. My old mentor told me that the only way I could get comfortable with interacting with a large crowd was to just do it more. He said the more I do it, the less and less nervous I’ll get, and the more comfortable I’ll be getting up there in front of people.
I also wanted to be an instructor because I like sharing my knowledge with other sailors. I like being a facilitator too. That’s a little bit different, because you use your audience as a teaching tool.
I like sharing my experiences, because being corpsmen in dental, not a lot of us get to do the things that medical corpsman do. Like me getting deployed from dental as a line corpsman with an infantry unit. That doesn’t happen often, so I like to share my experiences."
Q: What are the responsibilities as a line corpsman?
A: "A line corpsman is when you’re with a grunt unit, and you go on patrols and do everything they do, but you’re also the only doc. So, if something happens, you’re it."
Q: So you’ve done that before?
A: "Yes – without really knowing that’s what I was going to be doing. It was stressful, scary, but very rewarding. Usually, when you deploy from a dental battalion to a combat area, you’re usually just in the dental clinic or you might do some sick-call work at medical, not working as a line corpsman. To me, the nickname “doc” is earned. You earn that title from going to the green side with the grunts, and I did that."
Q: Can you recall a specific time you had to use your medical training as a line corpsman?
A: "My first day in Afghanistan, I had two medical evacuations. I was actually replacing a doc who was already slated to go, so I had missed a lot of the pre-deployment training. It wasn’t until I actually got there that I realized I was going to be the only corpsman on the patrol base. I didn’t feel ready, but for some reason, whenever the medevac happened, I could remember everything I had learned from field medical training school. It looked like I had been practicing those medical procedures for years – not working with a dental battalion. It just clicked."
Q: Why do you think you were able to remember everything so easily in that situation?
A: "You’re what’s standing between that individual making it to the hospital and them dying. The life of a person is in your hands. Providing simple first aid could save that person’s life. My job is to save lives."
Q: What’s the best advice you could give your junior sailors aspiring to do something like you did?
A: "The best advice I could give is to trust yourself. At the end of the day, you’re the doc out there. It doesn’t matter what you do back stateside – whether you’re working in dental or admin – you’re their corpsman. You’ve learned what to do. You know your stuff. Just believe in yourself."
Q: Let’s talk about the DN Thomas A. Christensen Memorial Award you received based on all your past accomplishments. What does it mean to you?
A: "The award is given to one corpsman attached to a dental unit who has also deployed. Basically, it’s an award given to a corpsman who has contributed on an operational level. It means a lot because sailors throughout the Navy who meet these criteria can be awarded, but I was chosen as the recipient. It’s a big accomplishment to be recognized for the things that you’ve done."
Q: What does the award represent for you?
A: "Thomas Christensen was actually a dental technician. He was attached to a Marine unit during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. When they got attacked, he acted as a corpsman. During that time, there were dental technicians and corpsman. They didn’t receive the same training, but he still ran out there and saved lives. He was also the first dental technician to receive the Navy Cross. I can relate to that because while I’m a corpsman, I’m working in a dental battalion. I got thrown into a situation where I had to recall all my medical skills. I was the doc. We both got thrown into unfamiliar territory. I’m humbled to receive an award named after that person."
Hugo continues to provide insight for his juniors, adding that the military will send them wherever it needs them, and that they should always endeavor to give it their all.