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Photo by Sgt. Enrique S. Diaz

Navy 'Docs' celebrate 108 years of service while deployed to Iraq

17 Jun 2006 | Sgt. Enrique S. Diaz

Sailors deployed in the heart of the Al Anbar province held a ceremony here June 17, to celebrate the 108th birthday of the U.S. Navy's Hospital Corps.

About 50 sailors and Marines gathered in the mainside chapel to honor the Hospital Corps' 108 years of service and pay respect to corpsmen who made the ultimate sacrifice in the global war on terror.

"A hospital corpsman is like no other (job) in the Navy. We get a lot of respect; you can ask anybody from any of the other services out here and they all know what a hospital corpsman is," said Petty Officer First Class Jahmi L. Arnold, a 30-year-old native of Tucson, Ariz.

The Hospital Corps was established June 17, 1898, to provide medical support to Navy and Marine units stateside and abroad. Because the Marine Corps has no medical personnel of its own, and the Navy requires corpsmen at all of its stations, medical personnel have the largest population of any single specialty in the naval service.

The Hospital Corps is also the most decorated of the specialties in the Navy with 22 Medals of Honor, 174 Navy Crosses and 31 Distinguished Service Medals awarded.

Corpsmen have been called upon to provide medical care ranging from over-the-counter medication for headaches and colds to splinting broken bones and applying tourniquets in combat.

The birthday was celebrated by more sailors this year than in previous years with the addition of dental technicians into the Hospital Corps last October.

One such dental professional, Senior Chief Petty Officer Daniel J. Sprague, now serves as the command master chief for the 1st Marine Logistics Group's forward-deployed element here, the parent command for all Navy medical units in Iraq.

It's an honor for the dental field to now be included in the Hospital Corps, said Sprague, 39, of Boise, Idaho.

"The genuine degree of professionalism these sailors have as they provide medical care to soldiers, Marines and sailors is truly phenomenal," said Sprague.

During the ceremony, Col. David M. Richtsmeier, commanding officer of 1st MLG (Fwd), described the classic scenario that summed up what it meant to be a corpsman serving with Marines in a combat zone.

"As a wounded Marine lies bleeding from a shot to the chest, he wonders who the man standing over him disregarding his own personal safety is. Bullets fly by, some dangerously close, as the man finishes treating the injured Marine and starts to drag him to safety. The Navy man who braves enemy fire to save the lives of wounded Marines is what a 'Doc' is," said Richtsmeier, 51, from Waterloo, Iowa.

"When (Marines) are hit with a bullet, the first two things that come out of their mouths are 'God' and 'Doc,'" said Petty Officer Second Class Paul A. Mitchell, a 34-year-old San Antonio, Texas, native. "It takes a special kind of person to help them."

During the presentation a cake cutting ceremony was held that mirrored the Marine Corps' own birthday tradition; a Marine noncommissioned officer sword used for the cutting.

Slices of cake were handed to the oldest sailor present, Master Chief Petty Officer Robert R. Wickboldt, a Houston native that is 55, "plus or minus five years;" the youngest sailor present, Seaman Jeffrey A. Mikesell, a 19-year-old Honolulu native; and to the guest of honor, Richtsmeier.

Corpsmen are assigned to Marine units throughout Iraq, preventing some from holding a formal ceremony. Mikesell feels this rare opportunity is something he will never forget, he said.

"There are a lot of corpsmen out here that wanted to do this ... I feel honored," said Mikesell.

The 1st MLG's top enlisted Marine in Iraq, Sgt. Maj. Robert D. Thielen, from Richmond, Minn., said he is proud of the Docs' service alongside Marines.

From his experience as an infantryman, Thielen said Marines relate to corpsmen because they go through the same hardships together and each corpsman is regarded not as an augment to perform their own mission, but as a true member of a Marine platoon.

Thielen went on to say that Marines have a special place in their hearts for corpsmen and relate to them so much that they "really don't consider them Navy," rather, one of their own.

"Having this (birthday) out here and seeing the names and faces of the corpsmen that died ... it meant a little more than just doing this back in the States," said Arnold.
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