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Seasoned Corpsman reaches out to local Iraqis

13 May 2003 | Cpl. Jeremy M. Vought

One might think back to World War II days when thinking of Navy Corpsman - dodging bullets, running through crater holes to reach injured Marines in the heat of battle. But what happens to those corpsman when hostilities are over and it is time to focus on rebuilding and humanitarian missions inside the newly liberated country of Iraq?

For Don J. Davis, leading petty officer corpsman with the 6th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Force Service Support Group, this phase was truly rewarding and most memorable. This was his chance to work one on one with the local Iraqis. The Hospitalman 1st Class didn't have to perform brain surgery on them, but rather treat them like humans beings by helping them with the little things - a dab of ointment to ease the effects of sunburn skin, here; some Motrin to ease years of back pain, there. He treated them with a genuine love and respect as a father would apply a bandage to his son's scrapped knee.

Speaking Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, French, German and Egyptian Arabic and visiting 48 different countries, the 37-year-old corpsman isn't new to relating with other cultures. To be honest he embraces them.

"Learning new languages and cultures makes my life better and richer," said the Olympia, Wash., native.

Davis, also know as "Devil Doc" by his 6th ESB Marines, went on and on about his favorite foreign foods he serves to friends in his Washington home for an hour.

"Just because we're Americans it doesn't mean we know all. We don't know the best way to roast a steak or make a drink," he said. "I would have never known this stuff unless I would have embraced different cultures."

One of Davis' most notable experiences during Operation Iraqi Freedom was meeting a local Iraqi family and how that relationship changed the perception of many of the local Iraqis.

Since being occupied by the 1st FSSG April 18, Al Qadisiya University has been used as a logistical support area as well as a project of rebuilding after heavy looting left the university without any infrastructure. To secure the perimeter of the university, Marines of 6th ESB placed concertina wire around the U.S. Marine supply area here.

Because many homes were adjacent to the university grounds, the constructing of the wire laid in many backyards.

Childhood curiosity got the best of a young Iraqi boy as he was playing near the perimeter. Like a child intrigued by a flame, he was drawn to the razor-lined wire, so he reached out and touched it.

While working on the university side of the wire, a 6th ESB Marine was called to the fence by the father of the Iraqi boy.  He held up his son whose hand had swelled to twice its size while pointing at the menacing fence. Knowing what to do if a Marine was injured, the Marine called the "Devil Doc."

Davis, who has two children of his own, came to the family to check on the boy. After examining the boy's hand, he decided the child was suffering from cellulitus. The corpsman with over 18 years in the Navy gave the injured child some Motrin, Benadryl and an antibiotic for the cellulitus.

Each day for five or so days he checked back on the boy at his home to make sure he was getting better. Each day Davis went back he would speak to the family in the Egyptian Arabic he learned from working with doctors in Egypt and from visiting Egyptian nurses in the U.S. He genuinely asked the other family members about issues they had to find out what else he could do for them.

"I would just try to talk to them and try to figure out their issues," Davis, a reservist who works at the Madigan Army Medical Center in Fort Lewis, said. "By just talking to them that made a difference."

His care of other family members and their problems formed a bond between him and the Iraqi family. One day, after treating the mother for her leg and back pain at their simple home, she offered him the little food they had to thank him.

"That's what I will always remember from the war," Davis said as he explained eating, drinking and small talk in their home. "They wanted to show their appreciation for the little that I did for them," said Davis. "It felt great."

Davis, who has participated in four combat tours including Desert Storm, Operation Just Cause, drug raids in Mexico and Operation Iraqi Freedom, says he will remember the contrast between the last Gulf war and this one.

"The last time I was here we were fighting the people, now this time I'm taking care of children. If I have to be away from my kids I want to be here doing what I'm doing," he said.

What Davis is doing many may think it small and menial, but the people he touches think differently.

"They have told many of the people in that area about me," he said. "They tell their neighbors that the doctor is here to help. Even helping them a little seems to be great. They have nothing so I give them a little and it's huge. By doing that, they now know we're friends."

"Instead of staying back in fear, they all want to come meet the friendly Americans."
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