CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - Corpsmen are often recognized for the heroics they display on the battlefield while saving Marine lives. However, some of the unseen but essential work corpsmen conduct before and during operations is the less glamorous preventative care.
To learn why this form of care is as equally important as the combat trauma care corpsmen give in the heat of battle, sailors from 1st Medical Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, attended the Operational Preventative Medicine course aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., April 16, 2014.
The day-long class teaches military medical specialists measures of preventative care they should consider when planning and conducting operations around the globe.
“Basically, what we’re trying to do with the [OPM course] is to give people a general sense of what [preventative medicine technicians] do,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael L. Matthews, a corpsman and preventative medicine instructor, Preventative Medicine Unit, 1st Medical Battalion. “We’re trying to prevent injuries, stop people getting hurt or sick, and stop disease before it happens.”
Ten levels of preventative care are taught during the course. These include medical intelligence, camp layout, hygiene, habitability, pest management, inspections and reports, waste disposal, water sanitation, disease tracking, food preparation and sanitation.
Matthews, a 24-year-old native of Arroyo Grande, Calif., said it is important to open corpsmen’s eyes to issues that are easily identifiable and prevent harm to Marines and sailors.
“You want to keep people in the fight. If we go back to World War II, most of the people were out of the fight because of diseases,” said Chief Richard R. Cabatit, safety and environment leading chief petty officer, Group Safety and Environmental, 1st MLG.
“If you don’t practice these basic preventative measures, Marines and sailors can get sick; which is why preventative medicine is equally important as combat casualty care,” added the San Pedro, Calif., native.
According to Navy Environmental and Preventative Medicine, during the Solomons Campaign in 1942, battle casualties due to malaria and other infectious diseases were the primary cause of manpower loss - when compared to battle injuries. To find a solution, the South Pacific Malaria and Epidemic Control Organization was established. The organization was composed of detachments named Malaria and Epidemic Control Units that were sent to “trouble areas” where troops were deployed. Their success eventually led to the development of Navy Environmental and Preventative Medicine Units.
“It’s very important to learn [preventative medicine] because if you set up a camp in a spot, not knowing that it is infested with mosquitoes, and then those mosquitoes give people yellow fever or malaria - all because you didn’t do five minutes of research,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Felix M. Montoya, a corpsman, Headquarters and Support Company, 1st Medical Bn., who attended the course.
“It’s always interesting to learn new things in the medical field, because not only does it help me in my job, but it helps me with my life at home, keeping my family healthy, keeping them from getting sick,” added the 27-year-old native of Salt Lake City.
While the course did not qualify the corpsmen as preventative medicine technicians, but it left the sailors with a broader spectrum of knowledge over the importance of Operational Preventative Medicine and would allow them to detect and step in when health and safety is at stake during operations abroad and at home.