CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- For servicemembers in a combat zone, the stress associated with deployment can lead to a variety of symptoms, unique to each individual. For one corpsman here, laughter is the best medicine to fight them all.
Seaman Justin G. “Buck” Buckingham’s unique personality is helping his friends, coworkers and patients make it through the challenges of a seven-month deployment at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq.
The 23-year-old corpsman assigned to the 1st Marine Logistics Group recently arrived here for his second deployment to provide medical care, and if necessary, save the lives of fellow servicemembers while keeping the spirits of those around him raised with his natural inclination towards the unexpected and uncommon.
“My first impression of him was, “This guy is weird,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Vinh B. Cai, a 22-year-old native of San Jose, Calif.
But in time Cai has come to trust and respect Buckingham, calling him his left-hand man, and now one of his closest buddies.
Regardless of how others view him, Buckingham does his best to lighten the mood of any stressful situation he is in, never taking himself too seriously, said Seaman Patrick J. Murphy, a fellow corpsman at the battalion aid station.
Buckingham keeps his fellow sailors amused with antics like always staying on the hunt for scorpions or other critters and spreading his military humor with an off-colored joke when things seem to serious.
Murphy initially was uncertain of what to think of Buckingham’s peculiar mannerisms.
“He walked funny and talked funny, but when I got to know him, I knew that was how his personality was and would continue to be,” said the 19-year-old San Jose, Calif., native.
It’s that funniness that has served Buckingham in the clinic as he has the uncanny ability to calm nervous patients with a quick joke to ease tension.
“The first time I did an in-grown toenail removal, it was pretty funny because he (Buckingham) kept telling the patient ‘You better not kick me,’” said Murphy. “He knew the patient would have, because she had her knee in the retracted kicking position, ready to strike.”
Classic “Buck” is him being the guy who always says, ‘That was so cool,” when everyone else is taken aback, Murphy said, adding that his friend’s laugh is eerily similar to that of the Simpson’s character, “Krusty the Clown.”
Buckingham, who recently hit his three-year anniversary in the Navy on February 25, just tries to keep life simple.
“I just try and stay happy and think of better times to come,” he explained.
For him, life in the military isn’t that difficult; it’s a life guided by rules and traditions.
By keeping things simple, whether in Iraq or back stateside, servicemembers get by just fine.
Surviving a deployment is all about making friends and communicating with others as much as possible, said Buckingham.
Aside from his ability to encourage his co-workers, the Salt Lake City, Utah native is integral to the success of the battalion aid station, said Petty Officer 1st Class Jamie J. Shadduck, the leading petty officer for the clinic.
On his last deployment, Buckingham took part in convoys almost every night, proving his mettle to those Marines he served with, said Shadduck.
“No one’s ever doubted his skills,” said Cai, who deployed with Buckingham from February through September 2004.
Due in large part to his proficiency as a corpsman, the military’s equivalent to an EMT, Buck is a “go-to guy” for everyone he works with, said Shadduck, 32, a native of San Diego, Calif.
Now that he’s off the road and in the clinic, Buckingham focuses primarily on patient treatment, a job most agree he’s good at not only because of his abilities but also for his personality.
Although his parents, Robert and Susan, divorced when he was young, the environment they raised his sister, Rachel, and him in was one of acceptance and freedom, said Buckingham.
For him, this freedom meant pursuing his interest in medicine and exotic animals.
“Vicious, deadly animals,” he said, making light of the uniqueness of his passion. “I’ve had every type of pet that you can think of, from the mundane mouse to cobras and alligators.”
Uncertain as to exactly why he enjoyed having so many different kinds of pets, Buckingham shrugged and said, “I’ve liked animals since I could crawl.”
Having spent time working as a veterinary technician prior to joining the military, Buckingham would like to one day return to the field. Whatever career field he does pursue, as long as it’s in the field of medicine it’ll suit him just fine.
In the end, he says, the Navy was the perfect way to jumpstart these career goals in medicine.
“I needed something with a foundation,” he explained. “The Navy is a good stepping stone for work ethics.”
Although he plans on getting out of the Navy when his contract is up, Buckingham says there is one thing he will always take with him - the memory of the Marines who trusted him on all those convoy missions.
Time and time again, he experienced the adrenaline and fear of life outside the safety of the base with the Marines he fought insurgent attacks with. These experiences created a bond he will take with him forever.
“I’ve been told by Marines that I deployed with last time, Marines that I was in action with, that I was the only one they wanted to go out on the road with,” he said, “because they trusted me with their lives.”
That is what it’s all about, said Buckingham.