Tag Archives: fleet marine force

Corpsman Up! U.S. Navy Hospital Corps Turns 114 Years Old

Corpsmen treating wounded Marine on Eniwetok Island 

“You guys are the Marine’s doctors; There’s no better in the business than a Navy Corpsman….”  Lieutenant General Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, U.S.M.C

The numbers speak volumes: 22 Congressional Medals of Honor,174 Navy Crosses, 31 Distinguished Service Crosses (US Army Decoration), 946 Silver Stars1582 Bronze Stars, 22 Ships named after Corpsmen and 2012 Corpsmen killed in action since President William McKinley the establishment of the rating by by Congress which was into law on June 17th 1898.

Known by Marines and Sailors simply as “Doc” Corpsmen have served everywhere the Navy and Marine Corps have served or fought since the Spanish American War. The rating is quite remarkable because the Corpsmen are often the only medical support immediately available to sailors and Marines at “the tip of the spear.”

As medicine and surgery became more scientific and advanced during the industrial and scientific revolutions of the 1800s military physicians began to lobby for trained assistants.  Early in our nation’s history it was up to individual ships Captains to appoint assistants to the ship’s surgeons. Initially known by the British Royal Navy nickname “Lolly Boys” which referred to the ladle of porridge given to the sick, the men helped the surgeon prepare the operating area usually found deep in the hold of the ship on the Orlop Deck before battle and to help keep the surgeon supplied with hot irons to cauterize wounds and to sand the deck to keep the surgeon from slipping on the blood of the wounded.  The terminology would change throughout the years and in 1841 a senior rating of Surgeon’s Steward was introduced and later changed to Apothecary which required the completion of a course in basic pharmacy.

By the 1870s pressure was growing for reform of the rating but it was not until 1897, 10 years after the US Army established its enlisted Hospital Corps that the reformers were successful and the Surgeon General and his supporters were able to convince the Navy Department to push for the reforms in Congress.

The new Corpsmen served throughout the fleet and with the Marines and the rating was expanded to include two Apprentice ranks, three grades of Petty Officers and a Chief Petty Officer who were called Pharmacist Mates. Following World War Two the Navy changed the name of the rating to the generic term that Sailors and Marines had used for years, Hospital Corpsman or Hospitalman. The current rank structure was adopted in 1958.

Corpsmen with the Marines in every battle since their inception in 1898. They have  served aboard ships and often are the sole medical provider. Those serving in such capacity receive additional training as Independent Duty Corpsmen.  Those that serve with the Marines receive additional training at Field Medical Service School while many others receive specialized training in various technical fields within the Medical Department.  Many serve with the Marines, EOD, SEALS, Seabees and in Field Hospitals in Afghanistan caring for US and Allied wounded as well as local Afghan civilians. They can be found around the world wherever the Navy is in humanitarian and operations from Haiti to Indonesia. In every clime and place Corpsmen have accompanied Marines and Sailors to war. Today over 20,000 active duty and reserve Corpsmen serve aboard ships, in medical facilities, with EOD, Special Warfare, the Seabees and with the Fleet Marine Force. Many Navy Physicians, Nurses and Medical Service Corps Officers began their careers as Corpsmen.

As a Navy Brat a lot of my medical care as a child came from Corpsmen. One saved me from an overdose of baby Aspirin when I was about 3 years old when we were stationed in the Philippines, another set a cast on my arm when I broke it jumping my bike across a ditch in 6th grade. As an adult I have had the honor of serving with Corpsmen in the Fleet Marine Force, aboard the USS Hue City, in Iraq, with Navy EOD and for the past four years in Naval Medical Centers and Hospitals.

Corpsmen are amazing, especially when you need them.

Happy Birthday “Doc.”


Padre Steve+


Leave a comment

Filed under History, US Navy

Goodbyes and Prayers: Sending Friends off to War

My little war within the war, Christmas with the Bedouin

Yesterday I was honored to be at a pre-deployment ceremony for a number of my shipmates from Portsmouth Naval Medical Center about half of I know fairly well.  There were physicians, nurses and hospital corpsmen in the group, some going to Afghanistan with the Marines, NATO or the Army while others were going to Guantanamo Bay or Djibouti, the country rejected by both Eritrea and Ethiopia. I already have seen a good number of friends and colleagues from our Medical Center deploy and in some cases return and I know of one corpsman that came back wounded while serving with the Marines in Afghanistan.

COP South

I have done many of these send offs since coming to Portsmouth but I think that today I knew a higher percentage of the personnel deploying than normally is the case.  At these ceremonies it is customary for the chaplain to pray for our shipmates as well as their family members.  This deployment comes in the midst of monthly casualties reaching their highest point in the war and shortly after two US Navy sailors being killed when for whatever reason they left their base in Kabul in an up armored Toyota Land Cruiser and proceeded to drive alone to one of the most dangerous areas of the country.  With that in mind the safety of our shipmates is something that I and those that serve are ever mindful of when we send our people to deploy.  Yesterday I spent more time with the deploying sailors before and following the ceremony because so many were friends or close colleagues. The goodbyes from me this time were different as I will not be at Portsmouth when my friends return. My assignment as the Command Chaplain at Naval Hospital Camp LeJuene means that I won’t be there but I will continue to keep them in my prayers and stay in contact with as many as I can through e-mail or Facebook.  At LeJuene I will meet old friends from Portsmouth as well as from my Marine tours.  I will also get to deal with a lot more Marines and Sailors dealing with physical as well as psychological injuries resulting from their time in harm’s way in either Iraq or Afghanistan or in many cases both countries.

Pause for possible IED

It has been three years since I deployed to Iraq, in fact three years to the day yesterday that I arrived in Kuwait to complete final training before going into country.  When I was over in Iraq I was blessed my many expressions of support of many people, churches, schools and veterans groups.  At the same time I did not sense the overwhelming support of the people for our troops and that included many members of the political establishment that seemed more interested in using the war to advance their political objectives and unfortunately that was truly a bi-partisan endeavor.  Since we are an all volunteer force it seems to me that the only people really paying attention are people with sons, daughters, mothers or fathers or other family members or friends in harm’s way.  For others supporting the troops is little more than a bumper sticker affirmation, which I appreciate as at least most people aren’t damning us as so many did in Vietnam, a war that my dad served in and which as a Navy dependant experienced in the way that military families were treated by the protest set.

On Syrian Border with Iraqi Border Troops

Today I saw an article about an Army Lieutenant one Christopher Babcock http://gen-reading.blogspot.com/ at a tiny base in Afghanistan.  I often felt this way when in Iraq, especially those times that I came back into the large base that I operated from and saw various news channels on AFN including Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.  Much of what I saw coming out of the mouths of reporters or politicians, showed me just how out of touch and how little our leaders on both sides of the political divide, the media and the American public understood this war.

Convoy in Ramadi shortly before we took fire

My war experience was different. The places I went were the places most people never heard of or will ever hear about.  My assistant and I travelled thousands of miles in fixed and rotor wing aircraft as well as in many tiny poorly armed convoys in the badlands of Al Anbar Province to the small Iraqi bases where our advisors to the Iraqi Army and security forces worked.  In the assignment I got to know a decent number of Iraqi officers and even spoke to the first class of female Iraqi Police officers in training at Ramadi.  I believed then and now that Iraq will do well in the long run.  Back in 2007 very few people believed that, but having gotten to know many fine Iraqis I know that they will repair their country and move on with life. They have been at war in some way shape or form since 1980 and are war weary and most want to move on to live in peace and raise their children.

Guests of Major General Sabah of 7th Iraqi Division

I do not believe this to be the case in Afghanistan. History tells me that we will have no better outcome than the Soviets.  We lost our opportunity when we let up on the pressure in Afghanistan to concentrate on Iraq. The Taliban were able to rebuild and regain control of much of the country between the Iraq invasion and 2010.  I honestly don’t know if we as a nation have the wherewithal to win this war or the resources to do so.  Many outstanding Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen as well as personnel from the CIA perform heroic work on a daily basis but they do not have the numbers or resources to fight a successful counter-insurgency campaign when the Afghan people by and large hate the Karzai regime and cast their lot with the Taliban despite their miserable life under that brutal, medieval fundamentalist Islamic regime.

But we go on with each service sacrificing needed equipment and personnel to fund the war. Even now the Navy is going to be cut maybe up to 25,000 sailors without any mission decrease. Likewise there will be no let up of the use of Navy personnel as Individual Augments to Marine, Army or NATO forces in the Middle East and in other locations.  As it is the force seems to be stretched beyond belief with many sailors not only deploying in traditional at seas, Fleet Marine Force, Seabee or Special Operations billets but when they are supposedly on the downhill side in a shore billet are pulled to serve as an Individual Augment.   The Army and the Marines are worn down by constant deployments with no end in sight.  There are no new drafts of personnel, end strength is limited and the same people go back time and time again.  If I was told I needed to head to Afghanistan I would because that is where many of my friends are and as a Priest and Chaplain I could do no other, but I would go with no illusions about the mission, the risk or the likely outcome of the war. It would be the place to care for God’s people serving in harm’s way.

Brotherhood of War

While this is going on there is the ever present threat of war on the Korean Peninsula or with Iran. A war in either location would open yet another front in a worldwide conflict, when we are already stretched to the breaking point elsewhere.  Any conflict in those areas could generate more casualties in a short period of time than all the personnel that we have lost in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Goodbyes and prayers… I am sure that there will be more of both in my future.  I just ask my readers to keep their head in the game when it comes to the wars that we are in.  Don’t leave the troops on a bumper sticker but keep them in your hearts and prayers and serve them through your actions.


Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under counterinsurency in afghanistan, iraq,afghanistan, Military, shipmates and veterans, US Navy

The Oldest Ladies…Battleships USS Arkansas, New York and Texas

USS Arkansas 1919

Note: This is the second of my series on US Battleships of World War Two. The First was the essay The Battleships of Pearl Harbor and I will follow this with essays on the New Mexico class, the North Carolina class, the South Dakota class and the Iowa Class. I have published other series on US Aircraft Carriers, the Treaty Cruisers, the Alaska Class Battle Cruisers and the German Battle Bruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.

Arkansas Passing through the Kiel Canal on Midshipman Training Cruise June 6th 1937

When the United States entered the Second World War the average age of its battleship fleet was over years, an age that if the new North Carolina and Washington were omitted would have been well over 23 years old.  Two former battleships, the Utah and Wyoming had been demilitarized and were serving as gunnery training ships. The oldest of these ships, the Arkansas, the second ship of the Wyoming class was commissioned well before the First World War and was typical of ships built in that era comparable to the Italian battleships Conti de Cavour, Giulio Caesar.  The Two ships of the New York Class were improved Wyoming’s with a heavier main battery and better protection and were comparable to the Japanese Fuso class and British Royal Sovereign class ships.

Arkansas 1944

The oldest and also the smallest battleship in service in 1941 was the USS Arkansas. Displacing 26,000 tons and sporting a main battery of twelve 12”/50 guns in twin turrets she was launched on 14 January 1911 and commissioned on 17 September 1912 she first saw service in the Mexican crisis of 1914 and served with the British Home Fleet following the entry of the United States into the war. Between the wars Arkansas severed in both the Atlantic and Pacific and was modernized in 1925 receiving oil fired boilers to replace her coal fired plant. During the inter-war years she was engaged as were most battleships of the era in training exercises, midshipman and Naval Reserve cruises, goodwill visits and in the case of Arkansas work with the Fleet Marine force as it began to develop its amphibious doctrine.

Operation Crossroad, Baker Test note Arkansas standing on end on right side of blast

When war came to Europe in 1939 Arkansas was serving with the Atlantic Fleet and conducted training operations and neutrality patrols.  In April 1941 she escorted the first convoy of Marines to Iceland and following that sailed to Argentia Newfoundland where President Franklin D. Roosevelt was meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill concluding the Atlantic Charter.  Following Pearl Harbor she would primarily serve as a convoy escort and midshipman training vessel until June 6th 1944 where she provided naval gunfire support at Omaha Beach and subsequent support to land operations in Normandy. In August she took part in the invasion of southern France, Operation Anvil before returning the US for repairs and modifications before sailing to the Pacific.  The elderly ship then took part in the battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa again providing naval gunfire support to Marines and soldiers ashore. She also was introduced to the Kamikaze at Okinawa.   When the war ended she carried returning troops home in “Operation Magic Carpet” and in 1946 she was earmarked for her last mission, Operation Crossroads, the first of the Bikini atomic bomb tests where she was sunk during test Baker on July 25th 1946.   She was anchored very close to the underwater blast and was violently sucked up into the blast where she can be seen standing on end it the picture below.

New York 1932 leading the Battle Line

The New York and her sister Texas were the first US Navy battleships armed with 14” guns.  The ships displaced 27,000 tons and mounted ten 14”/45 guns in twin turrets. Launched 30 October 1912 and commissioned April 15th 1914 the New York deployed with the Atlantic battle ship squadrons to Mexico during the crisis at Vera Cruz.  Like Arkansas she joined the American battleship squadron serving with the British Home Fleet in 1917 and served in convoy escort and deterrence missions until the end of the war.  Between the wars New York undertook various training missions and modernizations and was the sole US ship at the 1937 Grand Naval Review for the coronation of King George VI of England.

New York in 1944 departing for the Pacific

As war drew near New York remained engaged in training missions and took part in neutrality patrols and convoy escort missions in the Atlantic.  Following the outbreak of hostilities she would continue these missions and take part in Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa in November 1942. She continued the vital convoy escort mission until she was withdrawn for service as a gunnery training ship for sailors being assigned to battleships and destroyer escorts.  In November 1944 she was sent to the Pacific where in February 1945 she provided naval gunfire support to the Marines at Iwo Jima. During pre-invasion bombardment she fired more rounds that any of the ships present.

New York at Iwo Jima

Her next action came at Okinawa where she provided 76 straight days of support to Marines and soldiers ashore while fending off kamikaze attacks and taking one minor hit.  She had her guns replaced at Pearl Harbor in preparation for the planned invasion of Japan.  After the cessation of hostilities New York took part in Operation Magic Carpet and took part in Fleet Week in New York.

New York receiving anti-radiation wash down after Baker. She has survived the blast in good condition

New York was then assigned to be a target ship in Operation Crossroads where she survived both Test Able and Test Baker.  Towed back to Pearl Harbor for extensive study she was finally expended as a target on July 8th 1948 by the Navy 40 miles off Oahu taking the punishment of a number of ships before sinking after 8 hours under fire.

Texas in 1919 note the Battle “E” on her funnel

The Texas was launched on May 18th 1912 and commissioned on March 12th 1914 and within two months was in action with the Atlantic Fleet off Mexico without the benefit of the normal shakedown cruise.

During World War One Texas joined Battleship Division 9 serving alongside the British Home Fleet at Scapa Flow.  In this capacity she took part in convoy escort missions and operations in the North Sea including one where the Home Fleet nearly met the German High Seas Fleet in action.

Texas firing her main battery 1927 after her modernization

Between the wars Texas served on both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets and received a major overhaul in 1925.  Like other ships she engaged in training exercises, midshipman and Naval Reserve training cruises and operations with the Fleet Marine Force.  With the outbreak of hostilities in Europe Texas joined the neutrality patrol.  When the US entered the war Texas served as a convoy escort and participated in Operation Torch.  Her convoy escort duties remained unchanged until she took part in Operation Overlord, the invasion of France and provided gunfire support to Rangers at Point du Hoc and soldiers on Omaha Beach. Closing to within 3000 yards of the beach Texas guns provided direct support to troops on the beach and interdiction fire on German troop concentrations further inland. She continued this following D-Day and while engaged in a duel with heavy German guns near Cherbourg was struck by two 280mm (11.2 inch) shells, one of which struck her on the navigation bridge killing the helmsman and wounding nearly everyone else.   She then sailed into the Mediterranean where she again supported troops ashore lending her weight to the invasion of south France. With that mission completed Texas returned to New York for repairs and to have her main battery guns replaced.

Texas under German Fire off Cherbourg

Reassigned to the Pacific Texas would support the invasion of Iwo Jima and Okinawa where she would remain in action for almost two months.  She finished the war in the Philippines and like so many other ships took part in Operation Magic Carpet. She arrived at Norfolk on February 13th 1946 to prepare for inactivation, but unlike so many other ships was spared the ignominious fate of the scrap yard or that of the New York and Arkansas. She was towed to Texas to serve as a permanent memorial at the San Jacinto battlefield and decommissioned there on April 21st 1948.  She was dry-docked and received a major overhaul in from 1988-90 which restored her to her 1945 appearance and in which major structural repairs were made. Continual restoration is conducted on the ship and there are plans for another major overhaul.  She is the last surviving “Dreadnaught” battleship in the world, a singular example of the great ships that once dominated the seas.

Texas at San Jacinto, the last of the Dreadnaughts

Though obsolete the Arkansas, New York and Texas rendered commendable service throughout the war and took part in some of the key invasions of the war. Their guns inflicted considerable damage on Vichy French, German and Japanese forces in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific.  New York and Arkansas trained thousands of sailors for service aboard other ships.  They performed admirably and their availability to do the less glamorous missions of naval gunfire support, convoy escort and training sailors for the fleet enabled other ships to be available for other missions.  They and the proud Sailors and Marines who served aboard them should never be forgotten.


Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy, world war two in europe, world war two in the pacific

Interns and Residents Graduate while New Ones Arrive; Save #500 for Mariano Rivera and I Know Why the North Koreans are So Belligerent…They Don’t Have Baseball!

Well. I got back to work today and I’m glad to be back.  The trip to DC was really nice.  Having duty the first day back well, what can I say?  Tonight has been very busy but not too sporty yet, although I am wondering as the night has a weird feel, which a resident that I have worked with a lot feels too.  Hopefully we are just paranoid.  I wrote this at my dinner break and thankfully I picked relatively uncomplicated things to write about tonight, I had it done by the time the cardiac response pager went off following some meetings and early rounds and patient visits.  It’s about 2300 and I am just now sitting down to finish this prologue.

Today we graduated our Intern Class.  I have gotten to know a good number of these young physicians during the past year during their ICU rotation as well as when I have been on call throughout the house.  It was a privilege to be at the graduation at the invitation of the class leadership as I had been with them on their Dining Out back in April.  To have one more time with them before they go on to residency, the Fleet Marine Force or Sea Billets as General Medical Officers or Surgeons, as well as those selected to become Flight Surgeons or Diving Medical Officers assigned to Special Operations, Diving or EOD units was really nice.  Having spent a lot of time with many on the ICU I see the toll that the internship places on them and their families.  These young physicians have done well and will serve our Sailors and Marines, as well as Soldiers and Airmen and their families well.  Some will remain to complete residencies of various types and lengths, while those who do not initially get a residency will likely be on the front line of caring for our servicemen and women in harm’s way or on medical and humanitarian missions.  Some will end up with the Marines in Iraq or Afghanistan and others serve as the “Doctor” for a ship or Marine battalion often far from any immediate back up or specialty care.  I wish all of them the best.  We have also had residents leave us for new horizons.  Some will be going on to advanced fellowships while others will serve as staff physicians or surgeons throughout the world.   It has been great working with many of them in their final residency year.

While these young physicians are leaving us, we have some who will remain on as residents here or fellowships.  It will be good to continue to work with and get to know them over the coming years.  Now the fun part, we have a butt load of brand new Interns who are reporting to us as well as some Residents from other institutions or coming back from their tours in the Fleet.  I remember my time at civilian teaching hospitals where I served as a chaplain or did my residency.  Pastoral Care Residencies typically start in September or October which takes them out of the cycle that most residents or interns have in the medical community.  I hope that we will eventually have our program lined up so our new residents report the same time the physician internships and residencies begin and for our residents to have more interaction with them.  I think the latter will happen sooner than the first mentioned with things that we are in the process of instituting.  I really believe that the cross pollination of physician and pastoral care residencies will benefit both specialties as they meet at the intersections of healing, life and death, faith and spirituality.  Tonight when I have been greeting every new physician I see and introducing myself to them.  They come from quite a few interesting places and I hope to get to know them all pretty well.

Last night was a great event.  Yankees ace reliever and “closer deluxe” Mariano Rivera notched his 500th save.  He became the second pitcher to achieve this number as he shut down the New York Mets at Citi Park.  To some this may not seem too much of an accomplishment.  After all, the relief pitcher as a specialty and development of pitchers to serve in different relief roles is a relatively new part of baseball, really only going back to the 1970s.  Of course there were relieves before, but they had a limited role as starters often would pitch complete games.  Satchel Paige was an exception when he came to the Majors from the Negro Leagues spending most of his time in a relief role, and there are a few others but the reliever was in many cases a former starter who didn’t have the juice to pitch complete games later in their careers.  Rivera is a special breed even as a reliever.  He is a closer.  This means that when he comes in he is either trying to save the victory or stave off defeat.  He has to come in at a moment’s notice in any park, weather or situation often to deal with the heart of an opponent’s batting order.  He has the 500 saves and a career 2.29 ERA.  In the World Series he has 9 saves and a 1.16 ERA.  It gets better.  In the League Championship Series that he has pitched in he has 10 saves and a 0.97 ERA and in Division Series he has 15 saves and a 0.38 ERA.  Since the playoffs tend to have the better and more competitive teams in them so these are amazing statistics.  In the playoff he has 8 wins and only one loss.  At age 39 he shows no sign of letting up.

What makes a guy like Mariano so special is first that he is nearly unhittable and his very presence on the mound gives confidence to the Yankees and sends a message to their opponents.  He will if he has any say in the matter save or win that game even if he comes in early with the bases loaded and no outs in the 8th inning.  Rivera is like a really hot ER or ICU team that has to save a life when the situation is at the worst or if not that bad where it could get sporty.  I have always admired relievers who do the job well having had to go into a number of jobs where my predecessor both as a Medical Service Corps Officer in the Army or Navy Chaplain was fired.  That is no fun when you have to go pick up the pieces.  Relievers make their living doing this and Rivera has to be the best reliever who has ever lived.  To top it off he is regarded as a nice guy, a leader and one of baseball’s good guys.  And last but not least Mariano was not a “bonus baby.”  He came up as an undrafted free agent.  Some Trevor Hoffman fans may argue this point but the high intensity playoff game record speaks for itself.  Nobody does it better.  Someday Jonathan Papelbon may do so for the Red Sox, but he has many years to go before he hits 500 saves.  He has the advantage of starting his Major League career as a closer and already has as of the end of 2008 114 saves and a 1.84 ERA.  He is the real deal and hopefully will remain healthy.

Finally a closing thought for the night.  I have wondered for some time just why the North Koreans can be so bellicose and ill tempered.  They are threatening to incinerate us and upset that we have moved missile interceptors to Hawaii, like hello, Hawaii is 4000 miles away from North Korea.  Needless to say the whole bunch of nations in the neighborhood is not real happy with the Dictator named Kim. The Japanese are upping their readiness, the South Koreans sending folks to the border and talking of pre-emption and even the Chicoms and Russians are not real happy.  Some sources are even saying the Nutty North Koreans may launch and ICBM in our general direction around the 4th of July.  That would not be cool.

So like I said, I was wondering about what makes the North Koreans so ill tempered.  It finally came to me last week at Harbor Park when watching the Tides play the Pawtucket Red Sox.  There were scouts from the Korean Professional Baseball league in the stands as well as Japanese scouts and American scouts.  Then it hit me.  Baseball is big in South Korea and they are getting pretty darned good in international competition.  They are so good in fact that they have won the Olympic Gold Medal and finished second in the World Baseball Classic.  In contrast the North Koreans don’t have baseball.  If they had baseball they would be able to work off all that unhealthy stress and hatred, the Yin and Yang would come back into balance.  What if Kim Jung Il had played little league and high school ball?  Who knows he might be a manager in the Korean Leagues taking out all that anger on the umpires when they make a bad call or executing his closers when they fail.  The South Koreans have been blessed by the Deity Herself with Baseball and I do believe that this has to be the difference.  Even Communist Cuba is nowhere near as nutty as North Korea and this too I attribute to Baseball and Fidel having played ball himself.   Maybe we should instead of negotiators send Baseball players, scouts and instructors to North Korea?  It just might work. Look what McDonald’s and Coke did to the former Soviet Union….

Peace, Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, Foreign Policy, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, philosophy