They call me "Doc..."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015 |

It is difficult sometimes to describe to people just what it is that I’ve done for a living in the Navy.  It is especially difficult to talk to civilians about my job because they have no concept of even my basic skills, but even to people in military medical occupations it is hard to explain.
I always start by giving the technical name of my job. I was a Fleet Marine Force (FMF) Independent Duty Hospital Corpsman.  This title does not automatically conjure up any images for most people. In fact, probably the only people this means anything to are other Independent Duty Corpsmen or their Supervising Physicians.
I think the reason it is so difficult for people to understand what our job out here (on U.S. Navy warships, specifically frigates, destroyers, cruisers, and submarines) is that it is an ever-changing role that we are constantly adapting to.
My responsibilities were fairly well defined in my guiding instructions. In the most basic terms my job was to:
               1) Prevent illness and injury.
               2) Treat illness and injury.
               3) If unable to treat, to route the ill or injured to definitive care.
These seem to be fairly simple principles, that is until you examine what is being said between the lines.
I begin by explaining what I've done as seen from the eyes of the crew. To them I was simply "Doc".  In their eyes I was the person they went to when they were sick or hurt, and I’ve made them better.  That is all they know; that is all they want to know.  To that end let's look at what has to be done to give them what they want.  I'm going to put this in very simple terms at the risk of sounding pretentious and self-assuming, but hell, this is my story, so here goes.
To begin with, you can say that I’ve practiced medicine without a license. I’ve maintained a fully stocked pharmacy complete with narcotics, antibiotics, and many other medications which I was authorized to prescribe for my patients.
I’ve maintained a fully operational emergency room complete with cardiac drugs, and an operating room with its various and sundry appliances and surgical instruments.  I’ve performed surgical procedures.  I’ve been the Marine’s psychologist and, at times, the psychiatrist if drugs are required.  I was the ship’s nurse, orderly, and medical janitor.
I was the marriage counselor, the social worker, the chaplain.  I’ve provided legal counsel and financial counsel.  I’ve informed people of their rights to various medical and dental insurance plans as the health benefits advisor.
I was a teacher of many things including CPR, physical fitness, preventive medicine, etc.  I was a food inspector, a sewage inspector, and a water inspector.  I’ve ensured that the ship’s store is clean, the barber is trained, and the sleeping areas are within acceptable standards.
I was a secretary, a transcriptionist, and a medical billing clerk.  I was a laboratory technician and a supply officer and a stock control worker.
I was a biomedical equipment repairman and a hospital liaison.  I was an inventory control specialist, a computer operator, a records and file clerk. I was an occupational medicine technician, an industrial hygiene expert, and a hazardous materials control person.  I was a safety officer and a Healthy Lifestyles program manager.  I was a medevac coordinator, a paramedic, a combat corpsman, an infectious disease interviewer, and a medical librarian.
With all this to do it would seem that my day was very full, and indeed it was.  However, if was doing my job correctly all these things will be transparent to the line people that I’ve worked hand in hand with.  You see, this is just the part that makes me "Doc" to the crew.
But there's much more, because, you see, I was a sailor too!  As a sailor there are certain fundamental requirements that must be maintained in addition to what I have already listed.  I had to be adept at firefighting, war fighting, and special evolutions of the ship such as underway, man overboard, replenishment and flight operations. Not only did I have to know my field operations’ strategies, I had to know my ship, how it functions, and what its capabilities are.
I’ve taught young sailors how to be sailors; I’ve taught Marines basic (and some advanced) first aid and how to handle, carry and transport a medevac patient; I was a passer of traditions, a teacher of lore.  I was a leader and a follower.  I’ve ensured a fair working climate exists through equal opportunity lectures and surveys.  I’ve motivated, disciplined, and mentored.
I was an Officer of the Deck in friendly ports, and the medical guard in foreign ports.
I was a leader in charge of Quartermasters, Administrative personnel, Yeomen, and my one "Baby Doc".  I know it sounds as though I am complaining, but truly I am not.  As I said, I just wanted to tell people what I’ve done in my job.  There is still more.  I was the advisor to the Commanding Officer for any medical situation that may occur.  This includes everything from eating fish caught over the side to whether or not we should change the course or even alter the mission of the ship to care for a fallen sailor or marine.
I’ve downed pilots and evaluated refugees.  I’ve responded to calls for help from people whose languages I don’t even understand.  I’ve boarded vessels in support of my shipmates whose job it is to search for illegal contraband on the high seas.
I’ve served as the ship’s Administrative Officer, and as the Assistant Navigator.  I’ve traveled by helicopter, small boat, ambulance, and whatever other means to ensure that medical care is delivered wherever it is required.    I’ve stayed up nights caring for people and wondering if what I have done for a sick sailor is correct.  I‘ve called for advice thirteen thousand miles from home and over a thousand miles away from the nearest shore or ship to be told by a trained Emergency Room doctor,  "I'm glad I'm not you".
I’ve spent the night at the bedside of my patients worried, scared, frustrated, and totally alone. I’ve cried with my patients.  I’ve yelled at them and consoled them.  I’ve told patients that they have everything from jock itch and sexually transmitted diseases to malaria, leukemia, and brain aneurysms.  I’ve cured some and transferred others.
My job was the job that is done by my counterparts in the “civilian world.”  Under the sea, this job is done by the Submarine IDCs and the Dive IDCs, in field by the Fleet Marine Force IDCs, the Aviation, SEAL, and the SEABEE IDCs.
I am proud of what I do. I am grateful for the trust and confidence that have been given to me, not only by Navy leadership, but more importantly by each of those people, each of MY MARINES who call me "Doc".

I STILL consider myself to be an FMF Corpsman at heart. I was an FMF (Fleet Marine Force) Corpsman stationed at 2nd MarDiv (Marine Division) Camp Lejeune), North Carolina. I was in Bootcamp (RTC Orlando, Training unit 216) 1 month after graduating High School; NTC Great Lakes for Hospital Corps School afterwards.

I graduated #1 in my class (79020) in "Corps School," and instead of getting ANY of my desired (plush) choices of duty stations (remember the "DREAM SHEET??"), I ended up with orders to "2nd Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina." DAMN thing is...I am FROM Jacksonville, NC! Hell, the main gate to Lejeune is ONLY 6 miles from my house, and 7 miles from my High School! Holy Crap! To make matters worse...My father retired as MGySgt (E9) USMC after 35 yrs., my mother got out as SSgt after ten yrs. Welcome to **MY** misery.

I soon found out that as much as I wanted to 'escape' from "The land of the Jarheads," I came to realize that my upbringing in a Marine Corps Family; having (literally) an 'insider's perspective' of Marine Corps life was what brought me closer to my (Grunt) Marine brothers and sisters. That being said, I found it only 'natural,' or 'second nature' when I CHOSE to adapt to the Marine Corps Regulations and wear the Marine Corps Uniform.

Not only did I wear the Marine Corps uniform with pride, I *FELT* proud that I was one of 'The few, The Proud..." How quickly I was able to adapt myself as a field (Grunt) Corpsman as we were on one of our MANY 'humps' into the field. I carried my own alice pack, I carried my own EVERYTHING....JUST LIKE the other grunts in front of and next to me as we marched down the dirt trail. To this very day, I still recall being on a "Force March" that was pausing for a 15 minute break, when just as soon as our packs came off our backs, I heard, "Corpsman up!" I knew somebody needed me. Without a complaint, I headed up through the line to find a couple of grunts, their feet exposed, with the most "beautiful" set of blisters a Doc's ever seen. After 'patching them up,' and giving instructions to them and the platoon leader, I went back to my alice pack just in time to hear "Load 'em up.." and we were off again. No rest for me. SO WHAT. I was happy.

Later that day, we ended up in our lovely *playground...* "TLZ (Tactical Landing Zone) Bluebird." It was here that I had an opportunity (and I JUMPED ON IT) to qualify with the TOW, the M-16, and the LAW (Light Anti-tank Weapon). Not bad for a 'squid,' I'd say. As my time with the 6th and 8th Marines (2nd MarDiv) continued, so did my building (lifelong) friendships with my Marine Brothers and Sisters. I recall a few marines approached me (C co. 1/6), and asked if I would be there "Doc" during a competition. Not sure what this was, but said yes anyway..what the heck. Next thing I know, I'm REALLY having fun in the field. Beginning that year and for the next two years, I was the "Doc" for C Co. 1/6 when **WE** participated in the very competitive Marine Corps game of "SUPER SQUAD." Not only was I able to hone my skills as a field Corpsman, I was just as eager and competitive enough to make sure I did absolutely EVERYTHING "MY" Marines did in the field. That being said, I later became an FTL (Fire Team Leader) for our squad and LOVED it.

You know...EVERY YEAR we made it to Quantico for the 'showdown,' as I like to call it. Each time I was there, I absolutely LOVED the second looks I'd get from other marines coming in from units across the country. Standing amongst my 'fellow Marines,' as we met and shook hands with other units who were also participating in the event was made even better when many times I was introduced as "Our Fire Team Leader...Doc Terrell." I was indeed proud of my decision to be in the United States Navy, I was even more proud that I was considered to be 'one of the marines' in our company.

I LITERALLY thought that I had the "best of both worlds..." I was a United States Navy Corpsman, AND I was a FLEET MARINE FORCE Corpsman. Needless to say, I STILL think (I'm pretty sure I'm right about this) that I had the BEST time and the BEST experience as compared to the other Corpsmen there (whose only interest seemed to be to stay in the jeep, walk as little as possible, and GOD FORBID they actually got dirty or WORSE YET...learn to tear down, memorize parts and the order they went back together, clean the weapon and QUALIFY with weapons that (typical) Navy Corpsmen don't touch.). Then again, that's just *MY* opinion. Hmm..."lack of humility on my part? Yup...You got it. I stand by my words, typed or spoken.

Let me advance (quite) a few years: I have indeed 'run into' your situation (almost verbatim) so many times, I've lost count. I can tell you ALL DAY LONG how many times I've surprised a few RN's, PA's AND MD's with advanced training I've (WE AS FMF CORPSMEN) received over the years. For an FMF Corpsman to be 'relinquished' to that of a CNA I find to be insulting to say the least. BUT, as one person responding to your post said (for the most part) not many people (civilians) have a CLUE what FMF Corpsmen do. Keep in mind...I can name a FEW HUNDRED RN's that have NO CLUE what Paramedics do. I actually got into a 'dispute' with an RN of 21 years (under her white cap) when she said " Paramedics have no business handling those type of drugs and doing those procedures...that's what RN's and Doctors are for.." I'll leave *that one* alone.

not only did I ATTEND Medical School, I GRADUATED from Medical School AT THE AGE OF FIFTY. I've been a Family Practice Physician for a while now and am (get this...) I'm preparing to go to ODS (Officer Development School) in Rhode Island to begin my NEW career as a Navy Doctor. Let me assure you, Sir...I am only too keenly aware of the stigmatism of being "Only a Medic," or "Only a Corpsman," that comes as a result of nothing more than either miscommunication, or a total lack of knowledge.

Rest assured, I've made sure that EVERY nurse (whether it be an LPN, LVN or RN) that works with me, understands fully what WE as Fleet Marine Force Corpsmen do, which (again, in my opinion) far surpasses ANY *civilian* nurse. Case in point : FMF Corpsmen and the duties WE'VE performed in Beirut, Baghdad, Tehran, name it...we're there.

It was my ENTIRE experience as a Fleet Marine Force Corpsman with the 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, NC...NOT Hospital Corps School, that makes me a BETTER PHYSICIAN and a BETTER MAN to this very day.

Navy Ships I've deployed for "Med Floats"

Sunday, August 29, 2010 |

The photos I've included in this page are ships that I've been stationed on while assigned to the 6th Marines and 8th Marines within the 2nd Marine Division, headquartered in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. When we deployed, we traveled by (commercial) bus to Morehead City, North Carolina, which is about 47 miles away.. We did not have the luxury of having our families see us off as we do here in San Diego, Ca.

Even though we were not a part of the 'ships staff roster,' we did have access to all areas (barring security protocols) of the ship while enroute to our various destinations. Our main deployments were (and still are) referred to as "Med Floats (short for Mediterranean)," which typically lasted six months from time of deployment to return. In several cases, Med Floats have been extended in times of international crisis, depending on our location.

It takes approximately 18 days from the time you leave the port of Morehead City, NC., to the time you are in the port of Rota, Spain. From there, we usually have a couple of days for 'liberty..' see the sights, stretch your legs, and meet new people. We also held a few field activities, where we continued our training. Afterwards, your'e back on the ship and headed off to the next port. The next port of call was Milan, Italy...a VERY nice place to stop over for a bit (at least for me). This is where you start to enter the Mediterranean Ocean (hence the term "Med Float").

I hope you enjoy the photos I've taken along the way. I was indeed surprised to find I had not lost them after all these years, keeping in mind many of these shots were taken back in 1979, my very first Med Float, and surely my very first time ever being on a U.S. Navy Ship.

This was the very first Navy Ship I had ever been on. We were deploying from Morehead City, NC, which is the point of embarkation and debarkation for the 2nd Marine Division, which is about 37 miles away. I was one of 1,500 men on this ship; 900 of which were Marines from the 6th Marines I was assigned as an FMF Corpsman (HN).

I can still remember getting myself so lost on every level, ending up in places I should not have been. For a while, the only way I got around was just to follow the guy in front of me! As I acquired my 'sea-legs,' I throughly enjoyed being on the flight deck as much as possible. NOTHING beats being in the middle of the ocean at night; the stars are so close and so bright, it seems you can move a star by the flick of a finger.I also recall it being 'pitch black' at night; seeing your hand in front of your face was literally impossible. The USS NASHVILLE was decommissioned on 30 Sept 2009 in Norfolk,Virginia. Currently the country of India has placed a bid to purchase her for use in the Indian Navy Fleet.


Here we are, in port in Barcelona, Spain (1979), during our "Med Float," which took us from Morehead , NC  Rota, Spain in 18 days, and now here to Barcelona. Rota is in the Southwest part of Spain, whereas Barcelona is in the NW part of the country, just below the border of France.  bad traveling, I'd say for a Kid whose prior experience of traveling was Summer road trips to Grandparents' houses, Band Camp and Boy Scouts! The USS Pensacola housed 644 personnel, of which 300 were Marines from the 6th and/or 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division. She was decommissioned in 1999; was sold to and is now sailing the seas as a part of the Republic of China Navy.


In this particular photo, we were LOVING the opportunity we had to enjoy "FLEET WEEK" in New York City. This was by far the most exciting time I've EVER had in any U.S. Port. The support of the vast public was simply amazing and at times overwhelming. When I found these pics to place here, I was taken back a bit when I noticed the Twin Towers in the background.

President Ronald Reagan's ordered two battle groups to be sent into the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya. America's aircraft were used to their highest potential as Libyan SAM sites and aggressive Libyan Navy ships were targeted and destroyed or damaged.
With her role in the Libyan strikes completed after the arrival of USS Enterprise into the region, USS America served for a time off of Lebanon (taking part in the 1983 evacuations) once more and  her way back home.
 USS America undertook her final deployment (out of a total of 20) on August 28th, 1995. Her thirty years of trusted service had finally come to an end. Decommissioning took place in middle 1996 and had her name struck from the Naval Vessel Register that same year. Sadly, she was selected for use as a target ship and sunk as such on May 14th, 2005 off of the North Carolina coast. Such was the end for the storied ship as she became the largest ship to ever be purposefully scuttled in this fashion. The event was secretive and unveiled days after the fact with the action serving useful to see how well a carrier to sustain damage from a variety of munitions including cruise missile strikes. 

This may sound a bit silly or immature for those in the civilian communities (since a few have said as much), but I wiped a few tears from my eyes when the announcement was made in a 'moment of silence' ceremony. I cannot explain the 'attachment' I felt having served, made friends with, went to classes in and CLEANED the decks of the USS America.I recall this ship (at that time) being the LARGEST ship I had EVER been on or seen. I was but one young Sailor amongst 5,200 Sailors and Marines on board this FLOATING CITY.

The America is known affectionately as "the Big A". At the time, USS America was the third ship in the United States Navy history named for the country.


This photo taken as I and some shipmates are returning back from liberty in Barcelona, Spain, on our way to France later that evening.

As usual, yet another 'huge ship' as far as I was concerned. I was (again) but one Sailor  a ship that carried about 2,500 men, out of which were around 1,800 Marines (and their Corpsmen, of course). It was aboard this ship that I experienced moving around and eating while we were under way in rough seas. I recall seeing a 'lip,' or 'edge' that stood above the surface of the dining table, so as to prevent food trays from being tossed onto the deck.