August 5, 2015, MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. —
You are a U.S. Navy corpsman. The Navy and Marine Corps’ version of a combat medic. It’s the middle of a hot day. The sun is at its zenith in the cloudless sky as you walk through the eerily quiet, dusty and alien streets of a far off country with the members of your fire team. You are a long way from home.
From out of nowhere an enemy rocket strikes the ground in front of you and one of your comrades goes down with a shrapnel injury. Your ears are ringing from the explosion; there is dust in the air and in your eyes. But, you can both see and hear the distress of the Marine on the ground. Now a new sound fills the air, an enemy machine gun. This Marine needs you to save his life. What do you do?
This scenario, and many similar to it, was rehearsed during the 1st Marine Division’s Combat Training Management Course in San Diego and aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, July 20-31.
The course is taught by Sailors with the 1st Mar. Div. Navy Education and Training Office, which is responsible for training and maintaining standards for all Navy personnel assigned to the 1st Mar. Div.
The instructors said that this particular curriculum combines key lessons from Navy medical doctrine, Tactical Combat Casualty Care along with other methods and procedures all necessary to ensure corpsmen assigned to the division’s combat battalions are prepared to take on their roles in the often chaotic environments they fall into.
“What we do is take that three-day course (TCCC) and beef it up into a two-week course,” said Chief Petty Officer Adolfo Gonzalez, the Education and Training Office Leading CPO.
The Miami native added that TCCC is a required certification that all 1st Mar. Div. corpsmen are required to maintain. Corpsmen must attend the training upon arrival to division and refresh the skills yearly and within 180 days of deployment.
The initial class, taught monthly to a group of about 40 students, is colloquial to the division and uses a number of strategies to ensure students are ready for their job in combat units. The students are split into four squads, with two instructors per squad, providing a strong instructor to student ratio and mimicking the platoon element they will likely be attached to.
The first week of the course involves teaching the students – to include a few Marines – the tactical skills they will utilize while working with their units. After spending time in the classroom, they follow up the lessons with intensive practical applications.
To help simulate the physical and mental stress of a battlefield in a learning environment, the students are led through a series of intense physical exercises prior to practicing procedures such as applying tourniquets and dressing wounds.
“Proper tourniquet placement when your heart rate is up and your breath rate is up can be challenging,” Gonzalez said.
The following week, the students move to the Strategic Operations location in San Diego where they utilize the facilities’ realistic urban environment, role players and special effects such as fake wounds and blood, to simulate the pressure and chaos experienced in a typical battlefield.
“The hyper-realistic training, plus the use of real amputee role players helps desensitize the corpsmen and Marines … also having to treat casualties with mental and physical fatigue is something you have to overcome,” Gonzalez stated. “Just sitting in a classroom, you can’t appreciate that mental and physical fatigue.”
Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert M. Park, one of the course’s instructors and a combat veteran, agreed with Gonzalez, saying the unique training is essential to a corpsman’s career development.
“Really that (the course) is as close to reality as we can put it,” the Dothan, Alabama, native said. “The types of wounds that the patients have, the actual amputees, the chest suits that you can actually do needle decompressions on, the explosions, the chaos …”
He added that even though this training generally prepares the students for what they may see, there is nothing that can truly mimic combat, except combat.
“It really comes down to the kind of person they are and if they can react when it comes down to that,” he said, explaining that some students handle the pressure better than others. “You can usually weed out the ones that react in chaotic situations or the ones that will freeze up.”
After each exercise and simulation throughout the duration of the course, the instructors sit down with their students to offer advice and a critical analysis of each student’s performance, providing guidance and a helping hand for those who need it.
“Usually what I will tell the students is to just sit back for a second and take a breather,” Park said. “Put yourself in another place, think about not what’s going on around you, but who’s lying on the ground and what you can do to help them.”
TCCC training is offered throughout the Marine Corps in various different schools and training facilities. Gonzalez, who first attended similar training prior to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, said that the current variation of training at the Strategic Operations facility is a great indication of the positive development the program has experienced over the years.
“It’s evolved more now that TCCC doctrine has been more solidified,” he explained. “At the end of the day, it’s lessons learned. Everything we teach here is a lesson from Operation Iraqi Freedom Operation Enduring Freedom.”
With all the instructors, most of them being combat veterans, the school remains prepared to continue to develop and maintain the high standards of the 1st Marine Division corpsmen and Combat Life Savers.