squadron of 400 Marines, she often was the sole medical provider to Marines with her.
“They know they can put their life in your hands,”
she said, “especially when you go in-country. They
know that if something happens, you are going to
come and take care of them, and you’re not going to
freak out or whatever. So they put a lot of trust in you.”
Bridges enlisted at age 24 and is older than most of
the Marines she helps.
“I’ve never had an issue with my Marines ever feeling
I couldn’t take care of them or, if there was an incident,
that I wasn’t able to react or keep them safe,” she said. The
Marines “called me Doc. They never called me HM1.”
Chief Hospital Corpsman Lawrence Pacheco
(FMF/SW), FMTB-West’s operations chief, heeded the
words of an instructor who told him, “You’ve got to
earn your keep before they call you Doc.”
Pacheco went through FMTB in 2000 and has been
greenside ever since, deploying three times to Iraq and
once to Afghanistan. It was during a deployment aug-
menting 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, in Ramadi as a line
corpsman during a tour at Naval Medical Center San
Diego where “the guys accepted me,” he said. “It’s
about shared experiences … being tired together.”
Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (FMF/SW/AW)
Robert Park said he learned real fast on his first tour
with Marines as a hospitalman to do things right the
first time “and hold yourself accountable.” That means
not leaving a rifle behind, a major mistake for Marines.
“I was a sponge,” said Park, a Tactical Combat
Casualty Care instructor with 1st Marine Division. He
focused on his fitness to “keep up with the Marines”
and built his medical knowledge and credibility.
“If Marines see you don’t know your medicine, then
you’re not going to be Doc, you’re just going to be
corpsman,” he said. “You can’t fool Marines.”
Corpsmen build tactical field skills in training with
advanced trauma training and hyper-realistic training,
similar to what infantrymen get at high-tech immersive
trainers. The training, held on bases or at off-base contrac-
tor sites, exposes corpsmen to more intense combat sce-
narios and helps inoculate them to the sheer shock and
chaos of firefights, battlefield trauma and mass casualties.
FMTB gives corpsmen their first exposure in training scenarios handling “patients” or high-tech mannequins in the battalion’s simulations lab.
“They bleed, they cry, they leak, all that stuff,”
Students literally walk or run through the scenarios,
depending on the event, grappling with being tired,
fatigued or overwhelmed while, at times, searching
and treating patients in complete darkness.
“It’s pretty lifelike. Some of them have never seen
things like this before,” he said.
The battalion has its own mock village tucked in
Camp Pendleton’s hills where instructors put the
corpsmen through the rigors of field medicine, injected with more-realistic sights and sounds, like exploding rockets, jarring noise and blinding smoke.
“The first time they do it, they’re scared to death.
They don’t know what they’re going to do,” Cornwell
said. “By the third time they go through it, it looks like
they are seasoned pros.”
Their training culminates in a final field exercise,
the “a-ha” moment.
“It really gets the corpsman, the student, in the mindset,” he said.
Combat medical training continues in the Fleet Marine
Force. The 1st Marine Division’s two-week Training
Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) course teaches triage or
trauma combat management for deploying corpsmen.
The course, taught by combat-experienced instructors,
splits time between Camp Pendleton and a training site
run by contractor Strategic Operations in San Diego.
Corpsmen are assigned to squads and develop scenarios, come up with tactics and learn how that affects
patient care. They rotate in billets to learn how everyone in an infantry squad operates. The scenarios are
varied: Village operations, field patrols, counterattacks,
ship boardings. The pace is fast, intense and stressful
“Someone’s life is depending on you. This is what we
start building here,” said Chief Hospital Corpsman
(FMF/SW/AW) Adolfo Gonzalez, a senior TCCC instruc-
tor, on a break before the class of 40 corpsmen and Ma-
rines began a set of realistic scenarios involving a roadside
bomb, ambush, firefight and snipers. “What we expound
on here is you’ve got someone’s life in your hands.”
Combat realism, augmented by amputee role play-
ers, help them develop coping mechanisms.
“You have to try to desensitize as much as you can,”
Gonzalez said. “You’re never going to be able to pre-
pare someone fully for mass casualty or one of your
The course reminds corpsmen they’re playing by
Marine Corps rules.
“We have to make sure they understand what we
expect from them in the division,” said Gardea, a
TCCC instructor. Marines “are very direct. There’s no
hidden meaning behind it. It’s, ‘I want you to do this,
and this alone. Don’t do anything else.’”
Corpsmen with Marines soon realize the legacy they
follow and the gravity of their job “to be that person
they call first on the battlefield,” Gonzalez said. “We
have this huge burden we have to live up to, these
great corpsmen you’ve heard of.
“It’s a good kind pressure,” he said, adding Marines
“don’t care what you know, as long as you care.” ;