KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan --
On June 17, 1898, President William McKinley signed into law a bill establishing the U.S. Navy Hospital Corps, forever changing the relationship between Marines and sailors.
“We’ve been fighting side by side since before Iwo Jima,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Angelo Catindig, Marine Attack Squadron 513 hospital corpsman, and Chula Vista, Calif., native. “I think we’ll be fighting side by side when we land on Mars.”
Today the Navy hospital corps finds four of its sailors attached to VMA-513, deployed to Afghanistan in support of NATO International Security Assistance Force operations by ensuring the AV-8B Harrier squadron’s 200 Marines are battle ready.
A little more than a month after touching down in Afghanistan, the sailors celebrated their 113-year heritage in a run with Marines, fellow corpsmen and other coalition service members based at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, June 17.
“It’s a proud history and heritage that we take very seriously,” said Navy Lt. Andrew Paul, the VMA-513 flight surgeon and a native of Detroit. “Corpsmen are expected to perform at levels they would never be expected to perform in the civilian world.”
As with most careers in the military, the rate of hospital corpsman is not without its harsh realities. Nineteen corpsmen have given up their lives to save others’ so far supporting operations in Afghanistan. For the Kandahar corpsmen, the pride not only comes with the belonging to, but also in emulating the fallen.
“It’s like trying to fit into the shoes of the men who’ve gone before us, high-caliber men,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Benjamin Reyes, a VMA-513 corpsman and Tucson, Ariz., native.
However big those shoes are, their footprints have led to gains benefitting both the medical field and modern warfighters.
“We’ve gained so many advances in the war,” said Catindig. “Every time there’s a war, there’s advancement in medicine.”
Catindig listed improvements in battlefield lifesaving techniques and new technologies in prosthetics, such as carbon fiber limbs for amputees.
"It’s not just a plastic leg, guys are running marathons,” he added.
True to military makeup, the corpsmen come from different backgrounds and each has their own reasons for joining.
“I wanted to take care of people and help them out,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Christelle McGuire, a Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 corpsman and Cardena, Calif., native. “It’s an amazing feeling, being part of it, helping somebody, helping somebody feel better.”
“The medical background and technicalities of the job, it felt like it was just me,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Benjamin Reyes, a VMA-513 corpsman and Tucson, Ariz., native. “When I enlisted they told me they wanted me to consider something else. They left me alone to think about it, but when they came back I still wanted corpsman. It’s just me.”
Just as each corpsman has a different motivation for service, they each bring a different set of experience into the battle; Catindig was a soldier in the U.S. Army before becoming a corpsman, whereupon he found himself aiding reconnaissance Marines.
The wide variety of experiences means whatever medical maladies the Marines face one of the sailors will probably have an answer, an assurance to the Marines who face far more work than back in the states.
But to U.S. Navy Capt. Mike McCarten, the commanding officer of a NATO trauma hospital at Kandahar and the commander of Task Force Medical South, the familial bond between corpsmen and Marines is what makes the career field special.
“The experience and the maturity we have in the hospital corps right now is unlike anything we’ve seen in 40 years since the days of Vietnam,” he said. “The men and women of Navy medicine and the men and women of the Marine Corps, they’re making history here. Navy medicine will always be there for the Marine Corps, and we’re living that on a daily basis here, and we’re proud to be a part of that.”