By Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Michael Vogel
When I’m asked why I become a Corpsman, I often give a short answer. Briefly stating the objective of any person who possesses the characteristic of empathy and has chosen the medical field as their profession: to help others and save lives when the time comes. But I feel this is sometimes an inadequate answer and that the question posed deserves more intimate understanding.
I became a Corpsman because throughout my life I have witnessed injuries, ailments, and deaths of loved ones. The first death I witnessed was my paternal grandmother, at age four. She passed due to lung cancer and there was nothing that anyone could do about that. At that young age I had watched the profound effect a death can have on an entire family. By the age of 10, I lost my paternal grandfather to cancer. At age 13, I helped my mother take care of my uncle who inevitably passed due to AIDS. This death was particularly hard, because over a year of taking care of him and watching his digression both physically and mentally, we had grown very close. At 15 I lost two of my closest friends in separate automobile accidents and one of my cousins committed suicide. At the age of 17, my maternal grandfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In his last month of life, my mother and I were the sole healthcare providers, and we took shifts in order to render care. We did this, because sadly, no one else would. On a daily basis, I had to operate a suction machine to clean out his throat, change his sheets, roll him to avoid bedsores, dispose of feces and urine, feed him when possible, give oxygen, and really do anything I could to help ease his pain. Each night I tried to sleep in the room next to him, I could hear his choking or moans of pain, and at times I wished it would all end peacefully. When the terrorist attack of Sept 11th, 2001, happened, it struck a chord within me and resonated to my very soul. How many thousands of people were hurt, injured, suffering, or dead? How many more thousands felt the same way I did when I could do very little if anything to save a loved one? The wars that followed in the years to come also helped to shape my focus. I wanted to be able to take care of those that sacrifice so much, sometimes their all, and to be the one they could rely on in their hour of need. I needed the education and training to become that person. It was time to become a United States Navy Hospital Corpsman.
My first tour after basic Hospital Corpsman School was to a guided missile cruiser: USS Mobile Bay CG53. I was one of two “baby docs” aboard, under the authority, guidance, and protection of this entity known as the Independent Duty Corpsman (IDC). I saw his tremendous responsibility in management of programs, the stress levels of countless inspections, the politics he had to maneuver through, and most importantly the superb medical care he rendered to those in need. My very first underway, we responded to a medical emergency, which turned into my first MEDEVAC experience.
I remember one thing stood out in my mind as the numerous medical situations emerged over the next three years of my rotation: the IDC is the one man for which everyone turns to for all things healthcare related. This man was a leader; this man was an administrator, a mentor, a counselor, and at his foundation, a passionate “Doc.” This man was an IDC. Once I found out who this man was, what he represented, I wanted to be a part of that. His knowledge, responsibility, and skill level were well above my own at the time. His chosen profession is the final evolutionary form of the basic HM; it is the spearhead for which our rate exists, and the pinnacle of the mountain that is our responsibility. The Surface Force IDC can go aboard a ship, with the Marines, Seabees, or Special Warfare units anywhere in the world. This is the reason I chose to go Surface Force.
These are the reasons I became an IDC. My advice to those Corpsman who are seeking more responsibility, education, and training; for those who desire to be at the summit of their enlisted career path, is to take a close look at what the IDC community offers (Surface, Sub, Recon, and Dive). Each offers their own area of expertise and range of deployable platforms. Know what you want out of your job and your life. If the healthcare profession is something you are passionate about, if you seek to be an independent provider with the authority, knowledge, and capability to act; the answer is within your grasp, become an IDC.