Submitted by: I Marine Expeditionary Force
Story Identification Number: 200333173355
Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel. W. Jones


Capt. Eric Garcia, an HMM-162 CH-46 pilot with Task Force Tarawa, listens to HM2 Mark Kirkland, a corpsman also with Task Force Tarawa. The Marines ans Sailors are part of the Casualty Evacuation Team for TFT.
Photo by: Staff Sgt. Daniel W. Jones

CENTRAL IRAQ(March 31, 2003) -- Hollywood has often depicted the combat corpsman running to the aid of a fallen Marine. That corpsman, many times, is from a Casualty Evacuation Team.

Although they come from different walks of life, the team members from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-162 from Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., fly into harm's way without concern for their own safety. Their thoughts are always centered on their mission--flying the dead or wounded out of the combat area.

The teams have been in some tense situations, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Moses Gloria, a corpsman who has also served in Afghanistan.

"We landed in an alley, dropped the ramp and we saw a vehicle with weapons pointed right at us," Gloria said. "We couldn't tell if it was ours or theirs."

"We didn't have any M-16s on board, all we had were our 9 mms," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Kirkland. "We saw Marines running back and forth through the alley and realized that they were ours."

"On another mission, we were told to land at the smoke, but there was smoke everywhere," said Kirkland. "There was red smoke here and green smoke there. We couldn't tell who was who."

Although the casualty evacuation teams, which consist of four two-man corpsman teams and the aircrew, have been successful, they have experienced some problems.

"Communications has been a problem," said Sgt. Ronald Benton, aerial observer. "Sometimes they are not ready for us when we show up. Some of the other problems also depend on how secure the (landing zone) is."

Their job are not glamorous. It is one of the most mentally challenging jobs on the battlefield.

"We had to pick up six Marines who were killed in their (amphibious assault vehicle) and on another mission we picked up a KIA who was draped in the American flag," said Gloria as silence fell over the team. "The Marine(s) in charge said that they were all good men."

Although the casualty evacuation teams are often required to transport KIAs, their greatest challenge is getting the wounded Marines back to much needed medical attention.

"Our mission is to pass them off in better condition than when we receive them," said Cpl. Eric Ryan, aerial observer. "We want to pass them off alive."

Many Marines wouldn't make it without the first aid provided by frontline corpsmen, the team members said.

"The frontline corpsmen are doing a great job, considering they have little supplies," said Gloria.

The team agreed that throughout everything, the wounded have been pretty upbeat.

"Some of them were joking with us," Gloria added. "That must be the Marine mentality."

One common sentiment echoed by all of the team members was the Marines' genuine concern for their friends.

"They were all saying, no matter how seriously they were wounded, they wanted us to help their friends first," he added. "Seeing everyone trying to help is really uplifting."

"It is times like this that the Navy/Marine Corps team comes together," Benton added.

The impact of being shot at or seeing a dead body for the first time is hard and each member of the team deals with it differently, they said.

"You keep thinking that this is training," said Gloria. "But it's real."

"Seeing the dead and wounded really has (made it sink) in," he added.

Yet, throughout their missions these men continue to show compassion and refuse to become desensitized to the everyday sights and sounds.

"Thinking of all of the families whose young men won't be coming home is hard," Ryan said as the team members quietly agreed.

"What can you say to someone who has been through what (the Marines) have been through," said Kirkland. "I can only say 'thank you.'"