“There are corpsmen and then there are ‘docs,’” said Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Richard Lister, an advisor at FMSS East. “A doc is someone you can count on. He’s someone in your platoon that when something happens to one of our fellow Marines, you can call on him and not have to worry. He’s your buddy, a comrade in arms, a person who you count on to cover your back, to lay down fire, dig fighting holes or do whatever the hell Marines are doing. That’s who a doc is.”
That’s why FMSS exists – because Marines need docs on the battlefield.
“If they [students]don’t look like Marines, act like Marines and talk like Marines,” said Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (FMF) John Buchanan, “the Marines aren’t going to like them, and worse, they aren’t going to trust them.”
And to the Marines, a corpsman they can’t trust is a corpsman they’d rather not have.
“A bad corpsman is worse than no corpsman at all,” said Buchanan, “because a corpsman who doesn’t know tactics, or walk, talk and act like a Marine is going to compromise the mission and get a lot of people killed.”
And the top priority at FMSS is saving Marine Corps lives.
The FMSS instructors teach their students this every day, and not because it’s part of a smart curriculum. They teach it because they’ve experienced it and believe in it, both as Marines and as corpsmen.
“ The school prefers instructors with combat experience, people who have been to Iraq or Afghanistan recently,” said Buchanan. “It’s not mandatory, but they want the instructors to be able to explain first hand why things have to be a certain way. They want the instructors to be able to say why they have to have more discipline than the average Sailor, why they have to know combat tactics, why they have to know the Marine Corps customs and ceremonies. And they want them to be able to answer why because they experienced it, not because they read it in a manual.”
Drawing on that experience yields answers to many of the students’ questions, most of which, surprisingly, don’t center on staying out of harm’s way. One of the first things a good FMF corpsman learns at FMSS is that the very last thing he’s worried about is himself.
“In combat it goes through your mind, ‘OK, there’s a guy that got shot,’” said Buchanan. “And you say to yourself, ‘I can stay here and I’ll be safe. And if I do, that Marine’s probably going to die.’ And that’s every corpsman’s worse nightmare – not that we’ll get shot, but that we won’t be able to fix a Marine who’s hurt, that we won’t have the ability, the knowledge or the nerve to do it. And nobody knows whether they do or not until they do it.”
Still, having the self-confidence needed by a successful battlefield corpsman can grow at FMSS, and many of the scenarios the medical and Marine Corps advisors put their students through are centered on precisely that – building confidence in the Sailors’ knowledge and their abilities. The students are taught what the Marine Corps will demand of them from the very first day with boot camp-style inspections, relentless physical fitness training and unyielding tolerances for Marine Corps discipline, all the while being tested academically both in the classroom and in the field. Being book- or street-smart alone isn’t enough to make it as an FMF corpsman. You have to be both because being with Marines means always thinking
outside the box, way outside the box.
“ The Marines are a different animal than anything known to man,” said HM2(FMF) Shannon Book, an FMSS instructor. “They take what little they have and do a lot with it – all the time. As corpsmen we need to be prepared to do that just as well as them, if not better, and be ready for situations you won’t find in any field manual.”