Memorial Day is just around the corner. However, in our current COVIDcentric world my fear is that this honorable reverence day will fall victim to COVID shadowed by the latest COVID policy, procedure, scandal and who’s who which would be a shame. Memorial Day means a lot to me and to many people. So many young men and women have given their lives so we, as Americans, enjoy our freedoms that include extensive COVID discussions and debate. In addition to the love of my country, my draw to the military started way back in the early ‘70’s. I remember watching the news with my parents and seeing people throw trash and yell insults at these emaciated, withered young men for, to me, no apparent reason. As a 5- year-old child, it didn’t make sense since it was, in my book, poor manners. Mommy and daddy would rebuke me for such behavior. At that time, I couldn’t wrap my head around what I was seeing. My father explained the situation to me as best as he could to a little kid. Somehow the empathy and respect for those young men returning from Vietnam stuck with me for 43 years such that I commissioned into the United States Navy as a medical officer with no prior military experience at 48 years of age. Currently, I’m attached to a Marine Corps Infantry Unit (2/23, the guys of Iwo Jima, ‘Rah) as medical officer/battalion surgeon/OIC. I’ve had a crash course not just in the military culture but also its health care system. So, my dear friends, here is one more new thing in my life that has kept me busy since my prior blog series.
In 2016, I raised my right hand and made an oath to help preserve our Constitutional rights as Americans. I really didn’t know what to expect as it is a totally new way of life that I started, as I mentioned, at 48 y/o. I remember prior to “boot camp”, shopping the required items at Target thinking at the check out line, “Isn’t this crazy? I should be shopping this for my kid (no, I don’t have children, I’m a resource home)…not me!” Well, the “boot camp” in Rhode Island was for two weeks that now has been increased to the usual five-week ODS for my future physician recruits whom I keep nagging. It still was quite an interesting ordeal for a civilian new to military culture. But, especially after now hanging out with Marines for most of my military career thusfar, I cannot complain. I had a warm shower, bed, toilet, and warm food. And……diet Coke. The greatest outcome of this experience was the initial orientation to the many new friends that you make in the military. The people who you otherwise would never cross paths, but for love of country, you have come together and now are family.
I stayed pure Navy for a little over a year, then joined, what we call “green” side or attached to the Marines. The Marines depend on the Navy for medical and chaplain services. So, I’m still a Navy officer but I drill and mobilize with the Marines. Most of you know that I’ve always been athletic or at least work out, but now as a member of the Marine family, I own the work out at a time in my life when really everything hurts. However, I trek out there with my personal favorite being the HIIT and still do the yoga and swim, and, well, I don’t hurt any longer. Which goes to my point, that many of you already know, is my stand that you just gotta work out. After 40, it’s a must if you want to age well and active. In addition to the fitness and the friendships, I’m so impressed with military culture and the discipline of the people around me. The attention to detail, manners and cleanliness, really, that I witness with the military is genuinely admirable as is the enthusiasm to serve our country. I’ve enjoyed meeting and working with my medical colleagues who have shared their war stories. There’s something about seeing your general surgeon colleague choke up upon remembering an IED event leading to the death of a particular corpsman. The corpsmen are a special breed of people. Most of all, I love my corpsmen. They just want to learn and their “can do” attitude is infectious. It was a pleasure working with my corpsmen in Bridgeport last year (picture) where we tirelessly provided medical support to the Marines who were trekking, repelling and jumping out of planes. During our monthly drill weekends, we review combat care cases, and I learn just as much from the corpsmen as they from me. Many of the corpsmen have been out there in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have shared their stories and experiences that generate nothing but the utmost respect from anyone hearing what these corpsmen (and medics) do out there in the actual field setting. Despite my trauma years in Brooklyn in the ‘90’s where I truly thought I had seen it all, I have learned that combat medicine is a different beast all together.
So, to conclude for now until next blog, I know many of you were like, “what are you doing at your age signing up with the Navy and now you’re hanging out with Marines,” but I must say, I am honored to work with such a dedicated group of people. Yes, it is challenging juggling a private surgical practice with this secondary job, but I appreciate my beautiful patient base who allow me to pursue this avenue with their quintessential patience, and I owe it to a great country we call The United States of America. This Memorial Day, I send my love and respect to all MILITARY and THANK YOU for being you.
‘Rah and Semper Fi