TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- "It is an honor for me to wear this uniform," Lt. Alfredo E. Baker said. "I came to this country with a dream of being a doctor and the Navy made it come true."
Baker is the regimental surgeon for Marine Air Ground Task Force-2. He and his corpsmen are currently here participating in Combined Arms Exercise 10-02.
Hailing from south of the equator, he grew up in Panama City, Panama, before going to college. He attended college in Brazil with plans of earning a degree in medicine. All was going well until his father was diagnosed with cancer and Baker returned home. He knew with the type of cancer his father had, his father wouldn't live much longer.
When Baker's father passed away, there was an aunt at the funeral whom he hadn't seen in years. She was living in Los Angeles and suggested Baker move in with her and attend the University of California Los Angeles.
UCLA had always been a dream of Baker, so he accepted her offer and she sponsored him for nine months of intensive English classes at the college. Prior to the course, Baker spoke only a few phrases, but with the class he became proficient with the English language.
Baker worked odd jobs to support his education, from washing dishes and driving shuttle buses to and from the airport to installing linoleum floors. He said you name it - he did it.
He was self-supportive through school and wanted to make his dollar go further, so Baker started his pre-med studies at Santa Monica Community College, where he graduated with honors. He then transferred to Loyola Marymount University. There he obtained his bachelor's degree in biological sciences.
After further schooling, Baker earned a graduate degree in education. Having the strong desire to help people and serve the community, he got a job teaching seventh through ninth grade students bilingual mathematics and life sciences. Baker said his teaching career was during the peak of the gang conflicts in Los Angeles. He said many of the teachers' rooms and even their vehicles were vandalized, but his was never damaged because he gained the students' trust, made sure they knew he meant well and he made them feel like they were someone special.
"You never know how much influence you can have on a child," Baker said. "When I first got there they complained when I gave them homework, but by the second or third week, I had them expecting it. They were upset when I didn't give it to them."
Something in his soul continued to call Baker to pursue a degree in medicine. He received acceptance to many prestigious medical schools and decided to get his medical degree at Temple University of Medicine. During this time, he received several scholarship offers and decided to accept the Naval Health Science Scholarship.
"Why not express my thanks for the opportunity of becoming a physician in this country by wearing the uniform," Baker responded, when asked why he chose a military scholarship.
Baker's teaching experience, his instinct for caring and a natural gift for leadership made him the perfect candidate as a Naval medical officer. He now devotes the same energy to developing his corpsmen as he did teaching his young middle school pupils.
"I taught my students work ethics and discipline," Baker continued. "I always encouraged them and expected their maximum effort. I think I really opened the world to them. To me, each one of them was college material; therefore I expected their best. I'm the same way with my corpsmen."
The Temple graduate said he sets high expectations for his corpsmen and expects excellence. He said he is always teaching them. He expects them to know the same things a first year resident knows.
"He's a great teacher," Petty Officer 2nd Class Craig W. Pasanen, a regimental corpsman from Orange Park, Fla., said. "He's easy to follow; very methodical. He explains each step through the procedure."
Baker said he tries to instill confidence within his sailors. He said while with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, one of his corpsmen was promoted to chief petty officer and became an independent duty corpsman, equivalent to a medical officer. After all the classes he has had in field medicine and the instruction he has received, the chief can now run a clinic, both the administrative side and the medical side, Baker said. He said now he can see patients, just like another provider, but he still knows his limitations and gets a consultation when necessary.
"I encourage every one to become self sufficient - through research and reading," Baker said. "I try to keep them up to date on using tools like the Internet - to educate themselves and to better explain the problems to their patients."
Baker said when a patient comes in, it's the doctor's job to make that Marine or sailor his own, not only by giving them medical attention, but also by giving them fatherly care and advice. He said the RAS is a place to get better and also to take care of personal problems.
"I try to go home saying I made a difference in someone's life," Baker said. "If you can do that everyday, then you are a rich man."
Baker considers himself rich like that and is thankful for the opportunity he was given to be in the military. He said when he graduated from Temple; he was one of the few to wear his uniform.
"Why not wear the uniform?" he asked his fellow graduates as a two star admiral swore them in from ensign to lieutenant. "Think about those before us who gave their lives he said. I believe in this country and want to keep its values around for my family."
When Baker got to the Fleet he said he had to be around Marines because of their youthfulness, intensity and aggression. He's been with 3/2 and is now at the regimental level. He said he plans to be an admiral himself one day, so to have the well roundedness required, his next billet will be as a doctor with a Marine aircraft wing.
Baker and his corpsmen will complete CAX 10-02 sometime in mid-September and will return home to Camp Lejeune, N.C., then.