Navy Corpsmen practice diplomacy and medicine in Argentina

15 Sep 2000 | Sgt. Arthur Stone

Navy Corpsmen attached to Small Craft Company, Headquarters Battalion, 2d Marine Division, landed in Argentina recently, in support of their Marines, and brought with them a new concept for the medical staff of at the Argentinean base.

"They couldn't get the concept that I wasn't a doctor," said Knoxville, Tenn., native, Petty Officer 1st Class Rick Wallace, who has been an independent duty corpsman since 1998.  "They couldn't grasp the concept that our country sends their medics out independent of a doctor."

As an independent duty corpsman, Wallace is responsible for diagnosing and treating minor injuries, performing emergency care, and is able to do minor surgical procedures.  He is responsible for setting medical regulations, which includes medical evacuations, preventive medicine, and supplies.

Wallace has four Corpsmen working under him in the detachment to provide medical support to just over 100 Marines and Sailors during the deployment.  They keep busy providing medical attention for the numerous sprains, strains, scratches and insect bites common to any deployment, and stand ready to provide emergency assistance to their Marines at a moment's notice around the clock.

They have taken advantage of their time at Zarate Naval Base to get to know the Argentinean medical staff and conduct cross training.  Once acquaintances and friendships were formed, some of the inhibitions of the Argentineans dissolved.  

Originally they wanted Wallace to send even the most minor medical cases out in town to the local hospital for treatment, as they performed almost no treatment of injuries at the base clinic and did not entrust medical treatment to their enlisted personnel.

Despite the somewhat rocky start Wallace and his corpsmen had on their arrival to Zarate, when the local medical officer did not want to allow him to treat patients, they have managed to break the ice.  They managed to open doors through diplomacy that let them get their jobs done while teaching new ideas and concepts to their new acquaintances.

"It's been good working with the Argentineans after we got through the first day," said Wallace, who endured some tense diplomatic moments during his first visit to the base clinic.  "They let us have antibiotics before our own gear got here."

The Argentinean medical officers assisted Wallace and his corpsmen during their treatment of the Marines and in exchange Wallace and the corpsmen showed them various procedures common to them but not practiced by their Argentinean contemporaries. 

A mutual respect has now grown between the medical staff at the naval base and the U.S. Navy Corpsmen, according to Wallace.

"I owe a lot of our success to my preventive medicine technician, HM2 Jon Little.  He's always been there helping out, making things go smoothly, all hours of the day and night," said Wallace. 

The corpsmen will spend three weeks in Argentina before traveling to Paraguay with the Marines for two weeks of combined arms raids with the Paraguayan and Bolivian military. 

Small Craft Company is expected to return to Camp Lejeune in September.