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Knowledge Is Our Weapon
by Dawn Grimes
Navy Medicine and Readiness Training Command Guantanamo Bay
December 8, 2021

When you ask Hospital Corpsman Second Class (HM2) Juan Perez if there is an experience that has affected him more than any other, you can see the answer in his eyes before “Yea,” passes his lips. His gaze fixes somewhere long ago and far from the office chair from which he leans forward. “It was in Africa.”

U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman Second Class (HM2) Juan Perez (top right) with other unidentified troops during a mountain warfare training exercise in Bridgeport, Connecticut on November 1, 2016. HM2 Perez was the only medical provider assigned during the exercise. (U.S. Navy photo provided by HM2 Juan Perez.)
U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman Second Class (HM2) Juan Perez (top right) with other unidentified troops during a mountain warfare training exercise in Bridgeport, Connecticut on November 1, 2016. HM2 Perez was the only medical provider assigned during the exercise. (U.S. Navy photo provided by HM2 Juan Perez.)

On April 11, 2012, in Morocco, then 20-year-old Perez was assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). As the junior assigned, Perez was serving in the position that hospital corpsmen refer to as, “Baby Doc.” He and the senior Independent Duty Corpsman, with whom he was assigned and deployed, were among the last to exit a V-22 Osprey that minutes before had been filled to passenger capacity with a platoon of Marines. As they moved away from the landing zone and the craft's rotors filled the air with sound and vibration, something stopped the bird from its ascent and forced it back to the ground. By the time Perez knew what had happened, four Marines were in need of significant and immediate medical attention.

“Me and my IDC, we were the only medical there. The way that he took charge, he pulled out the one living crew member. And then another one who immediately died from being crushed. And then the pilots -- they were ejected …” Perez pauses as he recalls the day that ended in the tragic loss of the craft’s two crew chiefs.

“We were able to save the pilots because of his knowledge and expertise and the way he took charge.” As an investigation months after the accident detailed, 90 minutes passed before all the injured were evacuated to a nearby Moroccan hospital. “Unfortunately, one of the other crewmen also later died on the way to the hospital because he had a collapsed lung, and we didn’t have what we needed to treat him on the scene in that condition.”

Since Perez joined the Navy in 2008, in Miami, he has served in Navy Medicine almost exclusively 'greenside.' In this role, Corpsmen are embedded with U.S. Marine Corps units, going where they go, training as they train, and uniquely armored with medical knowledge for whenever or however the unit may need it. “That’s the biggest thing, you always have to be hungry for and getting that knowledge.” Perez explained, “Because you never know when you’re going to need it and you find yourself in a situation and you’re going to want to have it, not be there wishing for that knowledge. “

Perez reported to the US Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command, Guantanamo Bay (US NMRTC GB) in June, 2021. He serves in the Primary Care Clinic where he sees patients, diagnoses illnesses, and develops treatment plans alongside medical providers who do the same. “I also enrolled myself in the Emergency Department and requested to be assigned there at least once a week and to be with another provider to see patients and to keep my skills up.” Perez explained, “Especially for when I go back greenside. I want the all the knowledge and skills I can get I don’t want my skills to get rusty.”

Lt. Cdr. Bryan Roberts is a medical provider in the Primary Care Clinic where Perez is assigned. “HM2 is eager to see patients and ensures our active duty members are seen in a timely manner he has a breath of knowledge and experience, especially coming from the Marines.” Roberts said. “In that environment, the IDC’s take their foundation of knowledge and really hone it.”

It is Perez’s experience that fortifies him in his other role as ‘mentor.’ It is through his experience deployed on ships and in the field that HM2 Megan Mathis seeks to learn every day.

Hospital Corpsman Second Class Megan Mathis shortly after a surprise meritorious promotion ceremony on October 29, 2021 at the US Naval Medicine Readiness and Training Command, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (U.S. Navy photo by Dawn Grimes, Navy Medicine and Readiness Training Command Guantanamo Bay)
Hospital Corpsman Second Class Megan Mathis shortly after a surprise meritorious promotion ceremony on October 29, 2021 at the US Naval Medicine Readiness and Training Command, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (U.S. Navy photo by Dawn Grimes, Navy Medicine and Readiness Training Command Guantanamo Bay)

Mathis is a corpsman in the PCC with Perez and is an IDC selectee. She has a little more than one year to prepare herself for IDC School and beyond. “I would love to be able to go on a ship. It gives you good opportunity for training, Sailorization, but also for medicine. Depending on what ship, it could be just me, there might not be a doctor on board.” Mathis explained. “That just further pushes me to make sure that I’m constantly learning and constantly doing the best that I possibly can do right now, so that if one day if I’m the one in charge at that emergency.”

It was an emergency that set Mathis on her path and an event she says gives her courage, no matter what the situation. “There’s nothing I could ever go through that’s going to hurt me worse. It helps me to keep my emotions in check and not let adrenal get the better of me.” The day that changed Mathis' life forever was the day she lost her father. “My dad had really bad asthma ever since he was a kid and he passed away on November 16th, 2010, from an asthma attack in our home. Mathis recalled. “It was really scary for me, a ten-year-old daddy’s girl watching my best friend die in front of my eyes, that was really traumatic.” Mathis pauses and continues, “Watching him go down, his face changing color, falling over and eventually the Army doctor who lived next door jumping in and starting CPR before they took me out of the house.” Mathis explained, “It helps me now, to keep a level head, and to treat every single person I come across as family because that’s the care that they deserve.”

With just more than two years in the Navy, Mathis was recently meritoriously promoted to her current rank. She will report to San Diego in February 2023 to attend the 13 month combined Corps and EMT training. “She’s very hungry to learn. Asking questions, always wants to know more. She sees something in my schedule or anyone else’s and asks, ‘can you tell me more about that?’ ‘Can you let me shadow you with that patient?’” Perez said of Mathis. “I’ve brought her in on a couple of my muscle skeletal patients and I’ll whiteboard in advance and go over the physiology and show her what we’re looking at. Then, if I have another patient with similar disposition, I’ll show that so we can compare it’s ‘see one, do one, teach one.’”

Cmdr. Christopher Weiss, Director, Medical Services Directorate, also has observed characteristics in Mathis, essential to success. “An exceptional IDC recognizes that school does not end at the conclusion of IDC school but continues into clinical practice. Weiss added, “Her ambition, ability to manage multiple tasks and her openness towards mentoring others make HM2 Mathis a good IDC candidate.” Mathis is also doing what she can to hone skills that will prepare her for the wide variety of extra roles and responsibilities that come with the title, ‘Doc.’ “Time management. You’re in charge of all of the programs, you’re in charge of Preventive Medicine, inspecting the galleys, the water, the berthing, still attend meetings and always working on your qualifications.”

Mathis is taking her learning in stride. She is a planner and has long known that she wants to be a doctor and has plotted her path to achieve it. “When I finish IDC School, I’ll have my Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences. Eventually, I will apply for the ‘Enlisted to Medical Preparatory Program,’ two years of TAD, to take science courses Washington DC to prepare for and apply for medical school.” Until then, Mathis will learn alongside her shipmate and mentor, HM2 Perez, to prepare for the next level in a career, while both reinforce the skills and knowledge they’ll need in a field where nothing is predictable and learning never ends.

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