HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan (2/24/2012) - During the late afternoon hours of Jan. 30, Marines with 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), were working hard to take apart a medium girder bridge in the rural district of Garmsir, in Afghanistan's Helmand province. During the disassembly, part of the bridge inadvertently gave way and landed on a Marine's leg, sending him to the ground, writhing in pain.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Soto, right, gives medical supplies to Lance Cpl. Nathan A. Morningstar during the construction of a bridge in Garmsir, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Jan. 30, 2012. Courtesy Photo
| ||“Doc! Doc! Doc! Doc, get up here now!”|
Sprinting on to the scene with his medical bag on his back was Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Soto, a corpsman for the battalion. Though he did not know exactly what was going on, he ran to where Marines were gathered. Soto knelt next to the injured Marine and began to determine the extent to which his leg was damaged. Soto's hands trembled slightly as he used his scissors to cut the Marine's trousers to expose the injury.
Once he determined the Marine had suffered a closed fracture, Soto grabbed some splints out of his medical bag. After setting the Marine's leg, giving him some medicine to dull the pain and taking his vitals, Soto began joking with his patient.
“Oh man, now you're going to be on light duty for the rest of the deployment,” chuckled Soto. “You're going to be our new
During this time, other Marines had coordinated a medical evacuation. Less than 30 minutes later, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter landed in a field next to the bridge site. The injured Marine was placed on a litter and carried toward the aircraft with Soto leading the way.
“The way Doc Soto took care of everything and really controlled the site was almost a textbook medevac,” said Staff Sgt. Brian Glory, a combat engineer with the battalion, which is part of 3rd MLG, III Marine Expeditionary Force when it is not forward deployed. “He did his job extremely well.”
The 21-year-old Soto has come a long way in his three years since joining the Navy. Growing up in Lake Villa, Ill., the self-proclaimed party animal never took anything too seriously. Now he is entrusted with rendering emergency medical treatment to Marines on the frontlines of Afghanistan.
Soto decided to join the military, like much of his family. His father, Antonio, spent 22 years in the Navy as a sonar technician. For much of Soto's childhood, his father was aboard a ship at some remote location around the world.
“I saw what the Navy did for my dad,” said Soto. “The stories he'd tell me and the pictures he'd show me ... I definitely wanted to do something like that too.”
At first, Soto wanted to join the Marine Corps, but his father, a career sailor, had other ideas. Antonio suggested to his son that he become a Navy Corpsman, functioning as the primary medical caregiver to Marines on the battlefield.
“You're kind of like a Marine in a way,” Soto was told by his father. “You'll be treated differently because you're a sailor, but you're going to learn a bunch of medical stuff.”
Soto was sold on the idea. After graduating from boot camp and going through hospital corpsman school, he got his first taste of what life is like in a Marine unit when he went through field medical training at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.
“A lot of guys are like, ‘Oh, it wasn't that bad,' but it was pretty hard for me,” said Soto. “I learned a lot though. It definitely opened up another side of the corpsman rating. I was thinking it was all in the hospital and then I was exposed to actual tactical care in the field on the ground.”
Once that pillar of training was completed, Soto received orders to Camp Hansen on Okinawa, Japan. After working in a clinic for a while, he was transferred to 9th ESB.
In the months leading up to their current deployment to Afghanistan, Soto trained alongside the Marines and worked hard to get them medically ready. During this time, he learned Marines like to poke fun at each other and even more so at any sailors who are within their ranks.
“He's too soft so I try to harden him up,” jokes Lance Cpl. Jesus B. Penagraves, a combat engineer with the battalion. “I try to make him feel like a Marine. Thick skin – he needs it.”
In order to fit in, Soto, who is naturally cheerful and outgoing, had to embrace the unique culture in which he was placed.
“Everyone talks trash to each other,” said Soto. “You just kind of take it. I just got used to it. I started talking trash back, then I became one of them.”
Three months into the deployment, “Doc” Soto is just one of the guys. He has made many friends in the platoon, who he says help him get through every day.
In addition to prescribing aspirin, patching up small cuts and pulling splinters from the fingers of Marines, Soto frequently tries to help out with the labor-intensive work his friends are engaged in when they are building bridges.
Glory often chases Soto off the building sites out of fear of him possibly getting injured.
“There are a lot of times he tries to get involved and help the Marines out because he's created that camaraderie,” said Glory. “That's just Doc Soto, but I hold him back because if he gets hurt we're kind of done.”
At the time of the accident, Soto had taken a break from walking around checking on his Marines and decided to sit down to read a few pages of “Starship Troopers.” Not long after sitting down, he heard the call for help. Without hesitation, the 5-foot-7-inch, 140-pound sailor sprinted to the bridge site in only a few seconds.
1st Lt. Matthew E. Paluta, a platoon commander with the battalion, believes that Soto's actions have given the Marines peace of mind for the rest of the deployment.
“It wasn't a major injury, but (Soto) definitely proved his worth,” said Paluta. “It's one of those things when Marines see their doc performing that well under pressure, it breeds confidence. Their minds won't be distracted as much now.”
Not only do the Marines now have confidence in Soto, but he also has more confidence in himself and his fellow Marines.
“I'm happy it happened while we weren't being shot at,” said Soto. “It helped me out a lot today because I actually got to see the bigger picture. I got to see how everything worked. Now I know all I really have to do is just focus on my job.”
By USMC Cpl. Bryan Nygaard
2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward)
Provided through DVIDS
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