MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Corpsmen are often regarded as the unsung heroes of the Fleet Marine Force. These specialized sailors train and fight alongside their Marine counterparts, and symbolize the genuine spirit of the Navy and Marine Corps team.
Seaman Robert E. Graham, 22, is among those who provide healthcare and a friendly face to fellow sailors and Marines every day.
The Cleveland native has served in the Navy for a year, but is ready to deploy with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Graham joined the Navy to pursue something different, and says he’ll have the chance to harness a truly unique experience in the coming months serving as a corpsman with the MEU on deployment.
“I’m learning something every day,” he said. “It’s a good learning experience.”
Graduating from high school in 2006, Graham was generally interested in computers and biology, but wasn’t set on a specific career path. After working in various civilian jobs, he began taking steps to join the military. He spent hours in the gym to lose weight, and visited with recruiters and veterans to learn about life in the Navy and what it would take to make the cut.
He originally sought a position in the Navy’s information technology community, but ultimately became a corpsman, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who served as an Army medic during the Vietnam War.
Graham, who is a computer enthusiast and self-taught musician, encompasses a special characteristic making him unique among the corpsmen within the 22nd MEU. Bearing a delightful smile and warm personality, Graham often illuminates the Battalion Aid Station while providing care to fellow Marines and sailors preparing to deploy.
He evidentially loves to laugh, and fosters a positive attitude in his work section. While personally caring for patients, completing mundane tasks or even participating in a candid interview, he often eases the mood with parody or comical observations on life. For example, his impressions of the Batman and Joker characters from “The Dark Knight” film often send comrades and patients into tremendous laughter.
“See, the thing with me is, I try to make my job not seem like such a job,” he said. “So, I like to have fun while I’m at work. I’ve got to laugh, man. That’s just how I am.”
Aside from Graham’s bright outlook in the aid station, the work he does now will ensure the Marines are current with critical medical requirements before beginning the MEU’s forthcoming journey.
He personally takes care of immunizations, vital signs, blood draws, record-keeping procedures, and often advises patients on a variety of healthcare subjects.
Graham says his job calls for him to be a “jack of all trades,” since his particular medical team is a relatively small entity.
“You build trust with people – camaraderie … it feels good, especially when you know your stuff,” he explained.
Graham occasionally recalls his times training to become a corpsman. He chuckles about drawing blood, administering sterile injections and starting intravenous fluids on patients for the first time, critical skills corpsmen practice on each other during preliminary medical training.
“I had this one guy, and I put pressure on him and the blood just kept coming,” Graham said, recalling starting an IV during training. “I got it eventually. It’s crazy because you are dealing with an actual person.”
Corpsmen like Graham are steadily preparing 22nd MEU Marines and sailors for their deployment – occurring earlier than previously planned.
Graham and his colleagues say the MEU’s medical readiness is aligned with command expectations, and the Marines and sailors are ready to go forward ahead of schedule.
Graham has never served aboard ship, but looks forward to the experience.
“I’m not too worried,” he said. “I think I am pretty well-trained.”
Graham feels his extensive medical training will help when faced with challenges while caring for patients on ship.
While deployed, he will work to earn the Fleet Marine Force pin, a prestigious certification sailors receive after completing extensive training in Marine Corps specific subjects.
As far as his goals following deployment are concerned, Graham isn’t exactly sure what he plans to accomplish – he is only 22 years old.
“I’ve got a path, but it’s just not clear yet,” he added.
The Marines and sailors of the 22nd MEU are currently deployed with Amphibious Squadron 6 aboard the USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and will continue to train and test the MEU’s ability to operate as a cohesive and effective Marine Air Ground Task Force.
The 22nd MEU is a multi-mission capable force comprised of Aviation Combat Element, Marine Tilt Rotor Squadron 263 (Reinforced); Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22; Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment; and its Command Element.