AL ASAD, Iraq -- Most deployed Marines and Sailors prefer a fast paced day where they are constantly busy and the deployment is quickly passing by. But, for Petty Officer 3rd Class James Phillips, a casualty evacuation hospital corpsman attached to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161, a slow day is a good day.
His job includes flying with the air crew to the point-of-injury and picking up and treating patients. The aircraft then transports the patients to a level two or level three hospital facility, such as the level three hospital at Al Asad.
Phillips decided to heed the call to duty when a friend told him being a corpsman was the best job in the Navy. So, he postponed his college education to enlist in the Navy.
Phillips has spent his career on the East Coast aboard Marine Corps Air Stations Beaufort, S.C., and Cherry Point, N.C. He deployed twice at each duty station, but always stayed on the ground at forward aerial refueling points, and going on patrols with explosive ordnance disposal teams and the infantry. He experienced many leadership styles and grew in maturity throughout his deployments.
After an eventful enlistment with several deployments, Phillips was preparing to get out of the Navy when he finally struck gold, landing a casualty evacuation billet in Iraq.
“I’ve been trying to get on the CASEVAC mission for four years,” said Phillips. “This is my fifth deployment. I just took a 13-month extension to do this CASEVAC deployment.”
To prepare for the current deployment, Phillips spent four weeks at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., attending the CASEVAC Course and Operational Emergency Medical Course. The CASEVAC Course focused on familiarizing the corpsmen with getting patients into helicopters and flying, while the OEMC course taught them medical treatments.
“OEMC was the best medical course I’ve ever been to,” said Phillips. “It was cool to see how the treatments you learned worked on patients.”
The corpsmen spring into action when greeted with the sound of the “Casevac Bell.” Phillips’ first thought is always the same.
“I wonder what’s going down,” said Phillips. “And then you get a big adrenaline pump and run out to the bird.”
When the “Casevac bell” rings, the corpsmen rush out to the bird, begin preparing the aircraft and wait for the crew chief’s signal to get on board, according to Phillips.
“If we haven’t gotten the nine-line, the pilots come over the inter-communications system and tell us what the nine-line is,” said Phillips. “The nine-line includes the number of patients, where they are picking them up, whether they are military or civilian, type of injury, and where they need to be taken.”
Upon arrival to the point of injury, one of the corpsmen runs out of the bird to retrieve the patient and the other stays as backup, according to Phillips. After the patients have been retrieved and the bird is back up in the air, the corpsmen will each make an assessment of the patient and then tell the pilot where to go. The corpsmen apply whatever care is necessary to stabilize or help the patient.
“We usually see a lot of gunshot and blast wounds,” said Phillips. “The body armor prevents a lot of injuries. We are generally treating compound fractures and severe lacerations.”
It is important for ‘161 to be on the scene as quickly as possible because giving immediate care to patients increases their chances for survival.
“Getting the patients to medical facilities within the golden hour is very important,” said the corpsman. “The quicker we get them there, the better chance we have to save their life or limb.”
To ensure every crew is proficient, the corpsmen fly in pairs. Sailors with more skill and experience are paired with Sailors of lesser experience and familiarity. Seaman Roger Rose, a hospitalman with HMM-161, was the junior man paired with Phillips for the first month and a half of the deployment.
“Phillips was like a big brother teaching me,” said Rose, of Los Angeles, Calif. “We meshed well together. We picked up where the other lacked. We understood each other very well.”
Phillips has always wanted to be a Marine aviator, and still intends to, but for now he is satisfied as a CASEVAC corpsman.
“Flying the CASEVAC mission has been the highlight of my enlistment,” said Phillips. “I look forward to it every time. I love the trauma aspect of being a medic and flying is a big rush. On days you fly, you really see the difference you make.”