From a police officer in Kinston, Jamaica, to a barber in New York City, Petty Officer 3rd Class Steve A. Barnes, 35, has held many jobs throughout his life. But his time as a hospital corpsman with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit has tested him much differently than any of his previous life experiences.
Barnes currently serves as a corpsman with Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th MEU, and has been deployed since March 2012. Since completing field medicine school and jumping into the Fleet Marine Corps, Barnes has seen rare opportunities to work his practice. That changed quickly April 11, 2012, when an MV-22B Osprey crashed in Morocco resulting in the death of two Marines and two others being seriously injured.
“My guys were 200 yards away from the crash. We have two bags for field medicine, I remember I grabbed my big bag and just started running. After I got there, it was chaos. We set up a receiving area and they pulled the first guy out, he was in pain. That’s when this deployment became real for me,” said Barnes.
He went straight to work cordoning the area so the other corpsman could aid the Marines being pulled out of the downed aircraft. He then kept the 24th MEU leadership informed by relaying the injured Marines’ information and medical condition.
“After the adrenaline wore off, it was surreal, like a dream,” he said. “I’ve never lost a Marine, but I felt like I lost mine that day.”
The experience allowed Barnes to reflect on much of his life and experiences which have led him to where he is today. Before Morocco and the 24th MEU, Barnes spent much of life bouncing between occupations.
He began his multiple-career movement as a police officer in Jamaica.
He worked the beat for a year then moved to a quick response team, working gun-related crimes until he became part of a crime investigation division, where he learned crime scene photography.
“As a police officer, you’re dealing with people from every walk of life,” he said. “Far from fighting crime, you help a lot of people so there’s a lot of mentoring and you learn about other people’s problems and how you can help them.”
He finally made the move to the U.S. in 2005 when he settled in New York City. He worked an assortment of jobs over the next few years until finally enlisting in the Navy in 2010.
“It’s said Jamaicans have a lot of jobs. This is true, you learn a lot of skills so you can make money here and there. Versatility comes with travel. You’ll find Jamaicans all over the world. In order to survive, you learn to do a lot of stuff,” said Barnes.
The decision to join came during a lull in his life.
“I was bored. I wanted to do something but I didn’t want to be a cop again. The Navy offered going all over the world, so why not,” he said.
Of course, going “green” was the next step in his future travels as a corpsman. Green-side corpsmen are those who work directly with Marines and undergo rigorous field training, which differentiates them from “blue” side corpsman, who practice primarily in hospitals and clinics. The green-side corpsmen, known among Marines as “doc”, must attend field medical training where they conduct several long-distance hikes while also learning urban warfare and land navigation.
“When I was going to join, I was going to be a green-side corpsman,” he said. “I’m an adrenaline junkie and all the guys at my course were like, let’s go to field medicine. I felt like it was the right thing to do… I get be called doc, a title of endearment.”
Joining the Navy three years ago to become a hospital corpsman was yet another challenge he sought to overcome.
“After being a police officer, I wondered if I could handle the physical training again because I’m in my 30s, but I roughed it out and here I am,” said Barnes.
A hospital corpsman handles the medical care of Marines and Sailors through the prevention and treatment of disease while also assisting Navy health care professionals. While many of them may function in a clinic or medical treatment facility they can also serve on the battlefield with the Marines. Their vital role as a corpsman can save lives through their ability to render emergency medical treatment in a combat environment.
Despite the challenges he’s faced over this deployment, Barnes remains positive about his experience as a doc for the Marines. He anticipates the upcoming return of the 24th MEU and whatever the future may hold in travel and experience. He intends to continue his travels to wherever the Navy may take him next.
The 24th MEU is returning home in the coming weeks to their home bases in and around Camp Lejeune, N.C. They have been deployed for nine months as an expeditionary crisis response force in the U.S. Navy’s 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility.