AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- A convoy moves across the Iraqi desert, the unexpected happens: BOOM! An explosion sends fire and shards of hot, jagged shrapnel through the midsection of the convoy. A Marine yells to another, "The hummer's on fire, let's get out!" He turns to find the driver unconscious. He gets out screaming, "We've got wounded!" A casualty evacuation call is sent. Minutes later, as the Marine clutches his friend's hand, he tells him he will be okay because two Navy corpsmen just arrived on a helicopter.
When Coalition Forces convoy across Iraq, improvised explosive devices can mean numerous injuries and fatalities, but CASEVAC corpsmen are there to lock the door, when Death comes knocking.
"The coolest thing about being a corpsman is that we stand toe-to-toe with the Reaper every day," said Hospitalman 3rd Class Jared E. Zieris, CASEVAC corpsman, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. "We are Death's adversaries and beat him 90 percent of the time."
Although the corpsmen are able to help most of the casualties they come into contact with, there are times when they have to deal with the battles they have lost.
"It's really hard when we lose someone, because you know they have family and friends at home praying for their safe return," said Hospitalman Dien T. Pham, CASEVAC corpsman. "It just makes you wish you could have done more to help them."
The CASEVAC corpsmen are willing to risk their lives to be able to save the life of another.
"We run out of the helicopter not knowing what could be out there waiting for us," said Zeiris. "All we know is there is a person out there depending on us and we need to get him out of harm's way."
According to the West Palm Beach, Fla. Native, it is worth the risk, upholding the tradition of the Navy corpsman by putting their lives in harm's way to save the lives of others.
"The corpsmen show a strong desire to be part of the unit," said Maj. James D. Hill, executive officer, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161, MAG-16, 3rd MAW, and Calvert City, Ky. native. "They are very motivated and a big part of the Navy and Marine Corps team."
As part of an all-volunteer force, some of the corpsmen were ready to "hang it up" until they deployed to Iraq and began working as CASEVAC corpsmen.
"Doing what we do makes it all worthwhile," said Pham, a Los Angeles native. "I was considering getting out of the Navy until coming here and doing something as important as this."
As U.S. service members continue to fight in Iraq, there will be more casualties, more calls for immediate casualty evacuations and always ready to answer those calls are the CASEVAC corpsmen.
"The Marines are out there putting their lives on the line for us," Zeiris said. "It's our job to make sure they come home.