Field Medical Service School (FMSS)

USMC Combat Medic (USN Corpsman)

Fleet Marine Force Corpsman
••• Official Navy Photo

If you are considering becoming a combat medic and you are in the Navy, there are a few options for you. You can get tryout for the Marine Field Medical School which will certify you as a Navy Doc within a Marine Corps unit. You can also advance within the Marine Corps combat medic training and qualify as a SARC - Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsman within the Marine RECON and MarSOC Raider units. However, first come the eight week Marine boot camp-like training Field Medical Training Battalion at Camp Pendleton (west) and Camp Lejeune (east).

This is where the Navy Corpsman transforms into the Marine Corps Combat Medic. Still a Navy Corpsman, the Navy and Marine Corps team up at Field Medical Service School (FMSS) East or West to mold standard Navy-issue corpsmen into Sailors good enough for the Fleet Marine Force (FMF). The good ones will earn the Marines’ respect. The great ones earn the title, “Doc.”

There are no medics in the Marine Corps. The Navy provides the administrative duties of the Marine Corps for the most part with medics, hospitals, churches, chaplains, and of course ships to transport Marines and their helicopters, planes, tanks, and other equipment to warzones. That’s why FMSS exists – because Marines need Navy Docs on the battlefield with the top priority of saving Marine Corps lives.

The FMSS Training Program

This training school familiarizes Navy personnel to be assigned with USMC organizations with the many USMC processes and procedures. It can be a different language to grasp compared to the shipboard or hospital life of the average corpsman. The student FMF medics receive training from Marines and Navy Corpsman (FMF) Combat Medics and become competent in Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP), learn about USMC logistics, and administrative support in a field environment. Training will also include individual and small unit tactics, military drills, physical training/conditioning, and weapons familiarization and qualifications.

Completion of FMST results in the student receiving Navy Enlisted Classification (NEC) HM-8404.

The self-confidence needed to become a successful battlefield corpsman can grow at FMSS, and many of the scenarios the medical and Marine Corps advisors put their students through are centered on precisely that – building confidence in the Sailors’ knowledge and their abilities. The students are taught what the Marine Corps will demand of them from the very first day with boot camp-style inspections, relentless physical fitness training and unyielding tolerances for Marine Corps discipline, all the while being tested academically both in the classroom and in the field.

You have to be both book smart and street smart because being with Marines means always thinking outside the box. Being in combat is a common situation since after 9-11 for the military branches. Many of these Navy Corpsman are new to the field and travelling off base in war zones.

Still, the combat veterans know no amount of training or lecturing is going to make anybody, especially corpsmen ready for war. No matter how hard you try to get ready for combat, you’re never ever truly prepared for it. There’s nothing else on Earth like war. It’s not simple. It’s not fun and not cool is the tone of the training given by the instructors.

And without setting foot on the battlefield some students have already felt the realities of war. For some it is a wake-up call, while for others it provides confirmation that they’re going USMC FMF for all the right reasons.

“When I saw my first Marine come in from combat,” said HN Patrick Coyle, a student stationed at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune prior to classing up for FMSS, “it just reaffirmed in me that there was a job out there that needed to be done, and I wanted to be one of those people who makes a difference. When these guys got hurt, there was a corpsman who did their initial assessment and kept them alive well enough to get to me. They didn’t lose their limbs, they didn’t lose their life and that’s what we’re here to do – save Marine lives.”

Coyle’s mindset is precisely what FMSS instructors hope to instill in all their graduates, and if history is any indication, whatever they’re doing works because Navy corpsmen are one of the most combat decorated rating in the Navy, and most of those medals were earned by corpsmen serving with their Marines.

The Marine Corps has an expectation of handling more responsibility from its junior personnel, especially their corpsmen. And it’s a character trait FMSS instructors look for on the very first day of school.

The Marine Corps’ straight forward, show-me attitude encourages young Sailors to prove their worthiness to the FMSS instructors, their shipmates and themselves. And that’s exactly what brings these gung-ho Navy Corpsmen to FMSS - the Marine Corps way of life.

Younger Corpsman - More Responsibilities

As an E-2 in the Navy, if you are on a ship or in a hospital, you don’t have a many responsibilities. However, FMF Corpsman go to war zones with their Marines, even as an E-2 and 17 years old, they have immense amount of responsibility. FMF Corpsman have a group of Marines whose medical care was assigned to them and only them. They are in charge of everything that happens to them. For the FMF Corpsman going into combat with a group of Marines and bringing them all back alive is the ultimate goal.

While no experience outside the realm of actual combat prepares a Sailor for what awaits him on today’s battlefields, FMSS gives their students the kind of instructors and life tools they need to reach their full potential out in the field.

War Stories From Combat Medics

“When I graduated from FMSS,” said HM3(FMF) Paul Haggerty, Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, Camp LeJeune, N.C., “I had the idea that the training at FMSS was kind of lax, and that I would never be sent to a front-line Marine platform because I worked at a naval hospital. I was wrong. When I got orders telling me I was deploying with 3/8 I was nervous because I thought I wouldn’t be ready. But it turns out that the training at FMSS was everything I needed out there. It was right on cue.”

Haggerty deployed to Iraq Jan. 17, 2005, and returned safely Aug. 14. Less than a month after stepping foot in the desert, he was put to the test as a FMSS graduate.

“It was early February, two weeks after the elections,” said Haggerty, “and my platoon was rolling down the main supply route when a seven-ton truck was hit by an improvised explosive device [IED], and shots were fired. It was another platoon’s convoy, and they had no corpsmen in that platoon. It was just me. And there were five to six wounded Iraqi civilians dying right in front of me. They had massive trauma, sucking chest wounds and there I was taking care of five, six people all by myself. None of the Marines were hurt, and I saved all the civilians.

Help eventually arrived, but what was so weird about it was when it happened I was moving so fast. It was just like the training at FMSS – battle assessments, ABCs, prioritizing patients, etc. The training was almost exactly to what the real situation was, and I never hesitated.”

The words, “never hesitated” are music to the ears of any FMSS instructor as proof that what they teach down at Camp LeJeune and their west-coast partner, FMSS West, Camp Pendleton works.

And while stories like Haggerty’s are told and retold down at the school house with a smile, instructors and students alike know not every beginning will have a happy ending, no matter how well they train.

Thinking of trying out for the FMF? To enroll contact your local Command Career Counselor.