CAMP HANSEN - Okinawa, Japan --
The 69th Reunion of Honor ceremony at Iwo To (the island formerly known as Iwo Jima) was a tribute to the veterans who fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima and Petty Officer 3rd Class Traciemarie D. San Juan was standing there with the jitters. She didn’t have heightened nerves from the magnitude of the ceremony - this time - but because she was called to aid an 80-year-old man in cardiac arrest.
“It was crazy,” said San Juan. “It was my first time on (Iwo To) and it was my first time saving someone’s life.”
On Mar. 19, 2014, San Juan and Lt. Cmdr. Scott J. LaPanne stabilized a Marine World War II veteran after the veteran suffered a heart attack while attending the ceremony. Once stabilized, the veteran was transported from Iwo To to the Guam Naval Hospital onboard a C-130 Super Hercules for additional medical care.
San Juan is a native of Napa, California. She went to Navy boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois, Mar. 8, 2011. She received her basic hospital corpsman training at the Navy Hospital Corps School, Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, from May to August 2011. Her first duty station was at a women’s health clinic at Port Smith, Virginia, from May, 2011 to August, 2013.
“When it came time for my new orders, my (senior corpsman) suggested that I go “green-side” since my knees are still good,” said San Juan.
In the Navy, there are two routes to follow as a corpsman: those who work in a hospital environment or on a ship and whose care extends to any personnel – known as the blue side. Then there are the corpsmen attached to Marine units who undergo combat training while focused on field medicine – known as the green side.
She completed the field medical service technician course at Field Medical Training Battalion at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejuene, North Carolina, and transferred in November 2013 to Combat Logistics Regiment 37, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force.
Her mettle was then tested at Iwo To four months later.
During the Reunion of Honors tour that commemorates the battle of Iwo Jima, there were several corpsmen on standby at various points of the island to respond to any medical emergency. San Juan was positioned at the main clinic which is near the airfield.
“We set up (our equipment) as if a patient is going to come so we’ll be ready,” said San Juan.
The ceremony started at 8 a.m. and ended around 2 p.m. The island swelled with people who liked to climb the mountain, according to San Juan.
“I was on radio watch that day,” said San Juan. “I kept sitting by the window, listening to all the conversations and the next thing I see is the (communications) officer running with a radio yelling about a patient”
At that point, San Juan heard a message on the radio about an old man on the ground. She called out to her nurse and reported that there might be a medical emergency.
Her nurse got the ambulance ready while San Juan stuffed supplies into her bag. When San Juan arrived on the scene, she was informed the patient had a seizure. The situation did not look good: the veteran had a faint pulse and he stopped breathing.
“When I got there, they were going to shock him with a defibrillator, but then they found his pulse,” said San Juan. She immediately took control of the situation while her superiors made contact with the C-130s to prepare for the patient transport. “I was nervous. It was like trying to solve a puzzle in my mind.”
It was later diagnosed that the veteran had a cardiac arrest, and it wasn’t the first time either.
By the time the corpsmen got the veteran to the airfield, the aircraft was ready to go. During the three and a half hour flight to Guam, San Juan and LaPanne monitored the veteran’s health to ensure he remained stable.
San Juan was never idle during the flight as she constantly checked vital signs, she ensured the IV’s kept the patient hydrated and made sure he was stabilized, according to LaPanne who was also with CLR-37 at the time.
“Her ability to adapt to the situation, while staying focused, helped dramatically,” said LaPanne, a Knoxville, Tennessee, native who is now with Health Service Support Platoon, Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. “Even while there were other people there, she was acting professionally and maintaining the patient’s privacy while stabilizing him.”
The patient, as described by LaPanne, was a well-spoken and pleasant man who was part of the Iwo Jima offensive. The veteran has made multiple trips to Iwo To with his family, reliving memories of the past.
After the lengthy flight, the patient was successfully delivered to the Guam Naval Hospital.
“It’s crazy, because back in the hospital I would have the duty to pick up the people being (medically evacuated),” San Juan said. “And I would wonder, ‘Hmm, what do they do to stabilize someone.’ And now I know.”
A few months after the incident, San Juan received orders to CLB-31 in April 2014. On July 25, after completing a battalion hike, San Juan was presented with the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal by Lt. Col. Eric C. Malinowski, commanding officer of CLB-31, and a native of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
She was awarded for her services in stabilizing and transporting the Marine veteran in Iwo To.
“When you’re in garrison, you don’t always see or feel the impacts of a corpsman on a day-to-day basis,” said Chief Petty Officer Christopher T. Guckeyson, the leading chief petty officer with the CLB, and a native of Newport News, Virginia. “This just brings it to the forefront that 70 years (after the battle), Navy corpsmen are still taking care of Marines. And while ‘Doc’ San Juan would say she was only doing her job, she still helped a Marine in need.”