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Medical Civilians Experience Boot Camp Rigors

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

PARRIS ISLAND, S.C., Oct. 16, 2012 – A cadre of 12 medical experts in traumatic brain injury and psychological health fell in line with boot-camp Marines here to experience the rigors of military training, first hand.

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From left, Navy Lt. Jessica Snyder, audiologist, and Celene Moorer, assistive technologist, of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Md., attempt to catapult themselves over an obstacle course apparatus during their day of boot camp at Parris Island. DOD photo by Terri Moon Cronk

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The mostly civilian team from the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Md., ranged from doctors and audiologists to arts and recreational therapists and a pharmacist. By team approach, these experts treat service members with severe cases of TBI and post-traumatic stress syndrome – the two signature wounds of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To enhance their study and treatment of service members, the team went through a full day of Marine Corps boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, last week to understand one of the most stressful events in a military member’s life, according to Joshua Stueve, NiCOE spokesman.

The first morning began when a drill instructor boarded the civilians’ bus and began shouting orders at them and ordered them to stand in formation. She then rushed them through “the silver doors” where they ceased to be civilians and became Marine Corps recruits, she told them.

Team members quickly learned to shout out, “Yes ma’am!” “Aye ma’am!” “No ma’am!” to the drill instructor who worked them over for the first half-hour.

At dawn, the team climbed, swung from and inched their way along obstacle courses, shot M-16s at a firing range, and later spoke with recruits during lunch in the mess hall.

Instructors took a wealth of questions from the medical team. How are recruits taught to drag a body? How are the injured saved? What if recruits fail? What happens if they fall from the obstacle course into a moat? How many recruits don’t make it and why?

The team witnessed martial arts maneuvers, water survival skills and tromped through isolated woods to watch recruits on their last make-it-or-break-it exercise to becoming a Marine: a grueling, 54-hour simulated combat environment known as “the Crucible.”

The medical team learned during their own basic warrior training that recruits are on the move constantly with little food, water or rest. They rappel down 60-foot ropes and are taken captive, exposed to noxious gas, and put in critical decision-making roles to evaluate them as qualified Marines.

“I’ll be able to bring that core understanding back [to NiCOE] and integrate it into my treatment plans,” said Julie Liss, the pharmacist. “I can tell the Marines, ‘I know you made it through the Crucible, and this journey might be your Crucible again.”

Liss said being able to share common experiences with her patients helps treatment.

Tony Panettiere, a neurologist and retired Navy doctor, said he was impressed with the training Marines receive.

“They’re all designed to weather the stresses that come against them, and press on regardless of how much they’re hurting, whether psychologically or physically, because there are other Marines who count on them,” he said.

While drill instructors shout at recruits for 12 weeks to prepare them for military readiness through discipline, responsibility for themselves and others, recruits also develop confidence and leadership skills, the medical team learned.

They learned the importance of the creed, “never leave a Marine behind,” and the Corps’ engrained ethics of honor, courage and commitment, they said.

“The stress created here helps them cope in combat,” a drill instructor told the group during an orientation.

Because Marines depend on each other, Panettiere said, that might be why they’re hesitant to seek medical treatment for significant injuries.

“They might not know what their limits really should be before we can get them back into a better state of health,” he suggested.

Panettiere said he learned how resilient the recruits are.

Celene Moorer, an assistive technologist, is new to the military medical environment. She said the boot camp experience made her realize why the Marines she sees at NiCOE are sometimes hesitant to share information about their medical conditions and limitations.

“I now have a better understanding of where it starts in terms of ‘OK, you need to be this strong person and never give in,’” she said. “I think I can adjust my approach in dealing … and empathizing with the service members. It gave me a different perspective by going through the process.”

Panettiere added that even as a retired Navy doctor, he’d never seen boot camp Parris Island-style. “That’s why I wanted to see where they all start from,” he noted.

Understanding their code of honor and courage to always be responsible also impressed Peter Brooks, a primary care physician.

“As a civilian, I have great respect for them when I see what’s involved,” he said. “The other piece is we try to integrate a therapy connection with service members and speak in context. Being sensitive to the military culture confirms that approach.”

Later the first day, the NiCOE team visited Naval Hospital Beaufort, S.C., where Marine recruits and other service members are treated.

NiCOE members gave a presentation on what their interdisciplinary teams can do for those with TBI and post-traumatic stress in four weeks, in addition to their research and education into those signature wounds of war.

The second day of the team’s visit to Parris Island began with observing the colors and meeting the commander, Brig. Gen. Lori Reynolds, the first female commander of the installation. They also attended a graduation ceremony on the parade field of 509 new Marines.

“I think service members will appreciate that we took the time to see what they go through,” Moorer said. “And they might be a little more trusting, giving us information. It benefits both parties in the long run.”


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Related Sites:
Special Report: Traumatic Brain Injury
National Intrepid Center of Excellence
Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C.

Click photo for screen-resolution imageNiCOE Primary Care Dr. Peter Brooks aims for his target while learning to shoot an M-16 on a blustery day at Parris Island. DOD photo by Terri Moon Cronk  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArts therapist Melissa Walker of NICOE stabilizes her feet while moving to the next rung of an obstacle course at Parris Island during a day of boot camp. DOD photo by Terri Moon Cronk  
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