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Why We Serve: Sailor Shares Iraq Experiences

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2007 – Petty Officer 1st Class Virginia Marie Mayo, a Navy corpsman, has proved she can do what the guys do and go where the Marines go.

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Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Virginia Marie Mayo. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The 29-year-old sailor has served aboard ships during her nine-year career and performed dangerous land-based missions during a yearlong tour of duty in Iraq in 2006.

In Iraq, Mayo organized medical triage and movement of casualties and also participated in more than 15 combat-related missions, including convoys and dismounted patrols. She also participated in humanitarian missions that assisted hundreds of Iraqis living in Anbar province.

Mayo said she believes U.S. forces in Iraq are accomplishing great things that often go unreported by the news media. The New Port Richey, Fla., native, said she believes it would be a big mistake for U.S. forces to depart Iraq before the Iraqis are ready to fend for themselves. “If we leave before they can govern themselves, then we’re just going to return in another 10 years,” Mayo said. “We’ve got to finish what we started.”

Mayo is among a group of eight servicemembers with duty experience in Iraq, Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa selected to tell their stories to the American people at community, business, veterans and other gatherings as part of the Defense Department’s “Why We Serve” public outreach program.

The Why We Serve program, initially the idea of Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, began in fall 2006, Air Force Maj. Ann N. Biggers, the program’s director, said. Eight military members, two from each service, are selected to participate in the program, which is conducted in quarterly segments, she explained.

“We know that the American public is hungry to hear about what these young men and women have been doing,” Biggers said. “It’s important for our speakers, as well, because they are out there serving their country and they want to be able to tell their stories.”

Mayo enlisted in the Navy in 1998. After completing boot camp at the U.S. Navy Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Ill., she received field medical corpsman training.

In the following years, Mayo performed duty at Quantico Marine Corps Base, Va.; Okinawa; Thailand; and Camp Pendleton, Calif. In November 2002, Mayo was assigned to duty as an instructor at the Field Medical Service School at Camp Pendleton, where she earned senior-instructor certification.

Along the way during her nine-year military career, Mayo earned special recognition as one of the few Navy enlisted women certified to train and work with Marines as a senior field medical-care leader and technician.

Navy and Marine Corps’ training “is the only way to go,” she said.

Mayo deployed to Iraq in January 2006, where she scheduled corpsman support for combat missions and training for all corpsmen and Army medics. She also accompanied Marines during patrols of villages near the city of Fallujah in Anbar province.

The patrols established rapport with local Iraqi religious and civic leaders and also administered medical care and personal hygiene classes. During one such mission, more than 300 Iraqi villagers received medical care, she recalled.

Mayo said she enjoyed her talks with Iraqi women she’d meet during the patrols.

“They want the same things for their children as parents in America want for theirs,” Mayo said. “All they want is for their kids to be able to go to school.”

Later, Mayo was selected to lead a search team of eight junior female Marines as part of Task Force Lioness. Mayo’s team worked in the city of Barwanah, Iraq, where it searched more than 500 women and children as part of efforts to provide safe travel for city residents in support of the Marine’s security mission.

“The Marines I had with me were absolutely amazing,” Mayo recalled. “They just had a world of experience and knowledge.”

Mayo was initially concerned the female Marines on her team would be reluctant to take orders from a sailor, but that never became an issue during Task Force Lioness. “It was one of the best teams I’ve ever worked with,” Mayo said.

Mayo also said she wants the American public to know “there are so many opportunities and positions of leadership” available to women in the military.

“If you can do your job and can hold your own, then there’s nothing that can stop you,” she said.

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