557th Medical Company and the Combat Medical Badge.
Initially titled the Medical Badge, the CMB was designed by the War Department during WWII as a companion badge to the Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB). The CIB was strictly reserved for the infantryman who suffered the harshest conditions in combat, sustained the most casualties, and received very little recognition for their actions. Combat Medics suffered all these same hardships, often becoming casualties themselves, while aiding their wounded comrades, but were not eligible for the CIB as medics. (1) Therefore, the CMB was created as an equally exclusive award to honor the Combat Medics who shared the same peril under fire as the infantry units they supported. (2) Historically, the prerequisites to be eligible for the CMB included performing medical duties while assigned or attached to an infantry unit and engaged in active combat. As the nature of warfare evolved, so too have the criteria for awarding the CMB. For example, the CMB can now be awarded to medics who have served with other types of combat units, such as Armor, while under fire. (1)
The CMB was not originally intended to be awarded to medics who served in the combat support roles. Those medical units not organic to combat units, to include air and ground evacuation companies, division-level medical companies, Combat Support Hospitals (CSH), and Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (MASH) were not authorized to receive the CMB. The only exception to this rule would be cases in which a combat unit had lost its medics and had to pull male Soldiers from support assets. (3)
Today's Global War on Terrorism is very different from conflicts in the past. The enemy is elusive and highly mobile, operating in small independent cells. The battles of today have no distinct lines, as any area can become a combat zone without warning. Medics, in general, are becoming more involved in combat situations with the Global War on Terrorism. This type of warfare has dramatically altered the traditional support role of the 557th Med Co (GA), placing their medical personnel into more multiple direct combat situations than any previous American conflict. Both male and female Soldiers, previously regarded as strictly medical support personnel, were drawn into the fight against terror extending the opportunity to be awarded the CMB to medics who would not have been eligible in the past.
The 557th Med Co (GA) deployed to Iraq in January 2004. Once on the ground, 557th Med Co (GA) was task organized by platoon to provide evacuation coverage for various areas and spent the majority of the deployment geographically separated. The First and Third Platoons were both located in Tikrit along with the Company Headquarters. However, First Platoon provided evacuation support to the Forward Operating Bases (FOB) which included 1st and 25th Infantry Divisions, while Third Platoon was evacuation support for the 67th Combat Support Hospital and the Camp Speicher Fire Station. Additionally, all 557th Med Co (GA) Soldiers stationed in Tikrit provided evacuation coverage and convoy support for 167th Area Support Group operations. (4)
The Second Platoon, located in Al Asad in western Iraq, was tasked to support the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR). The 3rd ACR was eventually replaced by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. The Second Platoon provided support to the U.S. Marines and the Naval Surgical Company, adapting to the differences in Army and Navy doctrine. The Fourth Platoon supported the 31st Combat Support Hospital, the 332nd Air Force Theater Hospital, and Logistic Support Area (LSA) Anaconda in Balad, Iraq. Their responsibilities included ground evacuation coverage for the Air Force Aeromedical Staging Facility, the flight line and helipad, and Entry Control Points. (4)
The separation of the platoons within 557th Med Co (GA), both in geography and responsibilities, provided daily challenges to provision of traditional command and control. In order to adapt to the fluid situation, individual platoons began operating more independently, while attached to the units they supported. This fluid command and control relationship ultimately set the stage for involvement in combat missions.
On 8 July 2004, the Iraqi National Guard (ING) Headquarters was attacked in Samarra, Iraq. A week prior, Task Force 1-26 had turned over control of the Operational Detachment Alpha 575 Compound to local civil authorities, leaving the 202nd ING Battalion as the last Coalition-led force in that area. An Iraqi National Police truck, rigged with a vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) was allowed access to the compound which destroyed part of the headquarters building. The explosion left 20-25 Soldiers buried under rubble with many others critically injured. The 202nd ING immediately radioed for support in the mass casualty situation, as they had few medically qualified Soldiers.
SPC Mia Geurts and PFC Joanna Jovenal of First Platoon were on duty when the ING headquarters was attacked. Not knowing what to expect, they joined the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) convoy into the compound to begin evacuation and treatment of the wounded. The convoy was hit with sporadic small arms fire, and the compound came under heavy small arms fire and mortar rounds before they had even finished assessing their first patients. They continued to triage and evacuate patients despite the attacks.
SPC Geurts said that she knew that as female Soldiers in a Corps-level support unit, they weren't expecting to be in a close combat situation, but that didn't stop her from coming to the aid of fellow Soldiers. "I just wanted to do my job," she said. PFC Jovenal echoes that same sentiment. Her initial reaction to being under fire was simply, "If I don't go, there's going to be nobody there." Both Soldiers received the CMB for their selfless service and their actions that day. (5)
SGT Thomas Tucker of Fourth Platoon was on a different type of mission when he earned his CMB. On 22 October 2004, SGT Tucker had volunteered to serve as a line medic with 16th Field Artillery at FOB Gabe when the Iraqi Police station came under heavy fire. The QRF responded immediately in defense. SGT Tucker joined them to attend to and evacuate potential casualties, though FOB Gabe remained under attack. "In the middle of all this," SGT Tucker reported, "you could hear the ricochets everywhere. If there was one day you thought your number was up in Iraq, it was that day for me." (6)
Fellow medics supporting FOB Gabe were also drawn into the battle. There were insufficient line medics for the conditions, so SGT Lindsey Miller and SPC Matthew Takahashi joined in evacuating casualties off the battlefield. "It was all very surreal," SGT Miller said of her experience, "this was really happening, but you're busy and you've got things you need to do." At one point during the firefight, SGT Tucker and SGT Miller crossed paths. They agreed that even though events were unfolding quickly, time seemed to stop. They were friends and comrades, joined in the single mission of saving lives, lending each other hope and courage. "It was like the two of us against the whole world," SGT Tucker reported. (7)
Many 557th Med Co (GA) Soldiers answered the call for help on the battlefield and earned the CMB for their heroic actions. These distinguished Soldiers include SSG Anzio Cork, SSG Jacqueline Brown, SSG Michelle Holland, SGT Dawson Shephard, SGT Jared Zinsmeister, SGT Ivyfer de La Cruz, SGT James Lewis, SPC Leonard Strazza, SPC Kyle Bowler, SPC Megan Downing, SPC Zachary Hall, and SPC Jeana Calleva. They too responded under fire to attacks on Iraqi Police stations and Coalition Forces, saving the lives of Soldiers and Iraqi Nationals alike despite the ever-changing conditions they faced daily. In the words of General Schoomaker, Army Chief of Staff, "The world has changed. Ambiguity is the rule. Uncertainty is the norm. And so our Army must change to build the force that can defeat the challenges that lie ahead." (8) Regardless of gender or military occupational specialty, every Soldier must be a Soldier first, and a warrior, to face today's conflicts. In the midst of a changing world, fighting a different type of war, the Soldiers of the 557th Med Co epitomize the Warrior Ethos.
Each CMB recipient from the 557th Med Co (GA) has a different idea about what the CMB means for them. For some, their experiences are personal memories kept close and shared only with the medics who served to their left and right. For others, it's a badge of honor shared proudly and openly with friends and family. Some simply shrug their shoulders and insist that anyone in the company would have done the same. For all of them, however, the CMB is a reflection of their dedication to duty. When asked of their experiences, the answer was always the same ... "I was just doing my job." The CMB symbolizes the extraordinary personal courage and professional competence exhibited by Soldier Medics while encountering the worst of battle conditions. Soldiers of the 557th Medical Company (Ground Ambulance) assumed this responsibility and demonstrated unparalleled valor worthy of the Combat Medical Badge.
(1.) "Portrait of Courage" AMEDD Regiment, http:// ameddregiment.amedd.army.mil/combat.htm.
(2.) AR 600-8-22, Military Awards, para 8-7 Combat Medical Badge, 25 Feb 1995.
(3.) AR 600-8-22, para 8-7.
(4.) 557th Unit History OIF II Jan-Dec 2004.
(5.) SPC Mia Geurts and PFC Joanna Jovenal Personal Accounts, June 2005.
(6.) SGT Thomas Tucker, SGT Lindsay Miller, and SPC Takahashi Personal Accounts, June 2005.
(7.) SGT Lindsay Miller and SGT Thomas Tucker, June 2005.
(8.) General Peter J. Schoomaker, 35th Chief of Staff, United States Army, AUSA SMA Luncheon Speech, Washington Convention Center 24 Oct 2004.
First Lieutenant Summy is the Platoon Leader for the 557th Medical Company (GA) in Wiesbaden, Germany.
Captain Hoffman Commands the 557th Medical Company (GA) in Wiesbaden, Germany.
Lieutenant Colonel (P) Campbell Commands the 421st Medical Evacuation Battalion in Wiesbaden, Germany.
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|Author:||Summy, Shanna L.; Hoffman, John K.|
|Publication:||U.S. Army Medical Department Journal|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2005|
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