Heroes 2006: ‘I would … do the same thing again’
June 14, 2006
It was Nov. 8, 2004, and the Marines had just begun the major assault on Fallujah, Iraq. Petty Officer 3rd Class Clayton Garcia was sitting next to a seven-ton truck when he heard it.
The battle cry of the corpsmen has launched such men into action since 1898, when the Navy first assigned them to accompany Marines landing at Guantanamo Bay during the Spanish-American War.
For Garcia, 22, the call of “Corpsman, up!” would prompt him to expose himself repeatedly to enemy sniper and machine gun fire as he dashed across an open field to help a wounded Marine.
Quickly realizing that the Marine would be killed in his exposed position, Garcia got three other Marines to carry the man back across the field of fire to safety.
The Navy awarded Garcia the Bronze Star with “V” for his actions that day.
“Now that I think about it, it was kind of dumb of me, because I was kind of a sitting duck,” Garcia said in a telephone interview from Keflavik, Iceland, where he is assigned to the U.S. Naval Hospital.
“A big thing corpsmen are taught in school is, ‘Don’t endanger our lives trying to get to people,’” the Lytton, Iowa, native said. “But I would definitely do the same thing again.”
Garcia, who joined the Navy in June 2002, was on his second Iraq deployment when he got involved in the Fallujah battle.
His first deployment, from late March to October 2003 attached to the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment (Mechanized), was quiet.
Aside from heat-related injuries, “nothing huge happened, medical-wise,” Garcia said. “I was surprised at the lack of conflict we were in.”
But compared to the first tour, his second Iraq tour a year later, “was like night [and] day,” Garcia said.
This time, Garcia was attached to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force’s 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., which was stationed at Camp St. Michael, a no-frills base in Iraq’s notorious “Sunni Triangle.”
Garcia was assigned to Fox Company, 3rd Platoon.
The big fight came in November in Fallujah, where U.S. and coalition forces were tasked with rooting out entrenched insurgents, including those loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaida in Iraq.
Garcia’s battalion was called up to Fallujah to assist with the main assault, with Fox Company assigned to conduct security for a mortar platoon.
No sooner had the fight kicked off than Fox Company came under heavy fire.
“I was sitting by a seven-ton, and I heard ‘Corpsman, up!’” Garcia said.
Garcia grabbed his medical bag, ran up and over an earth berm, and onto the exposed field where a young lance corporal lay, bleeding from his upper arm.
“He was screaming,” Garcia said. “He was in a lot of pain.”
This particular injury was very serious, because the bullet had severed the Marine’s brachial artery, a primary carrier of blood to the body.
As Garcia raced against time to keep the Marine from bleeding to death, the young man had an unusual follow-up query.
“I remember him distinctively asking me if he’d ever be able to skateboard again,” the corpsman said.
“I told him, ‘Yeah, I think so.’”
Later on, back in the States, Garcia met the lance corporal he helped rescue that day.
“He said, ‘Thanks, Doc, for saving my life,’” Garcia said.
“And that’s probably the greatest thing anybody’s ever said to me.”
Petty Officer 3rd Class
Clayton GarciaUnit: Attached to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine RegimentMedals: Bronze Star with “V”Earned: Nov. 8, 2004, in Fallujah, Iraq
More profiles from the 2006 edition of this Stars and Stripes special section:
Capt. Marlon JamesSpc. Kurt-Alexander KaahuiPetty Officer 3rd Class Robert MaldonadoCapt. Chad T. MartinMaj. Lauralee McGunagle and Maj. Kathryn Van AukenChief Warrant Officer 3 Brian MucciStaff Sgt. Timothy Nein, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester and Spc. Jason MikeStaff Sgt. Jason PepperPetty Officer 2nd Class Juan RubioMaster Sgt. Suran SarStaff Sgt. Anthony ViggianiStaff Sgt. Matt Blaskowski and Staff Sgt. Christopher Choay1st Lt. Stephen BoadaSgt. Keith CamardoSgt. 1st Class Makonen CampbellCol. James Coffman Jr.Petty Officer 2nd Class Alan DementerCapt. Steven Victor EngbergPetty Officer 3rd Class Clayton GarciaLance Cpl. Ben GonzalezSgt. Justin HormannLt. Cmdr. Richard JadickVisit Heroes 2006 for more