Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, GA --
Editor’s note: This is the fifth article in a six-part series on the Naval Branch Health Clinic Albany.
A Marine may be wounded on the front lines in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device or mortar round. The ensuing injury may be a sucking chest wound, abdominal injury or lost limbs. The first thing that Marine will hopefully see is the face of an independent duty corpsman.
Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan Sanford, independent duty corpsman, Naval Branch Health Clinic Albany, is one of those faces. The military equivalent of a physician’s assistant, his primary job is taking care of the medical needs of the active-duty population here at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany.
“My job here is to take care of the Marines to ensure they are healthy enough to deploy and do their jobs, so I get to do what I love every day,” Sanford said. “During my day-to-day activities, I am involved with seeing all active-duty members who come into the clinic for acute injuries or illness.”
Sanford keeps his medical training up-to-date, spending one week a month at Naval Hospital Jacksonville in Florida rotating through different departments to learn new skills.
When he is deployed, Sanford acts as the primary care physician responsible for stabilizing wounded warriors in combat until they are sent to a regular hospital.
“I knew as a young boy growing up that one day I would work in military medicine because it was in my blood, and my mother was a Navy corpsman during the Vietnam Era,” he said. “I walked into this job knowing it was what I wanted to do with my life and it is everything I thought it would be.”
Sanford returned in September from a nine-month deployment to a remote location in Afghanistan where he worked in a mobile emergency room called a “shock trauma platoon.”
“My job was to provide medical care for injured active-duty military men and women as well as local nationals who had been injured for various reasons,” he said.
The petty officer first class was part of a nine-person medical team in Afghanistan who lived and worked in the same tent while on call 24/7. Their job was to provide basic health care for patients and to protect them if they came under fire.
“On the battlefield, our primary concern is safety, so we would check the patients out to make sure they were not a danger to us, then stabilize and get them the care they needed,” he said. “My feelings ranged from apprehension to an adrenaline rush (when caring for a patient). Once the patient is in front of you, the training takes over.”
Providing battlefield care was very rewarding because a lot of the patients were local national children, who were injured primarily by motor vehicle accidents and general injuries such as falls and scrapes, Sanford added.
“I was responsible for providing basic first aid and stabilizing those injured until they could get to the nurses and doctors at the battle aid station for additional care,” he said. “I’m usually the first front-line medical provider they see, and I have seen injuries ranging from splinters and lacerations to sucking chest wounds, gunshot wounds and amputees.”
Sanford and Lt. Cmdr. Charles Goodson, officer-in-charge, BHC Albany, noted the civilian physician’s assistant training is modeled after the Navy’s independent duty corpsman training, which is 13 months long.
“The basic IDC training gives Sanford the ability to prescribe most medications, provide independent diagnoses and develop a treatment plan without the direct supervision of a provider,” Goodson said. “There are two IDCs here, Sanford and Chief Petty Officer Barry Washington, who typically rotate deployments. They are in great demand on the front lines because of their specialized training.”
Sanford said he has also served three deployments on the USS Ponce and USS Belleau Wood, and because of his training, he will deploy before anyone else at BHC Albany.
“When Chief Washington returns, I will deploy again to wherever I am needed,” he said. “Because of my training, I can go anywhere the Navy or Marine Corps serves.”
Sanford, a Greenville, S.C., native and 1994 graduate of Travelers Rest High School, Travelers Rest, S.C., joined the Navy Aug. 23, 1994. He arrived here in April 2010 and was recently deployed to Afghanistan from Jan. 19 to Sept. 9.
Sanford said the best part of his job is being able to go home every night to see his family, but while deployed, the best part was being able to do the job he was trained to do and take care of the injured.
“One of the greatest challenges is the balance of the medical aspect and the military aspect, and dealing with the daily leadership roles of taking care of the troops and taking care of the medical needs of patients,” he said.
Sanford said he takes each situation as it arises and his No. 1 priority is patients first.
“Whether deployed or here, it’s a wonderful feeling to know the training I have received helped another person,” he said. “Nothing can compare to it and the most rewarding part of all is being able to heal our nation’s heroes and take care of them on a day-to-day basis.”