USS NEW YORK, Atlantic Ocean – From a police officer in Kingston, Jamaica, to a barber in New York City, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Steve A. Barnes, 35, has held many jobs throughout his life.
But his time as a corpsman with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, he said, has tested him much differently than any of his previous experiences.
Barnes is a corpsman with Company A, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th MEU, and has been deployed since March. Since completing field medicine school and jumping into the Fleet Marine Corps, Barnes said he has had rare opportunities to practice. That changed quickly April 11, 2012, when an MV-22B Osprey crashed in Morocco, killing two Marines and seriously injuring two others.
“My guys were 200 yards away from the crash,” Barnes recalled. “We have two bags for field medicine; I remember I grabbed my big bag and just started running. After I got there, it was chaos. We set up a receiving area and they pulled the first guy out, he was in pain. That’s when this deployment became real for me.”
Barnes said he went straight to work cordoning the area so the other corpsman could aid the Marines being pulled out of the downed aircraft. He then kept the unit’s leadership informed, relaying the injured Marines’ information and medical condition.
“After the adrenaline wore off, it was surreal, like a dream,” he said. “I’ve never lost a Marine, but I felt like I lost mine that day.”
The experience, Barnes said, led him to reflect on much of his life and the events that have led him to where he is today. Before Morocco and the 24th MEU, Barnes said he spent much of life bouncing between occupations.
He began his multiple-career journey as a police officer in Jamaica. Barnes worked the beat for a year, he said, then moved to a quick-response team, working gun-related crimes until he became part of a crime investigation division, where he learned crime scene photography.
“As a police officer, you’re dealing with people from every walk of life,” he said. “Fighting crime, you help a lot of people so there’s a lot of mentoring and you learn about other people’s problems and how you can help them.”
Barnes said he moved to the U.S. in 2005 and settled in New York City. He worked an assortment of jobs there -- including a stint as a barber -- over the next few years, he said, until he enlisted in the Navy in 2010.
“It’s said Jamaicans have a lot of jobs. This is true, you learn a lot of skills so you can make money here and there. Versatility comes with travel. You’ll find Jamaicans all over the world. In order to survive, you learn to do a lot of stuff,” he said.
Barnes said his decision to join the Navy came during a lull in his life.
“I was bored. I wanted to do something but I didn’t want to be a cop again,” he said. “The Navy offered going all over the world, so why not?”
Going “green” was the next step in his future travels as a corpsman, Barnes explained. Green-side corpsmen are those who work directly with Marines and undergo rigorous field training, which differentiates them from blue-side corpsmen that practice primarily in hospitals and clinics. The green-side corpsmen, known among Marines as “docs,” attend field medical training where they conduct several long-distance hikes while also learning urban warfare and land navigation.
“When I was going to join, I was going to be a green-side corpsman,” Barnes said. “I’m an adrenaline junkie and all the guys at my course were like, ‘Let’s go to field medicine.’ I felt like it was the right thing to do … I get be called doc, a title of endearment.”
Barnes said joining the Navy offered fresh challenges.
“After being a police officer, I wondered if I could handle the physical training again because I’m in my 30s but I roughed it out and here I am,” he said.
The 24th MEU will return home in the coming weeks to its home bases in and around Camp Lejeune, N.C. The 24th has been deployed for nine months as an expeditionary crisis response force in the U.S. Navy’s 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility.