Theodore's World: In Country With Sandbox Sailors

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June 17, 2009

In Country With Sandbox Sailors

Sandbox Sailors: In every clime, place … and uniform

Cpl. Thomas J. Hermesman

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

In the increasingly joint world of military operations, it is not uncommon to see uniforms of different services in the same formation, or even to see a Marine unit’s staff dotted with the pale gray of Army and Air Force uniforms.

Even so, three members of the Naval Medical Corps currently serving here symbolize just how far the Navy goes in providing “Sandbox Sailors” for joint support.

For Navy medical officers Lieutenants Dominick Fernandez, Diana Loffgren and Jessica Woody, serving in a joint-service environment is a daily reality that keeps them on the move, seeing the fight from different aspects.

Fernandez, from Sugarland, Texas, currently serves as the battalion surgeon and medical officer for Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5, wearing a tri-color Navy desert uniform to work and spending his days providing medical support for the sailors deployed here.

This was not always the case for him. In 2007, he was attached to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He stayed with the Marines through 2008, later serving with 2nd Amphibious Assault Battalion, 2nd Marine Division. There he wore the Marine Pattern digital utility uniform while providing medical support to his Devil Dogs.

“I love working with Marines, if the Marine Corps had medical personnel I would have probably gone to the green side,” said Fernandez. “But I am a sailor to the bone, so when I was working with Marines, I tried to wear my naval uniforms when the occasion arrived that I could.”

Loffgren, a Victoria, Texas, native, is currently the medical planner for the Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan. She’s had to adjust to more than just the uniform she wears to fit her current job.

“It is especially different being a female in the Navy and serving in a Marine Corps billet,” Loffgren said. “Still, with the camaraderie that comes with living and training with Marines all the time, we are as much a part of the team as anyone.”

As members of the Department of the Navy, Marines and sailors often interact with each other, but for Woody, a Clovis, Calif., native, her world in Afghanistan has opened up a new paradigm.

When she wakes up in the morning and goes to work as the administrative medical officer at the Camp Bastion U.K. Hospital, she wears a U.S. Army Combat Uniform.

“It’s funny when I see Marines and sailors everyday and they have to look at me once or twice to really get that my uniform says U.S. Navy, not Army,” Woody explained. “It’s like going back to boot camp, learning all the different ranks and getting used to them.”

In the adjustments needed when a member of one service moves to work with another, things change to fit that specific service such as personnel, missions and training. While working as a doctor with the Marines, Fernandez said, his medical staff was much larger and ready to handle the number of casualties that can arise from the expeditionary nature and combat-oriented missions of a Marine unit. Now that he is back to his naval roots and working with Seabees, his staff makes less of a footprint.

“Even though the force I was with on the MEU was smaller, we had 60 corpsmen ready to handle any medical situation. Now with an even bigger Navy unit, I only have 10 corpsmen on hand,” he said.

The life in an expeditionary unit like the MEU is very different than that of normal deploying unit, Fernandez said. On a MEU, service members live aboard the ship, day in and day out, traveling around conducting operations in many different places. With a force like the Seabees, Fernandez said deployment is different because the forces fly straight to a destination and stay there the entire time, performing one single mission.

“We had a greater breath of operations with the MEU, and the area we covered was much greater than any other type of deployable force,” he said.

Even so, Fernandez said the opportunity to become a jack-of-all-trades is definitely out there.

“This is one of the most diverse jobs in the military; you could be jumping out of planes with the airborne soldiers or going under with a sub or flying into a combat zone on a Huey. We get to do it all,” said Fernandez.

His “desert shipmates” echoed the sentiment.

“It’s nice to know that you can eventually move to not only another unit, but to another branch of service, billet, location; there are a lot of ways that this job stays interesting,” said Loffgren.

Wild Thing's comment.......

Cool name Sandbox Sailors !

This story kind of reminded me of how part of Nicholas service after being on the Carrier, in the Navy he spent the last part of his service on an Air Force base working in the climatic hanger there and also putting parachutes together. He liked the climatic hanger but he said a person could only stay inside for a few minutes at a time.

Posted by Wild Thing at June 17, 2009 05:49 AM


Thank you Chrissie and thank you Nick, Thanks both of you for your service to the nation.

Multi-organizational operations are not a new concept, but with restricted funds and manpower it's a must.

My own MACV REMF experiences as just another face in the crowd were one of working with Marines, Seabees and all phases of the Army orgs.

We often found we were doing the same tasks for the same leaders in different uniforms with none of the glory that the acknowledged combat units deservedly received.

Americal Division, best known for My Lai, was one of those divisions interlocked with combat arms from the Navy, Marines and the Army. One aw shit destroyed all the atta boys!!!

There were two reasons I didn't wear Tiger striped uniforms in the RVN, even with the loose dress code we had, for one they didn't fit and two I had little respect for the typical ARVN that wore them.
It's not the uniform, not so much the organization, it's what is inside that uniform that counts.
The universal uniform I remember was the steel pot, the flack jacket and the weapon, skin tone didn't mean a damned thing.

Outside the base and in the field everyone bled red American blood.

Inter-unit and organizational rivalries, yes they existed and we broke bread together, shared the same hardships and senses of personal losses, but we were a formidable team with the same goals - to win and survive. "Some gave all, all gave some" "But ALL gave...."

We are loved when we are needed to protect some sorry civilian asses but once that danger has passed we are relegated to the dustbin of history, used asswipe for an unforgiving civilian world, even maligned for our service.

That fleeting world stage of fleeting glory is very short lived, recognized by few except those who had their boots on the ground. Maudlin? Fucking A!!! Thank you my brothers.

“Our God and soldiers we alike
adore ev'n at the brink of danger; not before:
After deliverance, both alike requited,
Our God's forgotten, and our soldiers slighted” ~ Francis Quarles

Posted by: Jack at June 17, 2009 11:36 AM

In Vietnam I was assigned to a MACV advisory team. We had all services represented doing various tasks. Offshore we also had some Coast Guard patrol vessels.

There was only one problem we had due to interservice rules. The Navy would not provide fire support until the request had run up through their complicated chain of command. Sometimes that took so long that the intended target moved on.

It was interesting working with the various services and the South Vietnamese. Surprisingly the South Vietnamese were fairly easy to work with. The unit we were advisors to was fairly aggressive and really proved itsself during Tet 68. Tet also brought the services together. Many times they supported each other in unusual ways. We had Air Force aircraft mechanics serving as riflemen on the defense perimeter. We had all services helping to rearm and refuel Army helicopter gunships.

I also served with the other services in various jobs and schools. Americans in service are American regardless of branch. Even the Marines like Steve.

Posted by: TomR at June 17, 2009 12:45 PM

Jack,thanks for the link and for
sharing too, Fantastic, thank you!!

Posted by: Wild Thing at June 17, 2009 07:21 PM

Tom, heh heh the last sentence.

Thank you Tom for sharing about your
experiences. I agree an American regardless.

Posted by: Wild Thing at June 17, 2009 07:26 PM