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Petty Officer 1st Class Nathan McDonell - Someone You Should Know

"My daughter was recently watching the 2006 Olympics and called the American athletes heroes. I told her that the real heroes are the many men and women who have so bravely fought in Iraq and that I had the honor to meet them and fight alongside them." - Petty Officer 1st Class Nathan McDonell

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif -- Major Gen. Richard F. Natonski congratulates Petty Officer 1st Class Nathan McDonell after awarding him the Bronze Star here Feb. 17.  Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Patrick J. Floto

You can file this under "Where do we find such men?"

Here's the story of a Navy Corpsman who recieved the Bronze Star for his Valor one dark day in Iraq.  The Marines I know tell me that the Corpsmen never have to buy a drink when the Marines are around...this story will tell you why.

One last note, the Gunny Sergeant who forwarded it to me was stunned that the LA Times wrote it, but was still frustrated that it was on the 3rd Page of the Metro Section...I'll add some more information from the Marine Corps about McDonell's bravery that didn't make it into the LATimes (like the fact that he also joined in the fighting in Ramadi).

Marines' 'Doc' Is Awarded Bronze Star for Bravery
By Tony Perry, Times Staff Writer

         February 18, 2006

CAMP PENDLETON — The first three rocket-propelled grenades missed the Humvee, but the fourth slammed into its side.

The explosion and shrapnel nearly severed the right arm and right leg of a young Marine, and what had been a fight with the enemy suddenly became a fight to save the life of Cpl. Mark O'Brien.

On Friday, Navy corpsman Nathan "Doc" McDonell was awarded a Bronze Star with a V for valor for his bravery and resourcefulness in saving O'Brien from dying from shock or loss of blood.

McDonell, O'Brien and three other Marines — all members of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division — were in a firefight with insurgents in Ramadi on Nov. 8, 2004, when their Humvee was struck.

McDonell, now 28, remembers the scene as "stench, noise, blood, screaming and carnage."

Through it all, according to the official citation, McDonell showed "bold leadership, wise judgment and complete dedication to duty."

The brief ceremony here was a testament to the link between Marines and Navy medical corpsmen. Infantry Marines tend to be a tight-knit group that accepts few outsiders as equals, but a bond exists between "grunts" and the corpsmen who accompany them into combat.

"Although it may say U.S. Navy on your identification card, you are a Marine," Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski told McDonell as he presented the award, authorized by President Bush.

As the evacuation vehicle raced through narrow streets, with insurgent gunfire hitting its sides, McDonell used a tourniquet on O'Brien's mangled leg, according the official record of the events. As blood gushed, he tried to reach inside and apply a stronger tourniquet to the femoral artery.

When that failed, McDonell reached inside the leg and clamped the artery by hand to stop the bleeding until they reached a hospital where Navy doctors and nurses were waiting.

He dared not give morphine to O'Brien for fear its depressant effect would make it more difficult to stem the blood.

"He was my buddy, but his pain was secondary to his life, to stopping that bleeding," McDonell said. "I've never seen someone endure so much pain with so much poise and dignity."

O'Brien lost his arm and leg. But he survived, was medically retired from the Marine Corps, and is now set to be married in July, with McDonell and other buddies from the Two-Five in attendance.

"If it hadn't been for him, I wouldn't be here today," O'Brien, 23, said in a telephone interview from his home in upstate New York. "He was calm, he knew everything to do. Nobody else could have done it like him."

O'Brien, who is now in college studying to be an occupational therapist, said McDonell "is a great guy. He's more than just a good doc; he's as good as any Marine."

McDonell said that, although he was singled out, the effort to evacuate O'Brien could not have been successful without the other Marines in the Humvee: Cpl. David Kammerer, Sgt. Sam Pennock and Gunnery Sgt. Michael Miller.

"It was an honor to fight alongside them," he said.

Doc Stops the Bleeding, Treats For Shock, Earns Bronze Star

Critical medical operations to save the life of a wounded comrade are extremely stressful in the rear, where there is proper medical equipment. Conducting them in the back of a humvee while it speeds through a hail of shrapnel and small arms fire, however, is a true test of one’s proficiency and courage.

Petty Officer 1st Class Nathan McDonell faced and overcame that challenge a year ago in Iraq and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for it during a ceremony at Camp Margarita Feb. 17.
“I accept this recognition on behalf of the men I fought with, it was the greatest honor of my life,” said McDonell, a 28-year-old from Daytona Beach, Fla. after Maj. Gen. Richard F. Natonski, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, pinned on his Bronze Star.
McDonell then named those who ensured the survival of the team.
“Cpl. O’Brien, who had the strength to hold onto life that day, Gunnery Sgt. Miller for his instincts and leadership, and both Sgt. Pennock and Cpl. Kamerer for aggressively holding off the enemy,” McDonell said.
McDonell exemplified courage under fire on Nov. 8, 2004, in Ramadi, Iraq, while serving as the senior line corpsman for Company G, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
During an assault in the Al Anbar capital city, McDonell identified the location of the enemy firing positions and returned fire, enabling the Marines to fatally wound three insurgents, according to his award citation. During the ensuing firefight, a rocket-propelled grenade penetrated the vehicle’s armor and partially severed the right arm and leg of the Marine beside him.
“When I came up after the blast, I saw Cpl. (Mark) O’Brien bleeding profusely through the white smoke,” recalled McDonell. “His wounds were bad, and my main concern was to stop the bleeding any way possible.”
While still under intense fire, McDonell applied tourniquets to the wounded Marine’s arm and leg and supervised his loading into the evacuation vehicle.
While driving at high speeds through narrow streets to reach the nearest medical facility, he began a second, more detailed evaluation of the wound. McDonell raised the Marine’s mangled leg and with his bare hands, reached inside the wound and grasped the femoral artery and pulled it through the damaged tissue far enough to apply a second tourniquet.
When this failed to control the bleeding, he reached inside the Marine’s leg and clamped down on the femoral artery, holding it with his fingers until they arrived at the medical facility.
“With so much carnage and destruction going on all around you, you have to be resourceful,” McDonell said. “I couldn’t give him morphine due to the amount of blood he was losing. I’ve never seen someone endure so much pain while maintaining his composure so well.”
McDonell added that O’Brien was more concerned with the fact that he could no longer fight over the immense pain he was going through.
Because of McDonell’s heroics and wise judgment, O’Brien lived. He got married in July, and McDonell attended the ceremony.
Although O’Brien’s life was saved, he was no longer able to serve as a Marine due to his injuries.
"Golf Company lost a great warrior the day O’Brien was discharged,” McDonell said. “My daughter was recently watching the 2006 Olympics and called the American athletes heroes. I told her that the real heroes are the many men and women who have so bravely fought in Iraq and that I had the honor to meet them and fight alongside them.”