CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- When they're not combating patients' injuries, a few doctors and corpsmen at Taqaddum Surgical are learning hand-to-hand combat, Marine Corps' style.
Sailors recently attended Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, or MCMAP, classes a few hours every day for approximately two weeks. And though they all walked a little taller wearing their Marine Corps tan belts, for some of the sailors, their new sense of pride wasn't only located around their waists.
"(MCMAP) has an effect that transcends well beyond the physical activity," said Capt. Michael A. Thompson, officer in charge of TQ Surgical, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward).
"It's a team building exercise," continued Thompson, 44, from Grandhaven, Mich., "it teaches leadership, it teaches cohesiveness (and) unit integrity."
"And plus it's fun," added Thompson, smiling.
"How often do you get to put your boss in a headlock," said Lt. Cmdr. Pamela C. Harvey, 39, from Muscatine, Iowa and a doctor with TQ Surgical. Harvey laughed after recollecting some MCMAP methods she had to practice on Thompson.
Service members often paired up to practice their MCMAP regardless of rank. To the instructor, this type of bond is just another benefit of the program.
"(It) builds up their camaraderie," said Gunnery Sgt. Eric E. Harris, a 38-year-old native of Louisville, Texas, and a company gunnery sergeant for Headquarters and Service Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 15, 1st MLG (Forward).
It helps service members get to know each other better, beyond rank and work, they see a totally different side of a person, said Harris, a MCMAP black belt instructor.
"The people who took the class feel like they've accomplished something together," said Petty Officer 1st Class Allan D. Felicano, a Corpsman with TQ Surgical.
It's a good way to gain more confidence by challenging one's fortitude and endurance, said Felicano, 33, from San Diego.
And according to a few sailors, the class pushed them to their physical limits. Some said they wouldn't have made it without motivation from each other and from Harris.
"He's got a tremendous attitude," said Thompson of Harris, "(he) really fulfilled and exceeded my expectations, (and) he integrated the technical aspects of martial arts training but really infused aspects of the team mentality."
Thompson recalled a time during the class when the students were performing a conditioning exercise. He said he had been wondering if was capable of finishing the exercise, when Harris leaned over him and said, "You think you're tired, look at the guy next to you." Thompson saw the student beside him was a corpsman, and was tired, but not giving up.
"Other team members were inspiring," said Felicano, "it got certain members through. We started together, and we finished together."
"They learned to never leave anyone behind, never quit trying and support each other," said Harris.
Besides a new sense of confidence and teamwork, the students also gained an improved ability to defend themselves. This may prove to be a useful skill for Corpsmen working closely with Marines.
"When we go (off base), we're not going to have (rifles)," said Felicano. He said that if something goes wrong, he feels "a little more prepared to protect patients."
If attacked, "I don't want to feel like I am a drag on the Marines with us," said Harvey.
Wearing a MCMAP belt as a corpsman also gains Marines' attention, said Thompson.
"It really earns us some credibility," said Thompson, "the Marines do not give out their acceptance lightly."
Thompson also emphasized the necessity for his sailors to learn as much about Marine culture as possible. And where better to start, then with Marine Corps Martial Arts.
"(MCMAP) gives us insight into the Marine Corps mission, and from a medical standpoint, there is no greater honor than to be attached to a Marine Corps unit," said Thompson.