Despite Official Honors, Navy Corpsman Considers Mentoring Her Greatest Reward

Washington DC—Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (HM1) Erin Lawlor tried leaving active-duty service for a while but re-enlisted, missing the “esprit de corps” her Naval career gave her. Now, she has earned multiple honors as Independent Duty Corpsman (IDC) at Branch Health Clinic, Naval Base San Diego, where she cares for patients and serves as the leading petty officer at the clinic.

She credits mentoring with helping get to this level in her career and is committed to paying it forward to the hospital corpsmen around her.

“You can only learn so much from a book, especially when it comes to the military,” she said. “You not only have to know your job… but you have to know how to be a leader and you need to know how to be a follower. To be able to mentor young sailors is even more rewarding than any statue or trophy or title that someone could give me.”

The Navy’s hospital corpsmen serve as enlisted medical specialists playing an important role in the care that sailors and marines receive. They serve in many locations, including on ships, naval clinics and hospitals or with Marine units on the battlefield.

Lawlor entered the Navy after high school. She trained and served as hospital corpsman but left the Navy after her enlistment after six years of service. She took a job at the Orange County, Calif., sheriff’s department and worked as a Navy reservist but still felt that something was missing from her life.

“I missed that esprit de corps that the Navy gave me and I pretty much grew up on since I was 17,” she said. “So I reenlisted and went back in active duty.”

Lawlor took an opening as a Navy recruiter and while she said the experience was valuable, what she really wanted to do was to become an IDC. IDCs have a higher level of training than hospital corpsmen, can serve independently of a physician and are worldwide deployable to just about any platform.

Having worked for independent duty corpsmen in her past stint in the Navy, she said that they were her “moms and dads of military medicine” and taught her everything she knew.

The road to achieving her goals was not without its challenges. After getting accepted in Surface Force Independent Duty Corpsman School, she found out she was pregnant. She decided, however, that becoming an IDC was something she really wanted and so made sure she never missed a class.

Teaching Afghans

As an IDC, Lawlor deployed to Kabul for a year from 2008 to 2009, where she worked with a training team to mentor the Afghan national army in combat medical skills, such as first aid.

“We found that their biggest downfall when it came to conflict death was hemorrhage,” she said. “They didn’t have the first aid life-saving skills that they needed to sustain a combat situation. So we went in, we set up a training program for them. We got them on track and by the end of the year that we were there, they were almost running the entire thing,” she said. Upon returning from that deployment, she took part in a mission to Vietnam. Lawlor was the sole medical provider on a team that went to recover the remains of military MIAs from past conflicts.

Lawlor’s commitment to her job has not gone unnoticed. She was the Naval Medical Center San Diego’s (NMCSD) 2010 Sailor of the Year, Bureau of Medicine’s Shore IDC of the Year for 2010 and Navy League’s Senior Enlisted Woman of the year for NMCSD 2010.

But she is not ready to rest on her laurels.

“I have had so much fun and have been rewarded in so many ways that I couldn’t see myself without the Navy right now,” she said. “Not that I am dependent on it, but I see how much I can do and get out of it.”

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