Regional Command Southwest
FORWARD OPERATING BASE JACKSON, Afghanistan, Oct. 1, 2012 – The sound of power tools and commands come from the battalion aid station here, startling a few Marines walking by. Two corpsmen stand out from the crowd of sailors inside the building as they work on a remodeling project.
More than a decade after their paths first crossed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the former Marine and Seabee are united as corpsmen with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. The two service members started their military careers in different fields. One trained to be a Marine, the other a Navy Seabee, but now they work together here.
“When I joined the Navy, I had a degree in construction, so that’s what the Navy wanted me to do,” said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class David Cergol. “At the time, the Seabees were undermanned, so it was more important for me to help them.”
Cergol, from Pittsburg, started working construction when he was 14. After 10 years in the civilian world, he decided he wanted a change, but found himself again working construction for the Navy.
“The Seabees are a great group of people, but I ultimately joined because I wanted to be on the front lines and be with the Marines,” he said.
Unlike Cergol, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jordan Fitzgerald started his military career with the Marines. He served with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, and was part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The corpsmen’s paths first crossed during the initial push into Iraq. Fitzgerald served in the infantry and fought on the front lines. Meanwhile Cergol, working as a builder with the Seabees, followed behind the infantry, helping with security.
“We were both able to talk about the towns we went through, and the forward operating bases being set up,” Cergol said. “He was more the tip of the spear, and I was more behind, doing logistics.”
After their first enlistment, the two service members decided to sever ties with their old units. Fitzgerald, from Yucca Valley, Calif., considered joining the Navy SEALs before deciding on a different future.
“Being a grunt, I had a pretty good idea of what corpsmen did,” he said. “I knew corpsmen went with Marines, and I’m not the guy who likes ship life. Also I enjoy helping people, and knew I’d be helping Marines.”
While Fitzgerald looked at other jobs first, Cergol knew from the start he wanted to be a corpsman. He helped as a Seabee because that’s where the Navy needed him, but he jumped at the chance to start his career in the medical field.
“I enjoy the medical side,” he said. “I wanted to be with the Marines, and I wanted to make more of a difference and ultimately save lives.”
The two use their prior jobs as tools for their current jobs. Cergol became certified to operate the heavy equipment around the forward operating base. He regularly helps by driving forklifts and constructing new fixtures. “I’m able to draw on my experience with the Seabees to strengthen security and improve overall living conditions,” he said. “When I was in Iraq, one of the bases we stayed at had little to no security. We were able to get together and build up the walls and better secure our buildings.”
During that deployment, a suicide bomber attacked the base. “The additional walls definitely paid off,” Cergol said. “The walls ended up protecting us.”
Cergol and Fitzgerald recently took on a construction job inside the battalion aid station here.
“Being a prior Seabee makes him more versatile,” Fitzgerald said of Cergol. “Right now we are remodeling the BAS to better suit our needs, and his experience as a builder definitely helps.”
Cergol said his experience as a Seabee helps him in tangible ways, while Fitzgerald’s experience as a Marine is more abstract. “He’s very disciplined,” he said. “You can tell he used to be a Marine. He still has that rigid discipline about him.”
Fitzgerald’s past also gives him an immediate connection with the Marines he cares for. “I think it gives me instant credibility,” he said. “After all, I’ve done more deployments than the majority of them.”
He also has learned a great deal of leadership from the Marines, he added, and this skill helps him teach the corpsmen under him.
“I think the Marine Corps teaches small-unit leadership better than the other branches,” he said. “The Marine Corps taught me how to manage situations really well.”
Though their focus is the health of the Marines and sailors, service members might see Cergol operating a forklift or Fitzgerald correcting his corpsmen on the proper wear of the uniform. The two moved on from the early part of their military careers, but have found they use their original military skills every day.