News: A decade later: prior Marine, Seabee reunite in Afghanistan
Story by Cpl. Timothy Lenzo
FORWARD OPERATING BASE JACKSON, Afghanistan – The sound of power tools and commands come from the battalion aid station startling a few Marines walking by. Two corpsmen stick out from the crowd of sailors inside the building, working to remodel their work area.
The two servicemembers started their military careers in different fields, but now they work together in Afghanistan. One trained to be a Marine, the other a Navy Seabee.
“When I joined the Navy, I had a degree in construction, so that’s what the Navy wanted me to do.” said Petty Officer 2nd Class David Cergol, a corpsman with the battalion aid station, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. “At the time, the Seabees were undermanned, so it was more important for me to help them.”
Cergol, from Pittsburg, Pa., 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,” said Cergol.
Unlike Cergol, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jordan Fitzgerald, another corpsman with the BAS, started his military career with the Marines. He served with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, and was part of the initial push to begin Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Cergol’s and Fitzgerald’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,” said Cergol. “He was more the tip of the spear, and I was more behind doing logistics.”
After their first enlistment, the two servicemembers decided to split ties with their old units.
Fitzgerald, from Yucca Valley, Calif., dabbled with joining the Navy SEALs before deciding on a different future.
“Being a grunt, I had a pretty good idea of what corpsmen did,” said Fitzgerald. “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,” said Cergol. “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,” said Cergol. “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 the deployment, a suicide bomber attacked the base.
“The additional walls definitely paid off,” said Cergol. “The walls ended up protecting us.”
Cergol and Fitzgerald recently took on a construction job inside the BAS.
“Being a prior Seabee makes him more versatile,” said Fitzgerald. “Right now we are remodeling the BAS to better suit our needs, and his experience as a builder definitely help.”
Cergol’s experience as a Seabee helps him in tangible ways, while Fitzgerald’s experience as a Marine is more abstract.
“He’s very disciplined,” said Cergol. “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,” said Fitzgerald. “After all, I’ve done more deployments than the majority of them.”
Fitzgerald also learned a great deal of leadership from the Marines. This skill helps him teach the corpsmen under him.
“I think the Marine Corps teaches small-unit leadership better than the other branches,” said Fitzgerald. “The Marine Corps taught me how to manage situations really well.”
More than a decade after their path’s first crossed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the prior Marine and Seabee are united as corpsmen with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines.
Their focus is the health of the Marines and sailors, but servicemembers will see Cergol behind that forklift or Fitzgerald correcting his corpsmen on the proper wear of the uniform. The two moved on in their military careers but find they use the same skills every day.