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    From Hospital Corps Chief to Medical Service Corps Admiral: The Story of Rear Admiral Mark Moritz

    From Hospital Corps Chief to Medical Service Corps Admiral: The Story of Rear Admiral Mark Moritz

    Photo By Regena Kowitz | Official portrait of Rear Adm. Mark Moritz, Naval Medical Forces Pacific Deputy...... read more read more



    Story by Regena Kowitz 

    Naval Medical Forces Pacific

    It can be said that the Medical Service Corps (MSC), which celebrates its 73rd birthday this year, was born from the ranks of hospital corpsmen. Among the 251 plankowners who represented the very first MSC Officers, 71 percent were former corpsmen or hospital corps warrant officers.

    Seventy-three years later, there are still plenty of prior corpsmen among the ranks of MSC officers, including Rear Adm. Mark Moritz, Naval Medical Forces Pacific Deputy Commander, Reserve Component. But to think his career has followed any kind of typical path as he rose from the enlisted ranks to not only an officer, but a flag officer in the U.S. Navy, would be wrong.

    You might say the military is in Moritz’s blood. His family’s service to our nation goes back to the American Revolution when a many times great grandfather fought in the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, under the command of Gen. George Washington. His maternal grandfather served in the Navy during World War I, deploying on transports navigating across U-boat infested waters from New Orleans to the European theater. And other family members have answered the call of duty in World War II and Vietnam, some who never came home.

    It does seem natural that Moritz would answer that same call. And, at the age of 17, he did. It was his path to higher education.

    Moritz wanted to go to college but couldn’t afford it. A family tragedy, the death of his sister, and a hometown where farms were closing and factories were shutting down meant money was tight. At the time, the Navy was offering Sailors a “two for one” deal, according to Moritz.

    “For every one dollar you put away, the Navy would double it, giving you three dollars to be used for education,” he added. “I chose the Navy to earn money for school and an education.”

    After graduating from boot camp in the company with the highest overall average in all aspects of training, and attending Hospital Corps “A” School, Moritz received his first set of orders.

    “I was awaiting my assignment outside the school doors, and out came the chief who named us off one by one. ‘Applegate, you go to the USS Jersey.’ Another name was called for the USS Arkansas and I thought, ‘Wow! A guided missile cruiser. How cool was that!’ Finally, the chief called my name and said, ‘Pendleton.’ I was overwhelmed with joy and said how cool that I got the USS Pendleton!”

    Moritz said he wandered around for about 10 minutes telling his shipmates how excited he was about his orders before his chief looked at him, grinned, and said, “Pendleton is not a ship you idiot, you’re going to the United States Marines.”

    Moritz survived Field Medical Service School (now known as Field Medical Training Battalion), having learned not only land navigation and how to treat combat injuries from instructors who had served in Vietnam, but also the importance of comradery.

    The first life that Moritz saved was that of a young Marine. During a training exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, a private first class who was the a-gunner in an M60 battle tank shattered his right arm after it got caught in machinery inside the tank.

    “When he was pulled from the tank by the Marines, the skin was splitting open, the bone was in splinters, and he was in shock,” Moritz remembers. “As a hospitalman fresh from school, I was petrified! But my training kicked in and, after controlling the bleeding and applying a tourniquet, I started an IV and gave him two units of ringers lactate, and the company Gunny called in a MEDEVAC.”

    Once the helicopter arrived, the pilot yelled to Moritz to get in because they didn’t have a corpsman onboard. Soaked in blood at that point, one of the crew gave him a clean blouse that belonged to a lance corporal. The patient was safely transferred to the hospital—where he would make a full recovery even though he lost his arm—and Moritz and the flight crew returned to the training area where they found several people awaiting their arrival, including a brigadier general.

    “I jumped off the helicopter and the general asked me for Moritz and I said, ‘yes, sir!’” Moritz recalls.

    The general’s response was, “’No! You’re Lance Corporal Baker!’”

    Moritz had forgotten that he was wearing a borrowed blouse, “so the brigadier general thought I was the wrong guy!”

    The mistaken identity was quickly cleared up and Moritz was presented with an “on the spot” Navy Achievement Medal for his actions. But even more rewarding, he said, was the meal the flight crew bought him at the hospital and the thank you letter he later received from the Marine whose life he saved, written in his left hand because he’d lost his right.

    In 1983, he deployed to Beirut with the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU). It was during the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the Marines and Sailors had been sent on a peacekeeping mission. Instead, Moritz would be witness to a terrorist attack that would result in the highest loss of life in a single day for the Marines since D-Day on Iwo Jima in 1945.

    “There was the first suicide bomber who detonated a truck bomb at the barracks for 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, killing 220 Marines, 18 Sailors, and 3 Soldiers.” said Moritz. “There were 100-150 others wounded in the blast, some later died of their injuries.”

    A second truck struck another building that housed members of the French military, killing 58 paratroopers.

    Among the Sailors killed that day were 15 hospital corpsmen and one Navy doctor. After the bombing, Moritz remained in Beirut to assist the 22nd MAU.

    Moritz left active service in 1986 to pursue the higher education that was his reason for joining the Navy, earning an associate degree in business, a bachelor’s degree in pre-medicine, and a master’s degree in biology, all from the State University of New York. After graduating, Moritz decided to pursue a career in podiatry.

    “At the time, the Navy had a shortage of foot doctors and although I stayed in the Reserves, I looked at this as an opportunity and way to return to my military career,” Moritz said.

    But the military would come calling sooner than he imagined. In 1990, during his first year as podiatry student at the Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine at Case Western Reserve University he was recalled to active duty. When the Gulf War broke out, Moritz, who was a first class petty officer in the Reserves, had 72 hours to mobilize to Saudi Arabia with 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines.

    Dropping everything and deploying can be a challenge at any point in your life. Doing so during your first year of podiatry school can be particularly nerve-wracking, wondering if you will still have a place and be able to continue your education when you come home. But Moritz soon discovered he would not have to worry about that.

    “I had very little time to check out of school,” remembers Moritz. “Three of my deans came to me prior to leaving with scroll from the university, guaranteeing my spot back in the podiatry program no matter when I returned. This inspired me to come back a year later, after serving in the war, and finish what I started. I still have that scroll.”

    During his deployment in support of Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Moritz pinned on his anchors. After he was promoted, his battalion commanding officer (CO) informed him he would be getting a room to himself. His CO paced off an area in the dirt, marked it with glow sticks, had Moritz’s tent placed in the middle, and christened it the “Chiefs’ Mess” in his honor.

    “Being a genuine chief means everything to me,” Moritz said. “My highest level of achievement is belonging to this brotherhood and sisterhood of khakis.”

    After his deployment, Moritz returned to podiatry school and, inspired by his university’s support, graduated in 1995 second in his class and Magna Sum Laude. He also received his commission as a lieutenant in the MSC that year before going on to complete his residency and fellowship at the University of Utah in 1998.

    In 2019, Moritz attained the rank of Rear Admiral. This is a significant accomplishment for anyone but especially for someone who began their Navy career as an E-1, the most junior enlisted rank. He is the first Chief Hospital Corpsman and the first podiatrist to attain the rank of flag officer.

    “Starting out in the Navy as an E-1 and earning every rank to my anchors, then from my commission to a one-star admiral, I could never have guessed this was going to be my path, my destiny, when I was sworn in to the Navy on the aft of the USS Sullivans,” said Moritz. “Now it’s time to give back. No matter if you’re a chief or an admiral, it’s important to be part of the full circle of your achievements and give back. Sailors before self.”

    As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe, Moritz was recalled to active duty in early March to support of the nation’s response efforts. He was assigned as the Commander, Naval Task Force, COVID-19 Testing, by the Navy’s Surgeon General, Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham.

    As the task force commander, Moritz established relationships with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center, and research experts world-wide, establishing a scientific panel to advise the surgeon general, the U.S. House and Senate Armed Services Committees, the Secretary of Defense, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps on emerging science and technology. He also coordinated with the DoD COVID-19 task force, the Army, and the Air Force to perform more than 200,000 tests for the virus at 95 laboratories across the DoD; advised leadership at recruit training centers on best practices to maximize the safety of future Sailors and Marines; and worked hand-in-hand with operational commanders to track outbreaks and identify high-risk areas to quickly contain the spread of COVID-19.

    “I have never been so proud to be in the Navy as I have this past year, seeing our response to the nation during the pandemic,” Moritz said. “Who would have thought that in 2020, the pointy end of the spear would be Navy Medicine against a worldwide pandemic? Our Sailors stood the watch to protect and heal this nation. What chief or admiral could not be proud of that?”



    Date Taken: 08.03.2020
    Date Posted: 08.03.2020 22:26
    Story ID: 375207
    Location: SAN DIEGO, CA, US 

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