Public Health Future for this Marine Corpsman
DEVENS, Ma - Chief Petty Officer Michael A. Gring rocks
back in his office chair, reflecting on three decades serving the Navy and Marine Corps.
He's seen the best of his military and the worst of war and remains humble, unassuming and
In his office at 1st Battalion 25th Marine Regiment the overhead
fluorescents are off and a low wattage desk lamp is on. Classical music plays on the
multi-band radio and college degrees - including one from Harvard, hang on the wall. Chief
Gring prepares for the rest of his life - a long way from the seaman recruit of 1973.
He graduated from Elizabeth Ann Johnson High School in Mount
Morris, Michigan in 1972 and arrived in San Diego, California for boot camp the following
February. There he also attended hospital corpsman school. After completing operating room
technician school in Portsmouth, Virginia Chief Gring spent three years at the naval
hospital at the Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
In 1975 He married Shirley Bean, also from Michigan. They have
two children; Chris, 27 and Cary Ann, 26.
His experience serving both the Navy and the Marine Corps lets
him confidently differentiate between Marines and others. "The thing about Marines,
they don't question - they do. It's the ultimate form of respect."
Perfectly serious in demeanor he says, "To tell 50 Marines,
'OK men, we're going to charge up that hill and probably half of you will get killed,' and
they all say 'aye aye' and head up prepared to give the ultimate sacrifice."
Further differentiating between blue and green, the Chief
illustrates, "I remember this one 14-mile snowy march I was on with these Marines
years ago. I was marching along side this Marine and I said, 'Now I remember why I didn't
join the Marine Corps.' He said, 'Doc, where are you now?' He said something so profound,
I'll never forget that."
The relationships formed appear to be the greatest reward of his
service. "It's funny how things define your life. I've met some of the most wonderful
people in the world. It's the truth, I've met people I'll never forget, and a lot of them
will never know what a positive effect they've had on my life."
While at the Naval Reserve Center in Quincy, Massachusetts he
worked with Commander Brian Guidodoni, who died of cancer two years ago. "I was
devastated when he died. He's got two young daughters."
Just as fresh in his mind is the motorcycle death of HM3 William
Schultz, who died in Florida twenty years ago. "In that locker over there I still
have the lease from the apartment we rented in Virginia Beach with three other guys."
Chief Gring has remained in touch with the rest through the years.
It was in Annapolis that he met Captain Jay Cox, who profoundly
influenced the Chief's career. "He was an outstanding surgeon. I think that was when
I learned to teach. He was the consummate teacher." He continues about the affect of
that experience, "When I was at a lot of my other commands, you've got to get in
there and teach them, and you're the sole medical provider. If you know the subject then
you shouldn't have a problem. If you know something you should share it," then he
jokes, "I don't know a whole bunch but I can read."
The worst days of his career are easily identified as the days he
had to perform Casualty Assistance Calls. Ordered to go to the home of the parents and
wait without leaving until someone arrived, then to inform in no uncertain terms, that
their child is dead, was brutal for him.
He knows the sacrifice those parents made when their child
enlisted. Chris Gring is a Marine reservist and Cary Ann Gring is a recently honorably
discharged Airman, now a Staff Sergeant in the Air National Guard.
"I remember once my C.O. told me, 'we're about to ruin these
peoples lives forever.'" One mother wouldn't open the door as if maybe not hearing it
would keep it from being. Another mother welcomed him in assuming he was the recruiter for
her other son who was enlisting. "It's hard not to cry. I hate it," the Chief
The only subject guarded by the Chief is his Gulf War experience.
He was on the ground in Kuwait with a Marine unit for many months, returning home when the
conflict ceased. His exercises were classified information - and his personal experience
is something to remain buried deep in his heart.
"Its amazing how much people can hate each other. It's
always different when someone's shooting at you, those bullets don't have names on them. A
lot of times the Marines are the first in and last out. Until you get into that situation,
you can't know what it's like," is all he will say. Apparently war's tragedies are
greater than words will reveal.
The corpsmen who have gone before him are dear to his heart. At
the entrance to the medical suite at 1/25 the Chief has placed the photo and biography of
every corpsman recipient of the Medal of Honor, just as they hung at his last post.
Chief Gring is quite satisfied presently. "We're the largest
enlisted group in the military; corpsman. But we've got the best equipment here and I
believe that I have the best corpsmen. I have no problem going to work every day." At
his station in central Massachusetts he oversees the medical care of several hundred
Battalion Inspector Instructor Lt. Col. John Monahan is brief but
clear in his description of Chief Gring's effect on the unit. "He epitomizes the
independent medic. He's a fire and forget missile, I can just point him in a direction and
Since the Gulf war, the Chief has worked hard on his education.
In 1995, while stationed at the Navy/Marine Corps Reserve Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan
he completed two associates degrees from Grand Rapids Community College. In 1999 he
graduated from Harvard University's evening Bachelors program while stationed at Naval
Reserve Center, in Quincy Massachusetts. He expects to complete his Masters from Harvard's
College of Public Health in December 2002.
While his retirement from the Navy looms, at 48, Chief Gring will
be embarking on his civilian career. "I'd like to get into health care policy."
A matter dear to him is brought about by the many circumstances
under which he has provided medical care - and the broadening his education has allowed.
"We've got people in this country who decide, 'are we going to eat this week or am I
going to get my heart medicine?' I really believe in preventative medicine. Our health
care system doesn't take care of that."
Despite his years at the top of the enlisted ranks, Chief Gring
is mindful of his role as a student, a devoted Sailor. "I've been blessed to have
leaders who have led. They're all leaders, I respect them." It appears the corpsman
beneath Chief Gring may be thinking the same thing.
Editors Note: Special thanks to Lt. Col.
John Monahan for his invaluable contribution to this story.