PHOTO COURTESY OF: Captain Michael Frasco
U.S. Navy Petty Officer First Class Virginia M. Mayo and Colin Powell
at the Annual Gridiron Dinner in Washington D.C.
CLEARWATER - H.M.1 (FMF) Virginia Mayo, United States Navy, addressed members of the Countryside Rotary Club in Clearwater, FL on Tuesday, relaying her experiences as the Leading Petty Officer and Combat Life Save Program (CLS) Coordinator for her unit while stationed in Iraq. She participated in over fifteen combat-related missions from January '06 to January '07.
The decorated, nine year veteran of the Navy is a native of Florida. She is presently serving as a speaker in the Why We Serve program, a branch of the Department of Defense's "America Supports You".
Why We Serve links returning service members with groups who want to hear recent news of the ongoing fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. The program hopes to connect the American public with the troops by giving returning soldiers a chance to share their personal experiences with local communities.
Later in the day Tuesday Mayo spoke to the Gazette about her year long experience in Iraq. Concerning the press and how it covered the long war she said that good things don't get reported. "You never see the good stories. You never see the happy smiling faces of the local villagers when we patrol through and drop off some clean water and basic necessities. You don't see us training the locals to have trade jobs so they can one day support their families," said Mayo.
Mayo is a nationally certified Emergency Medical Technician and paramedic. Her responsibilities as a CLS coordinator included training and scheduling of corpsmen and Army medics at Camp Fallujah.
Her first assignment in Iraq began with the First Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group Aid Station. "We provided care and treatment to all who were in need to include local nationals. Whenever possible we push the local Iraqi clinics and hospitals to play a bigger role but we provided assistance and emergency care for those wounded in hostile situations."
She described the program, "The CLS program is a way to educate and train ALL Service members in life-saving techniques. There is nothing I know that I can not teach them and the more they know the more lives are saved. Immediate response to a casualty is crucial, knowing that all service members can respond to and maintain a casualty in a time of need before, during or after medical evacuations become possible is a good feeling," said Mayo.
"The medical care provided by our Hospital Corpsmen and Army Medics is the best of the best. Training is continuous for the medical personnel; we utilize the "muscle memory" technique. My Medical Officer LT Jeffrey Ricks would drive the troops crazy with repeated training and drills but it worked! It's effective training and when it really counts they could do what was necessary with their eyes closed."
Among the wounded Mayo treated were victims of Improvised Exploding Devices (IED). Concerning combating the devices she said, "We are constantly looking for more efficient counter-measures and just about the time we get one, the other side has come out with something more powerful. You have to always be on guard."
Before leaving Iraq, Mayo was chosen to act as the Staff Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of Operation Lioness and lead a search team of junior female Marines on a mission in Barwanah. She said her all-female team was assigned to different check points to search Iraqi women and children trying to pass.
"Due to cultural and religious barriers our male service members can not touch the women & children. They [Iraqi women and children] were in turn being utilized to smuggle in money, weapons and bomb making materials. They are threatened with death and torture if they do not comply. The murder & intimidation campaign is a major hindrance to our mission."
Regarding the intimidation campaign, Mayo said most Iraqis appreciate America's good intentions toward them. "They do not need to be convinced...they want a free country, they want to have schools for their children, and they want to live in a safe community with their families. They want everything we want as free citizens of the U.S. Getting them to help us or participate is hard because of the murder & intimidation campaign."
In Mayo's opinion we should be in Iraq. "I can not fathom leaving before our job is done. I would feel like I failed if we did not complete our mission. Until they have a strong government that can stand alone we have a place over there…to ensure their independence and safety and at the same time protecting our homeland. It won't happen over night or even in one year…I believe it is the children of that country that will turn around and make the biggest impact."
There was something Mayo said she wanted to bring home with her from Iraq. "The kids break my heart. I wanted to bring them ALL home with me. I look at my niece and nephew and cry for the kids over there. I hug them so tight and they think I'm crazy!"
Mayo's viewpoint on Americans supporting the troops is that, "Everyone is different and can show their support in their own way. When a stranger walks in to visit a wounded service member the sincerity and sharing of their time is what is the most encouraging. Any time I see a Vet proudly wearing an old unit or service hat I always take a second to walk up and shake their hand and thank them for their service and sacrifice."
She added that a show of support can be,"…as simple as wearing red on Fridays or joining a local group that supports the troops to send packages and love from back home. I even had a women recently walk up to me and say that she was totally against President Bush and this war but she respected me and she supports me and then gave me a hug. If you are not sure where to start log onto www.americasupportsyou.mil and it will lead you in the right direction. You don't have to support the war…who in their right mind would be pro-war?"
Mayo does support the President, however. "I do 100% support the president of the United States and this country and I WILL do what is necessary to protect, maintain and guard all the rights and freedoms that were fought for and earned so long ago and if I can be part of giving those freedoms to another country who can't do it on their own, there is nothing that would make me more proud!"
Mayo said that while she was in Iraq she wished she had received more personal written letters along with traditional snapshots. "I wanted more personal mail and pictures…e-mails are great but I wanted to open the envelope. I enjoyed getting my local hometown newspaper and Burt's Beeswax chap stick…nothing beats it in the dessert. My Dad also sent me cans of boiled peanuts."