Combat Medic: No brother or sister left behind

Cathy Brownfield

“The thunderous sound of the Black Hawk helicopters echoed through the night as we closed in on the enemy compound. Our mission was high-risk – a direct action raid to neutralize a high-value target associated with Al-Qaeda. As a special ops combat medic in the 75th Ranger Regiment, my role was multifaceted, providing medical care in the most intense and challenging environments imaginable,” writes Marshall Bahr, M.D.


Dr. Bahr does not hold back, his story intense. Fast-roping, they rapidly deployed from their helicopters from 60 feet above ground, in full combat gear.

“Before our boots even hit the ground, the stillness of the night was shattered by the deafening sound of gunfire. Bullets ricocheted off the compound walls as we scrambled for cover, returning fire while trying to orient ourselves amidst the chaos.

“As the firefight intensified, the line between my role as a soldier and a medic blurred. My focus shifted from neutralizing the enemy to attending to the wounded. The severity of injuries varied wildly from gunshot wounds to fragmentation injuries from grenades. I had to make quick, decisive judgments on triaging, determining who needed immediate care, who could wait, and tragically, who was beyond saving.

“Amidst our own, there were enemy combatants, too, who had been injured. Our creed does not distinguish between friend or foe when it comes to preserving life. I found myself working on an injured combatant, his eyes wide with pain and fear. His injuries were severe, but treatable. As I administered lifesaving care, I pondered on the stark contrast of my responsibilities – to both take and save lives.”


He also treated local civilians, women and children. “I’ve seen the stark reality of conflict, the cost that is paid in human life and suffering. I had to make the difficult decisions that combat demanded, decisions that often blurred the lines between life and death.

“The firefight seemed to last an eternity, but we accomplished our mission. As the helicopters hovered back into position, ready for extraction, I took one last look at the compound. It was a chilling tableau of the price of war. The experience was a stark reminder of the fragile line we walk between life and death, the toll it takes, and the resilience of the human spirit.”

Dr. Bahr had to grapple with issues very like his companions, though they might not have wanted to openly acknowledge it, he said. “We were trained to be resilient, to push through, to not show weakness. But the human psyche can only bear so much, and the effects of what we had seen and experienced started to seep into our daily lives.”

Nightmares, fragmented sleep. Cold sweats. Heightened sense of anxiety and irritability. The most challenging for him was the emotional numbness, the feeling of being disconnected from the world around him, he wrote. “Even from my own emotions.” He struggled for a while. Like others, he didn’t want to show weakness, but he says, “Ultimately, it was the courage to seek help that made the difference. I realized that acknowledging my struggles didn’t make me weak. In fact, it was a strength to recognize when help was needed. Therapy, peer support, and various treatment modalities have helped me navigate my PTSD and find ways to cope better.”

Over a period of time, he became acquainted with Family Recovery Center’s CEO, Eloise Traina. “I was profoundly touched by the work Family Recovery Center was doing, especially their comprehensive approach to recovery, which addresses not just addiction, but also the underlying dedication, their passion, and their success in making a real difference in people’s lives.”

Partnering with Family Recovery Center, he realized, is the perfect avenue for launching a program dedicated to supporting veterans. The comprehensive recovery model, coupled with a shared understanding of the specific needs and challenges of veterans made for the ideal collaboration for the Helping Heroes Program.

“As a medic, my role was not just to fight, but to heal.”

The Helping Heroes Program is headquartered at the Oxford House on Benton Road, Salem. These services will kick off with the first meeting at 2 p.m. Thursday, June 1. The meetings will be held twice monthly, first and third Thursdays of each month.

“We are committed to serving veterans in Columbiana, Harrison and Jefferson counties,” he says.

Currently, Dr. Bahr is conducting a fundraiser to benefit Family Recovery Center. The goal is to raise $5,000 to directly support the essential work of the agency which is a lifeline for many individuals and families who are dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues. Donations can be made at

For more information about the Helping Heroes Program, contact FRC at 330-424-1468 in Columbiana County or 740-283-4946 in Jefferson and Harrison counties.