U.S. Coast Guard corpsman Janet Combs of Miami Beach has spent the last 12 years of her career helping others. She is one of five members from different military branches being honored by the Armed Services YMCA on March 26 in Washington, D.C.
Combs, who was on board the Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell in 2003, which was the first ship to go to Iraq as part of a year-long patrol, is a petty officer first class and health-services technician. She is being recognized for treating hundreds of wounded patients, many of whom were young soldiers who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan as amputees.
“I can get choked up talking about all of these cases,” said Combs, 31. “Knowing that your actions and your knowledge can be the difference between losing a life or saving a life is a responsibility that’s heavy for anyone, but as a corpsman, you have to have the character to say ‘I want this responsibility on my shoulders.’ ”
After being selected by the Coast Guard as the health services technician of the year, Combs is being honored at the ASYMCA’s annual Angels of the Battlefield Gala, an event that awards an enlisted member from each military branch for their bravery and sacrifice.
Her husband, Brian Smith, who has been in the Coast Guard for 18 years and is a chief petty officer, talked about the award his wife is receiving.
“For me to see her receive an award like this is absolutely amazing,” he said “It’s recognition for all of her hard work, all of the time she’s sacrificed and all of the dedication she shows towards the job and the people she’s given her clinic services to.”
The ASYMCA is a charity that provides childcare, wounded warrior support, spousal and deployment assistance and other programs for enlisted service members and their families at 45 military installations across the United States.
Michael Landers, president of ASYMCA, talked about the traits the organization looks to honor, as well as his reason for working in this organization.
“We want to recognize and spotlight the personal virtues and attributes that the honorees and their families exemplify each day,” said Landers, who served 31 years in the Navy before becoming a member of the ASYMCA. “The gratifying part for me is that every day I get to do something for some young military family who otherwise wouldn’t have had what we gave them that particular day.”
Along with Combs, Michael Marchante, who has been a Navy corpsman for seven years, is being honored for his heroism in Afghanistan as a combat medic.
Marchante, 27, treated a severely wounded soldier in Afghanistan while using his own body to shield him from active fire.
He views this experience as a blessing.
“I was on high alert from the beginning and was ready for things like that,” said Marchante, father of two. “Looking back, I believe it made me a better corpsman. I’m glad to say that I’ve deployed, been to Afghanistan and done my job there.”
Along with Combs and Marchante, Taylor Renfro, a 23-year-old Air Force medic, Kristopher Ritterhouse, a 26-year-old Army medic and Kevin Toland, a 32-year-old Marine corpsman, will be honored for their brave acts.
Combs, who also has a 10-year-old daughter, said the significance of her duty is what she thrives on.
“I like being the person that you’re going to lean on in your time of need,” she said. “I’m very excited to finish my career here.”