← Back to portfolio
Published on

Not All Medics Are Made The Same

When most people picture the war in Iraq, they don’t imagine soldiers handing out U.S.

rations or sipping chai with the locals. Former U.S. Army Combat Medic Nicholas Van Ishem

DelCorpo said these things were common occurrences.

For DelCorpo, serving his country meant serving the Iraqis, too – and for six years he did

just that.

“I figured if I’m there and not actively doing my work as a medic for the Americans, I

should try to do as much good for whoever was around me,” said DelCorpo.

He compared his job to that of a paramedic, but with the freedom to do more advanced

procedures in the field as needed. Once, he inserted a chest tube into an Iraqi soldier with a gun-

shot wound as the sounds of crossfire continued around him. That particular day, he had been

awake for more than 36 hours before he treated the patient, later sent to a hospital in Baghdad.

For DelCorpo, the lows were low. On his worst day in the Army, he lost his best friend. If

he had a chance to go back, he wouldn’t have chosen enlistment. He talks of guns and violence as 

things that “aren’t really for him.” DelCorpo said yelling, and being yelled at wasn’t his definition of 

fun and that life in the infantry unit was a chore. He especially didn’t like the marching. 

But, he hadn’t studied hard enough in high school and said he needed a plan after graduation.

DelCorpo joined the U.S. Army when he was just 19 years old and eventually worked his

way up to becoming a company medic in charge of about 150 soldiers.

“You start as an assistant to a medic in charge of a platoon of about 50 men,” he said. “If

you stay long enough, you get a platoon of your own. Then you take a company of four platoons

and it goes up and up.”

His mission didn’t include handing out extra medicine or MREs (Meal Ready to Eat.) But

he did it anyway. DelCorpo said Iraqi civilians were not allowed to get close to the soldiers

without being searched first – yet they often greeted them with tea. They spoke no English and

he spoke little Arabic. He said civilians never stayed long, as they feared being seen on the

wrong side of war.

“It made a big, big difference to their quality of life, believe it or not,” said DelCorpo.

“We gave them a case every day for weeks.”

DelCorpo doesn’t remember the names of the Iraqis he met, but he can recall glimpses of

their faces. He said his biggest regret was not taking enough pictures.

“It didn’t seem important at the time,” said DelCorpo. “But looking back I wish I would

have taken a lot more.”

During his first tour, DelCorpo served in Iraq for two years before he was injured.

However, he was able to continue his service. His second tour, he was injured again after four

years, but that time it ended his career. DelCorpo still doesn’t talk about the incident that sent

him home.

DelCorpo said many of his friends went on to serve in the Army for decades, but he

couldn’t see himself doing it for the next 20 years.

Now, he’s earning his second degree, a Master’s in Investigative Journalism at the Walter

Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University (ASU).

DelCorpo is proud to be the first man in his family to graduate from college. He’s applied his

army rhetoric, and observation skills towards his new mission of finishing school.

“Now, I really don’t have a life outside of ASU,” said DelCorpo. “I have little time for

anything else.”


Subscribe to get sent a digest of new articles by Mollie Jo Jamison

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.