During his first assignment as a Navy physician, in Yokosuka, Japan, Stephen Fischer was surprised to realize how tough it was for enlisted families to make ends meet. “Especially in a place like Japan where things are so expensive, a family with four kids would be living at poverty level,” Fischer recalled. Overseas there are no government programs to help young families, so the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society is there to help, Fischer explained.
Every duty station where Fischer has served he’s sent patients and their families to the Society for help when they need it. “People have to band together to provide for their fellow shipmates and Marines and their families,” he said. “As physicians we support the warfighters and their families, and so does the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. Family readiness is an important part of overall operational readiness. We see Sailors and Marines who are struggling to make it for whatever reason, single parents, people who have lost a loved one, or experienced something catastrophic like losing a home. During the financial collapse in 2008 and 2009, a lot of fleet concentration areas were hit hard, particularly in California and Florida. People had to try to refinance and they were having difficulty feeding their families and providing the basics.”
Because he’s seen time and again the vital assistance that NMCRS provides, Fischer said he didn’t hesitate to join the Society’s Marine Corps Marathon team this year, committing to raising at least $600 for the Society, although he hopes to bring in $1000. This year’s marathon will be his second consecutive MCM but his first since he’s been stationed locally at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Fischer is a diving medical officer and last year ran with a group of undersea medical officer colleagues. “The Marine Corps Marathon is a great event,” Fischer said. “We see our comrades from the Air Force and Army and Coast Guard running right there too. I appreciate the opportunity to build comradery and esprit de corps. Yes, there are great health reasons to run—staying active and being fit and setting goals for personal growth. But it’s also about community.”
Fischer hasn’t run competitively since high school, but definitely spent time running as part of his naval training. “You would think in dive school it’s all swimming, but there’s a lot of running,” he said. He decided last year to run the Marine Corps Marathon to test himself. “Running a marathon is something on your calendar and you’ve got to maintain long distance road work to stay in shape.” During the heat of the summer, Fischer avoids heat stress by working out at the gym, running on an indoor track, or running at night. “I live near Rock Creek Park. Getting a three-hour jog in Rock Creek from Silver Spring down to American University and back is pretty nice, or I run to the National Zoo and back.” He sometimes runs or bikes the four miles from his home to work, and has plenty of company.
“What’s beautiful about the discipline of a lot of active duty personnel is if you go to work at 5:30 in the morning, you see plenty of people running around base. It’s a testament to the military ethos. People form these lifelong habits of getting up at zero dark 30 to get in their physical training.”
Fischer finished last year’s marathon in under six hours, and hopes to come in under five hours this year. “There’s something about the Marine Corps Marathon that’s so euphoric,” he explained. “All those people running with you and the streets are lined with red, white and blue. When you’re running around the nation’s capital it’s really awe inspiring.”
Currently, Fischer is assigned to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland as a preventative medicine officer, but he more typically uses the specialized training he received at the Navy Diving and Salvage Center in Panama City, Florida, and the Navy Undersea Medical Institute in Groton, Connecticut, as well as naval flight school in Pensacola, Florida. “When it came time to finance medical school, I was attracted to the Navy’s health professions scholarship program. I’ve received a lot of specialized training that you can’t get anywhere else and I’ve had opportunities all over the world.” Fischer has been assigned to the I Marine Expeditionary Force, headquartered at Camp Pendleton, in San Diego, California, deployed to Afghanistan’s Helmand province, stationed in Guam, in addition to his time in Japan. He supports the undersea community, including Navy SEALS, divers, Navy explosive ordinance disposal specialists, and other special operations Sailors and Marines.
“I had an uncle who was a Seabee in Gulfport, Mississippi,” Fischer recalled. “He loved his time in the Navy and traveled all around the world. He learned a trade with the Seabees—he got a lot of professional development, personal development, and maturity. He was given responsibility and had to grow as a leader. He really inspired me when opportunity came up to apply for a Navy scholarship for medical school and I jumped at it. I’ve stayed in the Navy because of all these great things. I’m proud to serve.”