Navy combat medic shows loyalty, compassion during and after war
Stefan Landfried — better known to his comrades as “Doc” — knows what it means to serve.
His definition of the word was heading overseas into the height of the Iraq War, with a “little synopsis” of what he was instructed to do.
All he knew was that there was a need, and he was being pulled that way.
The Middle East veteran was born and raised in Santa Barbara. He graduated from Santa Barbara High School in 1997 and currently volunteers diligently as a lifetime member of Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States Post 1649 in town.
As a resident of the building, he’s the go-to for most events and activities held by the VFW, such as funerals, holiday events and community awards.
The former Naval Medical Corpsman, whose official title is Hospitalman 3rd Class Petty Officer, sat down with the News-Press to discuss today’s Fourth of July holiday.
He reflected on what it means to remember not only his military service, but the service of all the other men and women.
“It’s a reminder of those that served that are hoping to protect what is like an experiment,” Petty Officer Landfried said regarding Independence Day and other holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day. “We’re still a young nation, we’re still an experimental country on how our government is set up and we’re so drastic from other nations.”
In 2003, Petty Officer Landfried joined the Navy with hopes of going on an aircraft carrier.
He said he didn’t fully read his job description, but most of the men enlisting with Navy medicine teamed up with the Marines to cover all the deployments.
Petty Officer Landfried completed two tours in Iraq, serving honorably in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was also deployed to Okinawa as part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The combat medic didn’t talk much about what he saw as he cared for wounded marines on the battlefield. But he did mention the camaraderie that was developed between himself and the other men.
“I mean, that’s the one thing I do miss, but like with anything, there’s always the good and bad,” Petty Officer Landfried said. He added that when he was in Okinawa, he enjoyed getting a feel of what Asian island culture was like, with some “really interesting meals” he ate during what little free time he had.
However, it’s the act of service he valued the most. That’s what he thinks about on days like July Fourth.
“Service is so much, in its own way, giving back to the country,” he said. “Granted, a lot of other countries do have freedoms … But the way the Constitution is written, it feels like people should give back to the country for those rights and freedoms that we have.
“When it comes to serving the country, it doesn’t necessarily have to mean serving the military — just giving back in some way to the functionality of this country to keep things going.”
Those who know “Doc” told the News-Press that not only has the combat medic given back to his country by joining the Navy and caring for marines who needed him, but he continues to serve everyone around him, from the VFW to his good friends, many of whom fall into both categories.
And it hasn’t always been easy.
Staff Sgt. Mark Thies of the VFW referred to Petty Officer Landfried as a hero, plain and simple.
“I never heard him tell anybody to call him ‘Doc,’ but everybody does,” Sgt. Thies told the News-Press. “He served as a Medical Corpsman, but I think he earned the title ‘Doc’ based on the caring support he selflessly gives to individual military veterans in our community. He is a hero to me.”
“Being a medic in the military took him to environments where he has been a witness to death, which is not unusual, but it’s not something that he or any of the other men and women that I’ve spoken with in the military are comfortable remembering, reminiscing or talking about,” Sgt. Thies added. “We wish the very best for our heroes, these young men and women who come home after having an experience like that.”
Corporal Gary Jacobs is a comrade from the local VFW Post, and served as post commander, chaplain and other roles within the organization. He’s another Middle East Army veteran and survivor who served as a U.S. Army military policeman. He told the News-Press he’s known Petty Officer Landfried for about four years.
“He’s a really compassionate guy, and in tune to when people are in need,” Corporal Jacobs said. “He really takes that to heart, so I guess that comes from being a corpsman in the Navy.”
The two veterans hunted and fished together, both serving as commander of the post at one point. Corporal Jacobs said he, too, struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, and he spoke to his and Petty Officer Landfried’s “unspoken bond” that has helped him through the tougher times.
“We both have had really bad experiences in the military, so we’ve been able to help each other out that way, because he can understand. There’s something that we veterans have, especially when we’re dealing with PTSD — there’s this automatic connection and you don’t have to read too much into anything. It’s just there,” Corporal Jacobs said.
The veteran added that while the Fourth of July is a good time to remember military service, Memorial Day is “probably the most meaningful day to Stefan and I.”
“We both lost some friends, so I don’t think there’s a holiday that can get any deeper than that in meaning for us,” he said.
The current commander of the VFW, Jon Church, is a retired command sergeant major and told the News-Press he met “Doc” about a decade ago. The highly-ranked commander referred to Petty Officer Landfried’s service as a medic in Iraq as “quite an accomplishment.”
“I can actually call him right now and he will be there,” Command Sgt. Major Church said. “He’s just on the spot, always ready to serve … He’s extremely loyal. When he says he’s going to do something, he does it.”
“Doc” is the glue that holds the VFW together, according to Commander Sgt. Major Church, and has done extensive work in the community to help struggling veterans.
“He’s always been someone who, the first words out of his mouth are, ‘I’ve got this,’ or ‘I can help you this way’ or ‘I can help you that way,’” Mr. Jacobs said. “He’s always there for anybody who needs help.”