He didn’t particular like heights, so it was a bit of a surprise to his parents when he developed an interest in helicopters. When he heard one flying over his house, he ran out just to see it. Fixed-wing aircraft interested him, but helicopters fascinated him. For his twelfth birthday he got a ride. He was hooked!
In 1969, just after he graduated from high school, he enlisted in the Navy. He chose to train as a chopper pilot. Specifically, he wanted to be a medevac pilot. He got the schooling and training he wanted. His commanding officer was a World War II pilot who had made the transition from fixed-wing to helicopters after the war. That same CO said that he had never worked with a new recruit who was any more focused on and committed to what he wanted to do.
This young man served from 1970 right up to the fall of Saigon. With the war’s end he returned to civilian life. He knew the transition wouldn’t necessarily be easy, but he knew one thing for certain. He was going to be a chopper pilot. Even though he didn’t know where or what specific role he would play, he was going to pursue his profession.
The first few years were tough. He flew traffic control for a group of TV stations in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. Following that he was a sightseeing pilot in Hawaii, and then flew private charters for a company out of Boston. It kept him in the air, but it wasn’t what he really wanted. Then he saw an ad for a new medevac service in Wyoming. Because of the great distances between medical facilities in that part of the country, rapid response and evacuation was more often than not a matter of life or death.
He became a medevac pilot in the early ‘90s. Finally, after 15 years, he was once again doing what he wanted to do, what he was trained to do, and what he truly saw as his profession. Over the next ten years, he worked tirelessly to help build an air ambulance service in the more remote regions of Wyoming and neighboring states. On several occasions he was called on to assist other regions seeking to enhance their response speed, and thus the active reach of their medical centers and trauma hospitals. As such facilities sought to make the most of the critical golden hour in trauma medicine, he was there to support their best efforts.
A great deal had changed since he was trained in 1969. Oh, the basics were the same, but had he not stayed current over the last 40 years, his skills would have declined, his understanding of what it took to be a trauma chopper pilot would have diminished, and his commitment would have undoubtedly suffered. But that hadn’t happened to him. As the second decade of the 21 century opened, he became a trainer. He welcomed the opportunity to do so, and he continued enhancing the air ambulance services in some of the most remote regions of western United States.
At a recent graduation ceremony, he spoke calmly yet firmly to the graduates. He shared a lesson with them, a lesson similar to one that had been shared with him at his graduation ceremony. He began by asking the graduating class of 21 medevac pilots a simple question.
“How many of you are prepared to assume the awesome responsibility of reducing suffering and saving lives as air ambulance pilots?”
They all answered in the affirmative.
In a somewhat brisk, a bit too loud, and even a bit harsh tone he said, “I know you can, I helped to train you, and you wouldn’t be sitting here if you couldn’t!”
After a brief pause, he continued in his typically calm and friendly tone. “Yes, today you all have a skill set, a powerful one, one that can reduce suffering and save lives. But, don’t fool yourselves, that’s all it is today. You and only you can turn your skill set into a profession. You’ll do that through ongoing training, continual efforts to remain current, life-long commitment to a life-style that supports and enhances your best efforts, and building on your skill set through experience, much of which will be trial-and-error.”
“If you turn today’s skill set into a profession, you can come back here 40 years from today and still respond that you’re prepared. You’ll be able to do so even though trauma medicine has changed, air ambulances have been revolutionized yet again, and when you have weathered the ageing process. It’s all up to you if what you have today will remain a skill set, or if it will become a profession!”