From Combat Medic to Paramedic and Beyond

National Guard Medic Team in the FieldChristopher Adkins, 29, is much like many other men around his age. He’s married and he works a full-time job. He has a plan for his future and he diligently works toward it.

As a native of Orlando, FL, he and his wife even have an annual pass to Disneyworld.

But it’s what he does at his other job that sets him apart from the rest, “I joined the Army National Guard so I could achieve a balance. I can go to school, stay at home most of the time, and serve my country.”

And serve he does. Not just his Nation and State, but his fellow Soldiers as well, because SGT Christopher Adkins serves as a combat medic.

Combat medics, part of the Health Care Specialist Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), provide on-the-spot emergency care for wounded or injured Soldiers or civilians depending on the mission. And a combat medic only earns their Combat Medic Badge (CMB) when they provide care under fire.

SGT Adkins earned his CMB in 2010 after he deployed to Kuwait and Iraq with the 53rd Infantry Brigade.

“We were convoy escort,” SGT Adkins said. “We provided security for the trucks coming into and out of Iraq.”

This put him on site when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) went off, injuring several of his fellow Soldiers.

“As cliché as it sounds, the training really does take over. It’s like muscle memory at that point,” SGT Adkins said. “You just get really focused on taking care of the wounded, making sure they get home safe to their families.”

In addition to the CMB, the State thought enough of his actions to nominate him as a Hometown Hero.

“It was quite a surprise. And very cool. My Sergeant called and asked if I wanted it,” SGT Adkins said. “Of course I wanted it. You don’t turn down an honor like that.”

From there, SGT Adkins attended and recently graduated from civilian paramedic school, which the Guard helped him pay for. He believes there are clearly similarities between his role as medic in the Guard and as a civilian paramedic, but also significant differences, mostly in the types of care that he needs to administer.

“As a combat medic, you are going to be dealing with more combat-related injuries (like the results of the IED attack),” SGT Adkins said, “while as a paramedic you are dealing with more medical issues like heart attacks and strokes.”

The next step SGT Adkins will take is applying for the Army’s two-year Physicians Assistant (PA) program. PAs practice medicine under the direction of a medical doctor or surgeon and examine patients, as well as provide diagnoses and treatments for injuries and illnesses.

SGT Adkins gives a great deal of credit for his successes to his Guard experience.

“The Guard put me in the right frame of mind. It gave me a career focus, a good attitude, and helped me pay for paramedic school,” SGT Adkins said. “It helped me develop discipline, good study habits, and drive. It made it possible to set aside distractions and focus on what I had in hand. I’ll stay with the Guard as long as they let me.”

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Sowing the Seeds of International Goodwill

A group of Guard members teach agriculture techniquesAccording to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farming is the main source of income in Afghanistan with nearly 80 percent of the country’s population involved in crop or livestock production. This is in spite of only 12 percent of the land being arable, and only 6 percent of it actually being cultivated. Those are the official numbers. Unofficially, though?

“They’re 200 years behind us in terms of farming,” said Agricultural Extension Agent, First Lieutenant (1LT) Christopher Rees of the Army National Guard. “They’re still using donkeys to pull plows.”

That’s why part of the Army National Guard’s overall mission is to help improve the state of agriculture in Afghanistan. That way, as the U.S. troop drawdown continues, the Afghan people will be prepared to do things for themselves, more efficiently, with sustainable and profitable crops that can help lift people out of poverty and make them less likely to join terrorist organizations like the Taliban.

“Our goal over there is to work with government officials, to get them up to speed, and to provide mentoring,” 1LT Rees said. “They are very receptive to us. We are working with some really good officials.”

Contrast the situation in Afghanistan with 1LT Rees’ home state of Nebraska. You know that line in the song “America the Beautiful” about amber waves of grain? That’s Nebraska. It’s a state known for its farms, its crops, and its livestock. It should be no surprise that it’s also home to a host of agricultural support businesses providing farming supplies, fertilizers, and seeds, which is where 1LT Rees got his start.

Growing up in Iowa prior to relocating to Nebraska, he had worked for a seed company through high school and as a college undergrad studying Agricultural Business at Iowa State. He then went to the University of Nebraska to get his master’s degree in Agronomy and continued working at another company.

And he did all this before joining the Guard. That makes 1LT Rees the National Guard equivalent of a non-traditional student: he didn’t join the Guard until he was 31 years old. By the time he joined, he was already a college graduate, so he didn’t even join for the classic reason of accessing education benefits, though the Guard did help pay for some of his schooling. So what was it that could compel a man entering his 30s to enter a world dominated by recruits in their late teens and early 20s?

“Like many others, it started immediately after 9/11,” 1LT Rees recalled. “I thought about life and what I wanted to be. I decided that if anything like that ever happened again, I would join the service. But after a while I thought, why wait until something happens again?”

His brother, a National Guard member, encouraged him to consider the Guard, “So I spent some time talking to a recruiter and eventually enlisted in the Nebraska Army National Guard, did my Basic Combat Training (BCT) at Ft. Knox, and then went through OCS (Officer Candidate School).”

While he may have been older than other recruits, it also made him wiser and put him in a position his younger counterparts weren’t ready for: to volunteer for the Agribusiness Development Team (ADT) that would be deployed to Afghanistan.

“My background is in research,” 1LT Rees said. “Agronomy is the study of soils, field crops, and cropping systems. There is some biology, like plant and cell development and herbicides. I’ve done corn research and soybean research.”

This made him the ideal candidate for the Agribusiness Development Team, though 1LT Rees was quick to shift the focus off him and onto his colleagues: There were 12 people on his team, a 12-person headquarters section, and a 36 person security force that would set the perimeter that allowed Rees and his colleagues to work in relative safety.

“We dealt with very basic things, such as setting up meetings, providing funding for seeds, or just providing a lunch or pruners as an incentive for them to listen to what we had to say,” he said. “We dealt with a broad range of topics like watershed, agronomics, demo farms, forestry, and livestock.

“The mountains are so bare over there that we knew that if we got some trees planted, that would go a long way to help with watershed,” 1LT Rees said. “And one of the livestock team’s quick-hit projects was training women about how to care for livestock and poultry. That would give them [widows, single women] a better chance of living and sustaining themselves.”

And while the Afghans were very receptive to what Rees and the team were doing, he said, “Farmers are the same the world over: they want to do everything the same way their father did it, which isn’t always the best way. For example, we plant corn in rows because it results in a greater yield. They hand broadcast [scatter seed] into a field and wouldn’t do it our way until we showed them on a demo farm how much better it would be to plant in rows.”

Once they saw that corn planted in rows would improve their yield, they were more than willing to adopt the new way of planting.

1LT Rees was also lucky in that his wife was involved in the project, too. As an employee at the University of Nebraska, she was the liaison between his team and the University. So while she remained safe and sound at her office, 1LT Rees got to experience a little bit of home every time “… we had a question about something – if we wanted to know about wheat or insects or rangeland grasses – she funneled the questions to the right people and got back to us with the answers.”

Now back in the United States, 1LT Rees puts his training to use every day in his civilian capacity as a manager at a seed company and sees firsthand how Guard training can help anyone looking to diversify their skill set.

“As officers, we get to lead troops, set the example, and supervise people, but even Soldiers in the enlisted ranks get experience leading small teams or groups,” 1LT Rees said. “For me though, the most valuable thing was that it made me more focused overall, more disciplined – and the camaraderie is a big thing. There is an instant, common bond with other Soldiers.”

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The Future Looks Good for Staff Sergeant Jeff Miller

A Soldier working with a computer circuit board

Soldiers get hands-on experience in the National Guard

More than a decade ago, Staff Sergeant (SSG) Jeff Miller had a very different career goal.

“I wanted to be a dentist,” he said.

Fortunately for him, the Army National Guard, and the citizens of the great state of Oklahoma, things didn’t work out that way.

As the son of an Army veteran growing up in Oklahoma City, SSG Miller was always interested in military service. He gravitated toward the reserve components because of his desire to attend college while he served. His father encouraged him to explore all his options, including the National Guard.

“I didn’t know anything about the Guard at 17 years old, but my father told me that he wouldn’t sign my parental consent form unless I explored all my options, which included a visit to the National Guard Recruiter,” SSG Miller said. “And I’m glad he did. What the Guard had to offer was so much more attractive to me than what the other branches could hope to offer.”

Now 33, SSG Miller initially joined the Guard as an MP, and majored in biology as an undergraduate so he could go on and become a dentist.

But, as he progressed through training and through service as an MP, that goal shifted in several ways and for several reasons. First, he gained a greater understanding of what true leadership is and embraced the accelerated maturation required of the National Guard Soldier.

“Being in the Guard forces you to grow up a little faster,” SSG Miller said. “It makes a difference because it will put you ahead of your peers at a much earlier age.”

Second, he gained a greater appreciation of Information Technology. “I had always been interested in technology, and in the Guard I realized that this was my future. I knew I had to get on board with it.”

So he switched his Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) from Military Police to Information Technology. Where most National Guard Soldiers are part-time, serving a minimum of one weekend a month and two weeks every summer, SSG Miller serves in the Guard on full-time active duty where he provides oversight of his battalion’s technology assets. His multifaceted duties include: ensuring computers meet baseline operational requirements; enforcing information assurance protocols; identifying, designing, and implementing policy changes; as well as providing help desk services.

When asked for an example of what he’s done, SSG Miller said he streamlined the requisition system from a manual paper-based system into a digital, software-based system. “It used to be that the requestor never knew where in the process their request was, now they know where it is all the time, can keep tabs on it and they’re never left in the dark.”

Clearly this created efficiencies in the processes that affect the entire battalion. Now, rather than waiting around wondering where vital equipment is, requestors can look up their requisition and know whether it’s hung up somewhere or progressing through the system. This even makes those responsible for fulfilling each request more accountable.

“These are things that civilians with comparable experience in terms of time don’t get to do, particularly when it comes to influencing and developing policies that affect the entire organization,” SSG Miller said. “That’s a management function in the civilian world. I probably wouldn’t be allowed to do that yet if I weren’t in the Guard.”

Plus, SSG Miller says that the Guard is preparing him for civilian opportunities in IT.

“IT is where everything is going and the future looks good. When I’m done with my service, I’ll be able to step into civilian opportunities my civilian counterparts aren’t prepared for.”

And when that happens, experience won’t be the only thing SSG Miller takes with him. He’ll also take the highly regarded (and costly to obtain) CompTIA certifications paid for by the Guard, the incredible cultures experienced through the Guard, and an unmatched network of people that he can always call on, which he calls “the most valuable thing anyone’s ever provided to me.”

“It’s not all ‘who you know’ in this world, but it helps,” SSG Miller said. “In the Guard, you develop a sense of morals and values, a sense of family and community, and a better understanding of personal sacrifice that you’re not going to find in other places. It just helps you be a better person. It has improved my life in every way.”

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