Can’t see the forest for the trees. Missing the big picture. Needs a bird’s-eye view.
There are plenty of idioms and clichés for people who become so overwhelmed by details that they can’t figure out a master plan. But those phrases will never be used to describe Staff Sergeant (SSG) Andrew Barden.
Staff Sergeant Andrew Barden
That’s because SSG Barden is a rare and valuable breed: a details guy with 20/20 big-picture vision. It also helps that he has the drive, resilience, and determination it takes to transform his vision – for his career, for his patients, and for emergency situations – from master plan to reality.
Today, SSG Barden is a 68W Health Care Specialist (medic) for the Iowa Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery Regiment, Fort Dodge. His original Guard training as a 12M Firefighter also prepared him for his current civilian career. He’s a state employee firefighter for the 132nd Fighter Wing Fire Department, serving both the Des Moines International Airport and the Iowa Air National Guard to protect F-16s, passenger aircraft, and all facilities situated on the 2,600-acre airfield. And, in all his spare time, SSG Barden has been working toward – and this month will receive – a bachelor’s degree in Emergency and Disaster Management with an emphasis in Fire Science (plus, he’s already enrolled to begin a master’s program in the same subject this fall).
So, what can we learn from SSG Barden? How does one absorb all the details required to be a Soldier, a medic, a firefighter, and an emergency/disaster management specialist, and then use that knowledge to assess extreme circumstances, determine a master plan, and implement it – often in a matter of minutes?
The answer is training, and, according to SSG Barden, not just any training: “I wouldn’t have my career without the training I’ve received through the National Guard. Plus, as a Guardsman, the State of Iowa provided me with 100 percent tuition assistance.”
But let’s not forget about those underlying personal qualities: drive, resilience, and determination. They’re pretty important, too. To see why, we have to rewind 10 years and start SSG Barden’s story from the beginning.
Chapter one (year one) starts with “drive.”
“I was going to be a computer draftsman, and then I volunteered at a local fire department. I thought, ‘This is what I want to do.’ So, I talked to my chief who happened to also be a firefighter in the Guard. I realized at 18 years old that I could join the military and pursue my dream of being a firefighter, all on one ticket.”
At first, the National Guard Recruiter told SSG Barden that he couldn’t guarantee an opening to train for the firefighter military occupation specialty (MOS). “So I said, ‘Call back when you can.’”
He did, pretty quickly actually, and after Basic Training, SSG Barden headed to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) where he earned five certifications – First Responder, Firefighter 1 and 2, Hazmat Operations, and Airport Fire – in a matter of four months.
“In the civilian world, that would have cost me, or my fire department, thousands of dollars and would normally take years to do.”
Chapter two of SSG Barden’s story spans six years and is all about “resilience.” His dream civilian job as a paid firefighter was not materializing, and his Iowa Guard firefighting unit, the 767th Engineer Team, was traded to another State. He needed to pick another MOS after all. Of course, SSG Barden’s big-picture thinking was at work when he selected Health Care Specialist and then headed to four more months of AIT, where he earned a another slew of certifications.
A year later, SSG Barden deployed to Taji, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he was in charge of a team of medics responsible for the care of 1,200 detainees in accordance with Geneva Convention and International Red Cross regulations. While there, his ability to carry out a master plan translated into exceptional, humanitarian care that included routine visits, immunizations, flu shots, hygiene education, and more.
“We were required to see 10 percent of the population daily, but we organized it so we actually saw 20 percent daily.”
The past three years and the most recent chapter in SSG Barden’s story is all about “determination” – to finally get that dream firefighting job and to continue laying the foundation needed for a future (read: master plan) in emergency and disaster management.
After returning from Iraq, he applied to his present position with the 132nd not once, but twice, to get his foot in the door. His six-month probationary period consisted of – yes, you guessed it – more training, and lots of it. After all, they don’t let just anybody operate aircraft rescue fire trucks that can dump 1,500 gallons of water in a little over a minute; or a high-tech rapid intervention vehicle that delivers water droplets to absorb heat and suppress fire; or a technical rescue truck with tons of equipment for rope rescue, trench rescue, vehicle extraction and stabilization; or a special operations trailer that carries search-and-rescue equipment, as well as hazmat equipment for gas detection, monitoring, and decontamination.
So, what’s SSG Barden’s master plan for chapter four?
“I’m happy where I am right now. But someday I want to be in charge of overall response to large-scale emergencies, perhaps with FEMA. And as for the Guard, I’ll stay a medic forever, but I’m open to State response or operations-level opportunities.”
If you have a master plan like SSG Barden, the National Guard can transform your vision into reality. Check out the National Guard jobs board and contact your Army National Guard Recruiter today.