Paramedic Takes His Skills to the Skies as an Army National Guard Flight Medic

SPC Mason Burkhart is a flight medic for the Nevada Army National Guard and a paramedic for a local emergency medical services provider.

SPC Mason Burkhart is a flight medic for the Nevada Army National Guard and a paramedic for a local emergency medical services provider.

From his days as a lifeguard in high school training alongside members of an ambulance company, Mason Burkhart knew he wanted to go into the medical field. And from an even younger age, he knew he wanted to join the Army.

So now at age 23, he’s doing both. In his civilian life, he’s a ground-based paramedic for Reno, Nev.’s Regional Emergency Medical Service Authority (REMSA). In the military, he’s Specialist (SPC) Burkhart, a 68W Healthcare Specialist who serves part-time as a flight medic for the Nevada Army National Guard.

That’s on top of his enrollment as a pre-med student at the University of Nevada, where he’s working on his bachelor’s degree in microbiology using the Guard’s State education benefits to pay for his tuition and textbooks.

From there, SPC Burkhart is keeping his options open as to what he might specialize in as a physician down the road, but trauma surgery is definitely among them.

In the meantime, his aviation unit, which includes some of his REMSA co-workers, is preparing for a deployment to Afghanistan next year where it will perform medevac missions to treat and transport critically ill and injured patients.

SPC Burkhart has been in the Guard for only 18 months, but he came into it with several years of medical experience under his belt. He became an EMT at age 18, “fell in love with it” and went on to become certified as a critical care paramedic, which ties in directly with his Guard work as a flight medic.

Both of his jobs complement each other, he says.

His Guard training as a combat medic is more heavily focused on treating traumatic injuries, which has improved his assessment and treatment skills for those patients, whereas his civilian career gives him exposure to many more patients – 40-50 per week – who are experiencing medical issues of all varieties.

“It’s a really unique line of work,” he says of his civilian job. “You have to be really adaptable. From one second to the next everything can change. No two days of work are the same, and I really like that.”

That same unpredictability goes for his Guard work, too, particularly for his unit, which operates from Black Hawk helicopters, and therefore requires SPC Burkhart to know the Black Hawk’s capabilities, such as how to use a hoist to attend to a patient on the ground.

“We can get activated for anything. We can go to hurricanes, we can fight fires, we can do search and rescue. You train for what your capabilities are, but you never know what you’re going to be getting into.”

SPC Burkhart says his unit embraces DUSTOFF (Dedicated Unhesitating Support to Our Fighting Forces), as more of a motto than just the radio call sign for a medevac helicopter.

“We’re always there in a time of need, and that’s one thing I just really love about the Guard. I love my job; I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I have the coolest job in the Army [National Guard].”

Besides being there to help his fellow Soldiers when they need him, SPC Burkhart has also answered a call to serve some local veterans. Last summer he volunteered to serve as a medic for Honor Flight Nevada, which takes veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials and museums that are dedicated to their military service.

“It’s really awesome to see [the veterans] reminisce. They make friends with you, they make friends with each other, and it’s just a good time for everyone.”

Honor FIight is an experience he’d like to share with his father some day, a former Marine turned Army National Guard Soldier and Gulf War veteran.

“He really loves the fact that I’m in the Army. It gives him someone to talk to about all the little nuances that only people who have served can understand.”

SPC Burkhart has zero regrets about his decision to serve.

“It’s a big commitment to sign your name, take that oath and dedicate yourself to something larger, but it’s definitely worth it.”

So if you’re interested in dedicating yourself to serving others, the Army National Guard has a unique dual mission of serving the State and the Nation.

The Guard offers Soldiers training in one of more than 130 careers in fields like armor and field artillery, administration, transportation, and engineering. And because military service is a part-time commitment, many Soldiers also hold civilian jobs or attend college or a trade school using the Guard’s education benefits.

Contact your local recruiter to learn more.

 

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State Spotlight: Vermont

Ground and Flight Medics Train Together to Improve Treatment

CAMP JOHNSON, Vt. – Vermont Army National Guard Soldiers tested their medical training from initial care through medical evacuation at Camp Johnson in Colchester, Vt., in early May.

Charlie Company (Medical), 186th Brigade Support Battalion, 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain), partnered with Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment, to perform this training.

“We’re getting their ground medics to work with us so they understand how to do transfer of care, what we are looking for, and how to load the aircraft properly,” said SSG Robert Slater, critical-care flight medic, C/3-126th AVN (AA). “The big thing is transfer of care.”

SSG Slater was taking simulated patients from the 186th BSB after the on-ground combat medics performed initial medical care. Slater was attempting to hit the ‘golden hour of medicine,’ and highly trained forces assist with that goal.

SSG Robert Slater, (left), flight medic with the Vermont Army National Guard, simulates administration of an IV for a patient aboard a helicopter. (Photo by SSG Nathan Rivard).

SSG Robert Slater, (left), flight medic with the Vermont Army National Guard, simulates administration of an IV for a patient aboard a helicopter. (Photo by SSG Nathan Rivard).

“The golden hour is the standard of care for medicine from the time of injury to the time of treatment,” explains SSG Slater. “The battlefield can be far away from where medical treatment is. [Combat medics] can only do so much on the frontline itself. If they know how we want our patients loaded, priorities, and things like that, it makes it a lot easier for us to get in, get our patients taken care of, and get them off the ground.”

The medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) is one of the final steps, but to get to that point, combat medics need to apply their training to keep patients alive.

“They are practicing applying tourniquets, needle to chest decompression for tension pneumothorax, as well as immobilization of the C-spine, so they can prepare for transport. Then they do evaluations and re-checks throughout the entire lane on the patient’s status,” said 2LT Nicholas Heredia, a logistics medical officer with the 186th BSB. “The training is real-time for Soldiers … especially for National Guard [Soldiers] because we are natural disaster relief in some cases, and that is what we are trying to simulate here.”

The training emphasizes the multiple phases of medical treatment, as it is a team effort.

“It’s really important because if we were doing a Defense Support of Civil Authorities mission or if we were in combat, our Units will integrate together,” said MAJ Mike Korczykowski, the Charlie Medical Company, 186th BSB commander. “We’ll take the casualties and stabilize them. Then the air ambulance will come in all sorts of weather to get them. It is very important that we communicate and function together.”

MAJ Korczykowski also said training is maximized by working with multiple Units at the same time during a limited time window of a single weekend.

Members feel the time crunch, but they push through it, said 2LT Heredia.

Each drill the Unit is working on revalidates the Soldier’s medical skills, and being able to put into practice all of the Soldier’s skills in one place in a high intensity and high quality scenario is beneficial, said 2LT Heredia.

So if you’re interested in a medical career with the Army National Guard, check out this list of options. The Guard provides training and education benefits that can cover the cost of a college education or additional training from a vocational school.

For more information on all of the Guard’s career fields, which range from logistics to aviation to armor and field artillery, visit our job board and contact your local recruiter.

From an original story by SSG Nathan Rivard, 172nd Public Affairs Detachment, which originally appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in May 2017.

 

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Guard Public Affairs Journalist Named Army Photographer of the Year

After the smoke clears, the Soldiers are exhausted from their mission, maybe even lying in the dirt to rest. Those are the kind of moments Sergeant (SGT) Harley Jelis waits for, turning his lens on people “when they’ve gotten to the point where they can let their guard down, and be themselves … without any judgment on them or trying to tell a certain story, just having people as they are.”

It’s unstaged moments, like the one below, that have earned SGT Jelis the title of Army Photographer of the Year for 2016.

An award winning photo of Soldiers resting after a mock firefight taken by SGT Harley Jelis.

A member of the New York Army National Guard, SGT Jelis took his award-winning shots while covering training activities for infantry, medic, and aviation Units at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk in Louisiana last summer. 

As a 46Q Public Affairs Journalist, one of his jobs is to take photographs, but this Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) also offers opportunities to learn and showcase related skills, like writing, editing, graphic design, and media relations, all to document and promote what the Guard does, whether here at home or far away.

It’s his photojournalism work far away from home, during a deployment to Kuwait, that SGT Jelis considers his most fulfilling assignment so far, in being able to tell stories and post pictures of Soldiers that got attention back at home via the Brigade’s Facebook page or other media channels, and being able to read reactions from proud family members.

SGT Jelis started his part-time service in the Guard in 2008, while he was in college studying documentary filmmaking and photojournalism.

“I wanted to give back a little more to the community and have that personal challenge.”

While mulling his options for military service, it was the mission that gave the Guard the decisive advantage.

“The National Guard’s dual mission of both the Federal side, and the chance that you might have to deploy overseas, or work on a Federal mission appealed to me,” he says. “Also the domestic service side, the ability to, after a storm, be able to help out my local town by passing out food or working on local roads, was one of the major draws.”

SGT Harley Jelis

SGT Harley Jelis

His original MOS was 13F Fire Support Specialist, but after bringing his camera along to drill weekends to work on homework, SGT Jelis was asked if he wanted to switch to an MOS that had more in common with his studies.

So he attended the Defense Information School in Fort Meade for Advanced Individual Training for his new 46Q MOS, which requires about 11 weeks of instruction and practice.

And by the end of that time, SGT Jelis says, Soldiers are able to interview people, write a 4-6 page feature story, take the photos to accompany the story, and design a magazine template in which the story is published – all from scratch and within the span of a few days.

But the learning doesn’t end there or even at the Unit level, where a 46Q might focus on one aspect of the job, but has the opportunity to “cross train with other people. So if someone’s very good at video or very good with photography, they can work with the rest of the people in their Unit to help them work on those skills.”

SGT Jelis says this MOS also requires self-directed learning.

“There’s no ceiling with photography, he says. “There’s always something else that you can learn. You need to put in your own personal time to get better as a writer, get better as a photographer, get better at doing video.”

After his deployment to Kuwait, SGT Jelis took advantage of the Guard’s GI Bill to help pay for his master’s degree in integrated marketing communications, which, like his MOS, directly applies to his current job in marketing outreach and admissions at a mental health and addiction treatment clinic in Connecticut. 

He says experience in the Guard of meeting people who have different backgrounds helps him with the admissions side of his civilian job, when he’s talking with families of people from all different walks of life who are helping a loved one seek treatment.

The Guard definitely improved my ability to work with other people,” he says. His assignments can take him to various places or Guard events where, “I need to be able to hop in and speak with anyone, or interview random people I’ve never met before, and have the confidence to do that.”

So, if you want a part-time career that will build your confidence, visit our job board to explore the Guard’s options in fields like administration, logistics support or armor and field artillery. And for personalized advice, contact your local recruiter who can also walk you through all of the Guard’s benefits like tuition assistance, which will help you take your career to the next level.

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