“We’re here together for those 24 hours, in those 12 hours,” Marlys Weichel, registered nurse, said. “So we get to know each other quite well.
They know each other well, and they share a lot of history, as they’re all veterans, five of whom served together.
They went from serving their country to serving their community through Sanford Airmed.
“I was in the military for 35 years 33 of those,” Monte Myers, pilot, explained. “I flew helicopters and airplanes ended up at the end of my career as the standardization instructor pilot for the North Dakota guard.”
“I was in the military military for 21 years. I started as a Huey mechanic, and then eventually to the EC-45,” Troy Balkowitsch, mechanic, explained. “During that time, I was a crew chief on those and full-time mechanic.”
“I started out as a Black Hawk mechanic and Jason gave me my first flight actually, long time ago,” JR Carter, mechanic, recalled. “The and then I transitioned to be airmed mechanic when these guys went to Bosnia.”
“I started out as enlisted for six years, and then I was commissioned after six years and spent the next 14 years in the Army Nurse Corps,” Weichel recalled. “I retired after 20 years. My husband’s in the military too, and so it got to be hard on the family.”
“I became a medic, and I had some pretty, pretty sweet duty I was stationed in Bamberg, Germany, for all of my active duty time,” Kelly Dollinger, flight paramedic, said.
During this time, Kelly Dollinger got his first taste of ambulance work and never looked back.
“I had a 21 year long flying career for the military,” Jason McEvers, pilot, shared, “All over two wonderful deployments overseas. Numerous trips to the to Asia, and West Africa and Central Europe, and then got to work with wonderful people.”
“In 2001 got the opportunity to get selected to go to flight school. And was just finishing up my Warrant Officer course when 911 hit and that changed everything,” Jay Knopp, pilot, shared.
Jay spent over 23 years active duty, finished his enlistment and wanted to be home, so he joined the National Guard, retiring after 28 years of service.
And finally, Steve Brousseau, also a pilot for Sanford Airmed, spent 13 years active duty – and three, year-long combat tours.
As former service members working for Sanford Airmed, they’ve shared experiences through different units, locations, and duties.
“We have that common bond we can talk about,” McEvers said. “And I guess talk about former things that happened and what we have in common and how we can relate that to our job that we’re doing today.”
And the bond they share is crucial in times of hardship, such as the recent loss of Senator Doug Larsen, a fellow aviator, and his family.
“We had the ability to talk together as aviators and talk about you know, Doug, as a person, and Doug as a pilot, and just kind of decompress and talk about those things,” McEvers said. “And understand it a little bit more and, and grasp the amount of loss and just talk about it.”
And the jobs they perform today with Airmed are a continuation of the work they performed in the military.
“We just came to work here, and when you put on different uniform,” Carter said. “I mean, we still want to take care of our patients as we took care of our customers in the military and, and fly safe and get everybody back home. It’s kind of what we do every day. And that’s what we did in the guard full time.”
Monte says just knowing that everything is taken care of properly is key.
“We just have to make the right decisions in the front for aviation,” Myers said. “and they make the medical decisions in the back, we kind of work together as a crew. And if weird things happen, we try to figure out a solution amongst ourselves as a as a crew, and not throw it all on just one person. And we have the saying what all to go one to say no.”
That is exactly how this tight, cohesive team runs a smooth operation.
“I just can’t stress it enough how exceptional the people are and how we get along,” McEvers said. We have to we’re the pilots are here for 12 hours a day with the nurse and paramedic, the nurse and paramedic are here 24 hours a day living with each other. So, you better get along.”
And humor is one of the keys to getting along in the military, or civilian life.
“I mean, you’re not getting shot out on this job,” Myers said. “The flight nurses will throw stuff at you once in a while.”
This group in veterans has a lot in common … from traveling the world while serving in the military, to experiencing loss and success, to serving in the military, but ultimately.
“There’s nothing like home,” Knopp said. “North Dakota is unique in its in itself with all the different weather we get, and then the different seasons and the hunting and the fishing, and there’s the people, it’s like your whole state is one giant community.”