Building Promise and Possibilities for Junior MEDEVAC Pilots
Childhood dreams and a passion for life-saving service has inspired three medical evacuation pilots at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command's Aeromedical Research Laboratory to become what they longed for as young Soldiers – to serve as mentors for aeromedical evacuation officers, which the Army designates as 67 Juliets, or 67Js.
Lt. Col. Jason Yellman, USAARL's deputy commander, Capt. Danielle McDermott and Capt. Zachary Herbert-Burns, both research pilots in USAARL's Flight Systems Branch, are bringing their years of expertise and experiences to help USAARL bridge the mentorship gap for junior 67Js.
Yellman's desire to lead 67Js comes after two decades as a MEDEVAC officer and multiple years spent deployed supporting combat operations saving lives. Looking back on a moment that influenced the rest of his career, Yellman recalled the time he sought mentorship from the only 67J medevac aviator on Fort Riley, where he was stationed at the time.
"I called and explained, Sir, I'm a lieutenant interested in pursuing this career field," says Yellman. "Would you have a few minutes or hours to sit down and talk with a young bright-eyed officer on what the 67J career means?"
Yellman wondered, as do many aspiring to be Army aviators, what is a 67J? 67Js are Medical Service Corps officers fully equipped to perform a spectrum of tactical, operational and strategic air medical evacuation tasks within a theater of operations. 67Js can also perform key roles instructing at service schools or training centers, aviation maintenance management, staff section support, safety protocol development and research and development positions, all of which contribute to the advancement of aviation modernization and flight medicine.
Becoming a 67J begins with the MSC basic officer leader course and then flight school at the Army's home of aviation, Fort Novosel. During periodic pauses in training, officers spend time conducting career development and building professional relationships through a mentorship program sponsored by the Medical Evaluation Concepts and Capabilities Division. Officers receive these opportunities through long-standing partnerships with MECCD, the Department of Aviation Medicine and the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence. It is with the support of these three organizations that USAARL can shape and guide the natural development of 67Js while training.
"We want to leverage those natural lulls in training and provide maximum opportunity for those young lieutenants to get an understanding of what the research spaces are or what the medevac career can offer them as they are getting ready to step off to the very first unit of assignment and provide more depth and insight for them," says Yellman.
Another mentoring initiative underway at USAARL is peer-to-peer engagement. Herbert-Burns, who teaches at the Black Hawk training program a few times a month, says that these are rare opportunities that not many commissioned officers have, let alone the chance to instruct and speak directly to 67Js.
"I really enjoy the opportunity," says Herbert-Burns. "It helps me in my current job and helps future 67Js who are attending flight school see all the possibilities available to them when they are 5-10 years into their careers."
Herbert-Burns often uses his own story to mentor future 67Js. His passions have always been emergency medicine and a career in flying. While attending the University of Colorado Boulder as an ROTC cadet, he learned about possibilities as a medevac pilot in the Army. Though he initially looked at reserve opportunities, he persevered and was selected for active duty as a medical service officer, eventually earning the MOS of 67J.
"I was not too keen on the idea of being in the combat arms professions in the Army," says Herbert-Burns. "I thought, â€˜What better way, if I don't necessarily want to jump into medical school, than to apply my interests in saving people's lives and do that in a helicopter?'"
Stories like Herbert-Burns' provide Soldiers with an authentic perspective of what it takes to become a medevac officer. However, some of those stories are inspired by real-life experiences, like McDermott who formed her attachment to the medevac mission in between growing up around her parents who served as officers in aviation units, and as a teenager, experiencing life-saving care in a medevac helicopter to get the rapid treatment she needed. Today, she is furthering her passion to help others along their path in aviation medicine.
"I absolutely love the medevac mission and love to explain to people how to get there," said McDermott. "It's a very unique opportunity, but only a few dozen every year get selected."
While the 67J field is unique, McDermott says there is uneven information across commissioning sources about the field. She clarifies that information typically begins with an Army data call when officers can decide to branch into medical services. If accepted, they can apply for the Army's flight program with letters of recommendation, a flight physical and additional administrative information that gets decided on by a review board. For community building, officers can follow the 67J Facebook group to learn about command changes across Army aviation, promotion information, individual leader highlights and board information releases.
Whether inspiring future 67Js with their own stories or guiding them through the phases of a 67J career, USAARL's medevac pilots are impacting the lives of young officers every day.