October 6, 2016
When Richard Lawson talks with young people about their future, he sometimes suggests a stint in the military. Other times he suggests a career in the medical field. And sometimes, he suggests both. These are not just casual recommendations—he speaks from experience. Technical Sergeant Lawson is a military veteran and a member of the Kentucky Air National Guard. He is also a SpecialtyCare perfusionist.
At the age of 19, Rich found himself working as an Air Force medic—hanging IVs, inserting foley catheters, providing advanced life support—doing everything but hanging blood and handing out narcotics. It was a lot of responsibility for a young man, but Rich learned quickly that he liked the medical field and he could handle the pressure.
“The military is a great idea, especially for kids who don’t know what they want to do,” says Rich. “You learn how to follow orders, you make a decent salary, and you get the opportunity to go to some interesting places.”
During his five years on active duty, Rich flew as part of an air medical evacuation team, transporting injured soldiers to U.S. air bases across Europe. The evac team also made twice weekly flights from Europe to Andrews Air Force Base.
Typically, the soldiers they transported had already received some care at a clearing facility—they weren’t coming directly from the battlefield—but some were not far from it. One of the more difficult transport missions did not involve the battlefield at all; it came in the wake of the 1986 La Belle discotheque bombing in West Berlin that left two U.S. soldiers dead and another 79 injured, many with severe burns.
During his tour, Rich also gained certification as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and flight instructor. After coming home and as a member of the Air Force Reserve, he enrolled at Ohio State University to study perfusion. While working toward his degree, he was called up again. It was during the First Gulf War. He served stateside and eventually received an honorable discharge.
With this full range of experience and a perfusion degree under his belt, Rich joined SpecialtyCare in 1998. He worked at customer facilities in Louisville and Elizabethtown before joining the surgical team at Owensboro Health Regional Hospital (KY) in 2014. Scott Brooks is the perfusion clinical manager for that region. According to Scott, “Rich is an outstanding perfusionist. He came to us in Owensboro with a tremendous amount of experience. He’s very humble, very strong clinically, and very conscientious. Rich carries a lot of weight with the doctors. They have a lot of confidence in him and how he conducts business.”
Today, in addition to his full-time responsibilities at Owensboro Health, Rich is a member of the Kentucky Air National Guard. It makes for a busy schedule. Most weekends he is either on call for surgery or training for the Guard. Recently, he learned that he is being deployed in October 2017, but he doesn’t know where he’ll be stationed. “On a base, somewhere sandy,” Rich said, meaning somewhere in the Persian Gulf. But this time, his work will be non-clinical in nature.
Rich will serve as the non-commissioned officer-in-charge of the chaplains—a chaplain’s assistant. In this capacity, he will play an important role in spiritual care, with the goal of serving the whole person. Given the prevalence of battle fatigue and combat stress—and soldiers enduring long deployments in the gulf region—boosting morale and protecting the emotional and psychological well-being of the men and women on the base certainly will be a challenge.
Rich told his commanding officer that SpecialtyCare will be supplementing his salary during the six-month deployment next year, which prompted an invitation for Rich to speak at a recent signing ceremony where Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin pledged the state’s commitment to the Employer Support of Guard and Reserve (ESGR) program. The ESGR is a Department of Defense agency dedicated to ensuring that National Guard and Reserve members are able to succeed in their civilian careers.
In the rotunda of the Capitol, Kentucky ESGR Chair, Allen Youngman, a retired Army major general, said, “At a time when our military forces are so dependent on Guardsmen and Reservists to carry out their global responsibilities, Gov. Bevin’s willingness to set the example as an employer sends a special message.”
Rich echoed the importance of supportive employers and discussed SpecialtyCare’s supplemental paid leave benefit during his turn behind the podium. Additionally, he nominated Mark Kyle, his manager at Owensboro Health, for the ESGR Patriot Award, which recognizes a supervisor’s support to the soldier and his or her family by way of flexible schedules, time off before and after deployment, and leaves of absence, if needed.
Upon hearing of the award, Susan Byrd, SpecialtyCare’s Senior Vice President of People, said, “We are proud of Mark and Rich and all of our military personnel. A number of our associates serve in our armed forces and we want to provide additional benefits to them while they are away on training exercises or active duty. We are very grateful for their service to our country.”
When Rich returns from the Persian Gulf in March of 2018, he will continue to serve as a perfusionist for the people and patients of Owensboro, and he’ll have eight months left in the Reserve before he’s eligible to retire from military service. His discipline and dedication over the years has resulted in not just one, but two, meaningful and impressive careers.
Rich Lawson is a perfect example of the values, leadership, and skills that our veterans and military personnel bring to the civilian workplace. It’s an honor to have him on the SpecialtyCare team. We salute his great work and selfless commitment to his patients and his country, and we wish him all the best as he heads out on his next adventure.
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