Brotherhood of veterans serves at Sanford AirMed

Bismarck rotary wing hangar was a natural landing zone for longtime colleagues

Brotherhood of veterans serves at Sanford AirMed

A group of Sanford AirMed employees in Bismarck share a bond that goes far beyond that of typical coworkers.

Jay Knopp, Jason McEvers, Monte Myers, JR Carter and Troy Balkowitsch all work together saving lives in rural North Dakota and beyond. Before they arrived at Sanford though, each one of them dedicated decades of their lives to the military.

“A combined total of 132 years,” said Knopp, a Sanford AirMed pilot and retired chief warrant officer 5.

“That’s a lot of aviation experience,” said McEvers.

“That’s a lot of crappy food,” said Myers to a chorus of laughter.

From military to civilian

With the National Guard right down the road, Sanford AirMed became a natural landing zone for experienced pilots and mechanics looking to transition into a civilian career. Being local also had other benefits as well.

Monte Myers, who hails from Mandan, North Dakota, retired from the Army with a rank of chief warrant officer 5 after serving for 35 years as a pilot. His military training naturally led him into his current career, and he says his time serving in this region is one of his biggest assets.

“After flying around North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana for all those years, you really get to know the weather patterns up here, which are our biggest challenge,” Myers said.

Jason McEvers of Grafton, North Dakota, is a retired lieutenant colonel, and like Myers he currently pilots the Sanford AirMed helicopter. He also found the transition to AirMed very comfortable because of the equipment.

“The biggest benefit is actually being able to fly this exact same helicopter in the military,” McEvers said. “We’ve been flying this thing for nine years, which is pretty fortunate to actually not even have to transition from a Black Hawk or an Apache or a Chinook to start flying this thing.”

The working relationships among these five go way beyond their time at Sanford. McEvers went to flight school in 2001 alongside Jay Knopp of Sentinel Butte, North Dakota. Knopp and McEvers flew in Bosnia with Balkowitsch, a mechanic at Sanford AirMed and a retired sergeant first class. Knopp also flew in Iraq with North Dakota National Guard Staff Sgt. JR Carter of Glendive, Montana.

“In this whole industry, if you’re not in the military, you’re probably the minority,” said Carter.

The pipeline from the military to Sanford ended up flowing pretty smoothly for these friends and colleagues.

“JR and I were one of the first ones there and as these guys were starting to retire from the military, we kind of knew who was over there, who’s retiring, and hey, we’re going to need a pilot at this time. So we were the ones that were pushing the scouts, ‘Hey, what about this guy?’ And encouraging them to apply,” Balkowitsch said.

Not a ‘typical office friendship’

Whether it be war zones, flood relief, firefighting, or emergency health care, these five men have seen their fair share of difficult situations. It’s no surprise then that they say they wouldn’t be as good at their current jobs if not for the training and experience they’ve had in their previous roles.

“Another thing that the military gave us was that decision-making process of what is safe and what is not,” Knopp said. “The biggest thing you got to worry about really is weather and scene calls. But I treat a scene call like we would any other unimproved LZ (landing zone) we might have flown into inserting troops.”

Their bond also breeds a trust that goes beyond the workplace.

“We’re fortunate enough to have that relationship. We all know each other’s kids. We all know each other’s spouses. And a lot of us know each other’s parents,” McEvers said. “It goes way beyond just the personal relationship of us five sitting here and knowing each other. It goes into siblings, parents, kids. It’s intertwined through generations.”

Proud to be with Sanford AirMed

This isn’t your typical office friendship. And the Sanford AirMed rotary wing hangar isn’t your typical office either. Which suits these guys just fine.

“I like to fly. I like flying helicopters. It’s enjoyable. I like the mission. I like the people. I’m proud to say I fly for Sanford. It’s a great job. It’s a great community. It’s a great company. And the people are just phenomenal,” McEvers said.

“I would echo what he said. Sanford runs, in my view, a first class aviation operation, whether it’s helicopters or airplanes,” said Myers. “They’re safety oriented. And that transitions down to the line pilots and everybody here – we don’t take any chances. I know what it takes to maintain aircraft and to keep them flying. I know what it costs, and Sanford does it. That’s not even ever in question. And to me that’s a big deal.”

Patients all over rural North Dakota and the Upper Midwest can take solace knowing that this team is on call. And that they will do everything they can — using all of their experience — to take care of patients in need.

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Posted In Bismarck, Rural Health, Veterans