Longtime pilot, veteran takes final Sanford AirMed flight

Emergency medical helicopter crew calls their job a ‘fulfilling mission’

Longtime pilot, veteran takes final Sanford AirMed flight

Hovering around 50 years as a pilot, Gary Dykstra is finally rotating out of service at Sanford AirMed in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“If you’ve been around aviators, you find out that aviators never lose that itch, that desire to fly,” Dykstra, who grew up on a farm in Marion, said.

He adds working in health care is “one of the things that I’ve always wanted to do mainly because the Guard unit that I belonged to in Rapid City was a medevac unit.”

The 70-year-old has been rescuing or relocating patients for Sanford following a long career as an officer in the Army. In the Army, Dykstra operated the Huey, OH-58 and Black Hawk helicopters.

“One of our best pilots. He’s been with us for 12 years,” Kerry Berg, Sanford rotor wing manager, said about Dykstra. “We were fortunate to get him as he was retiring from the National Guard.”

‘We recognize veterans’

Sanford AirMed has a helicopter in Sioux Falls as well as Fargo, Bemidji and Bismarck. Its fleet also features several airplanes available to patients in need at any time.

“We’re taking some of the best clinicians in the world to those patients and bringing them back, and our job is to do that safely,” Berg said. “So, it’s an extraordinarily fulfilling mission.”

Search veterans jobs: Find your next landing zone at Sanford Health

Many of Sanford’s flyers, from rotor to fixed wing, are military veterans. The organization prides itself on not only caring for service members but hiring them as well.

“We speak in a language that a lot of people don’t understand, they can’t associate with because only veterans know what the other veteran has been through,” Dykstra said.

Berg adds that, “Sanford’s a great organization. We recognize veterans and highlight veterans within the organization. I think it just shows the kind of organization that we are. For those of us that work here, we know that already.”

‘Quite a career’

For Dykstra, now on the tail end of his time with AirMed, those efforts mean a lot.

“A lot of times we did our PRs (public relations showcases) and had a lot of kids that came up and wanted to look in the helicopter. I really enjoyed that because I tell the parents or whoever showed up, ‘Hey I’m just trying to recruit.’ I’m trying to get somebody to take my job and be involved and to find out that aviation and this service that we’re providing is something that’s very damn special,” Dykstra said.

“I look back on it and I say, quite a career.”

A career of service that’s washed over the community.

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Posted In Bemidji, Bismarck, Emergency Medicine, Fargo, Rural Health, Sanford Stories, Sioux Falls, Veterans