The sights and sounds of freedom are everywhere at the Sanford International opening ceremony in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“It just sends a chill up to most of us, right up our spine,” Paul Weckman, Sanford Head of Military and Veteran Affairs, said about the military flyover, color guard and national anthem at Minnehaha Country Club.
“I think the crowd too just loves it.”
While an F-16 fighter jet flyover can buzz by the No. 1 tee box in a flash, the collaboration between Sanford Health and the 114th Fighter Wing of the South Dakota Air National Guard is months in the making. And the timing is down to the second.
“People don’t really realize that the coordination leading up to it is a lot of the leg work and getting to the flyover is really the reward,” pilot and Lt. Col. Jeremy Doohen said. “A lot of coordination. A lot of prior preparation as far as timing.”
“Really, that translates into when we’re in combat, when we’re overseas and we’re supporting the guys on the ground. It takes coordination both on the ground and in the air. It’s a replication of that.”
‘Servant heart’ in military, health care
Doohen, call sign “Dook,” is the commander of the 114th Operations Support Squadron, a group constantly training on the local flightline.
“Being around these airplanes really opens up your eyes that there’s a bigger picture outside of yourself. I learned early on in my career in the military to serve something bigger than yourself,” Doohen said.
A former nurse, Doohen says there are many similarities between health care careers and service in the military.
“One is combative, one is saving lives. So, it’s a little bit different but I will say that it’s focused on the same servant heart,” Doohen said. “We all have the same desire to serve those around us.”
The 114th Fighter Wing has been serving the community for roughly 70 years.
Its airmen are loaded with several Sanford connections.
Lt. Beth Johnson is a Sanford Health RN and Air Guard officer.
“I think that recruiting military people, you’re going to have wonderful employees. They know that chain of command. They know what leadership truly is, dedication, attention to detail and then just being held accountable for their actions. We’re a hard catch,” Johnson said with a smile.
An equipment maintenance flight chief, Senior Master Sgt. Andy Mager is proud to raise up his wife Lyndsey, a Sanford clinic director.
“Teamwork is obviously a big factor both in the health care industry and in the military industry,” Mager said. “It also takes a special individual to really put service before self, serving their community and being a part of a greater good.
“We have a lot of great individuals within the South Dakota Air National Guard but then across the military abroad that really want to serve their communities. Sanford gives the opportunity for people to do that.”
Johnson adds this about Sanford Health: “I’ve never worked anywhere else that has supported me as much.”
‘Arm-in-arm in that sacrifice’
Weckman says the PGA Tour Champions golf event goes above and beyond to recognize military service.
“And when you walk into our hospitals, you’re going to witness the same thing. You’re going to see signs that say welcome military. You’re going to see veterans clubs,” Weckman said. “Not only do we take care of veterans and work with them, but we also work very closely with the Armed Forces.”
It’s not a fly-by strategy. It’s a long-term commitment.
“A lot of times we have to put our military career over our families, over civilian careers,” Doohen said. “I think that’s why it’s so important you find an employer that’s understanding of that and they’re willing to go arm-in-arm in that sacrifice in serving our country.”
A mission landing deeply with members of each organization.
“We don’t do it for the awards, we do it because it’s the right thing to do. We need to take care of those men and women that have gone out and defended our freedoms. There’s no other way better to do that than to provide them the best medical support, provide them the best outreach programs, community programs or provide them a career at Sanford Health,” Weckman said.
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