By Mrs. Alofagia Oney (Army Medicine)July 11, 2018
The U.S. Army Medical Command is known throughout the military community for medical innovation and ingenuity, world-class health care across the spectrum of operations, and for producing some of the most talented and skilled medical professionals in the world. So, when a Soldier like Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Knapp comes along, it would be safe to assume that immediate reactions about his story would be, "A medic? Wow!"
Knapp, the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center senior enlisted advisor to the hospital commander on Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve affairs, has important responsibilities to ensure safe, quality care for the non-active duty Soldiers who arrive at LRMC for medical treatment. However, Knapp is also the leader of the LRMC training program for Soldiers eager to earn the Army air assault wings. Soldiers come to him not only for his knowledge from successfully completing both the Army air assault and pathfinder selection courses, but Knapp is also a "black hat" for both specialized schools, a title referencing the esteemed headgear worn only by the certified instructors.
As a medic, these additional certifications make Knapp a rare commodity.
After returning from a deployment to Afghanistan in 2009, Knapp took advantage of an opportunity to go to air assault school at Fort Benning, Ga.
"I was the distinguished honor graduate for my class and when the school house learned I was a medic, they asked me to come back and test to be an instructor," said Knapp.
As an air assault instructor, Knapp became the medical liaison and medical expert for the instructor group. In 2010, he became a rappel master and was later offered the chance to attend pathfinder school. This Army specialty school concentrates on land navigation, aircraft rappelling and air traffic control assistance in operational site control zones. After graduation, Knapp was once again invited to test to become a pathfinder black hat instructor.
"Soldiers from nearly every [military occupation specialty] go to both air assault and pathfinder school all the time," said Knapp. "I think it's great that more and more medics are wanting to earn these patches as well.
Over the next several years, Knapp would go on to become an air assault school Phase 1 chief where he was responsible for teaching infantry, cavalry and artillery Soldiers, among others, the necessary skills to earn their air assault wings.
"It was probably different for them, your traditional maneuver Soldiers who are first in the fight, to be learning this kind of information from a medic," said Knapp. "I think it was a great learning opportunity for them to know that their medics are just as ready to get in the fight right alongside them."
Knapp became part of a certification team for the air assault course and would spend nearly nine months out of the year traveling the world to teach the course; from South Korea to Oregon to Massachusetts, Knapp lived and breathed air assault training.
Under Knapp's guidance, the Soldiers and Airmen participating in LRMC's air assault train up program are learning firsthand what it will take to pass the course.
"My favorite thing about being a black hat is seeing a Soldier come to his or her 'aha' moment where everything he or she learned throughout the course and train up finally comes together," said Knapp.
LRMC has nearly two dozen Soldiers and Airmen who are competing to earn their air assault wings at the course held in Grafenwoehr, Germany later this week.