By Mr. Lorin Smith (I Corps)May 19, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- Staff Sergeant Keven Blackwell uses lingo some Airmen might not be accustomed to like "fourth point of contact," "high speed" and "hooah." That's because Blackwell is a former Army medic now serving in his role as an Air Force network infrastructure technician with the Western Air Defense Sector. The computer maintenance Airman was named McChord Field's Professional of the Week last month.
His road from the Army to the Air Force is a story about changing interests. He joined the Army in 1995 to one day become a flight medic. His Army career would include an assignment to Germany, where he moved up the ranks, maxing out physical fitness tests and compiling a record of being a good Soldier. In 1999, he went to the promotion board and made sergeant in less than four years - impressive at a time when medic promotion scores were typically at their limit. Thanks to hard work, diligence and luck, a slot opened up for flight medic's training and off Blackwell went to get his certification.
Everything seemed to be going fine in his life until he arrived at what he thought would be just a normal tour at then-Fort Lewis a month after Sept. 11, 2001. He joined the 54th Air Ambulance Company in the 62nd Medical Brigade, but realized he liked providing medical care to the guys on the ground, in the action, Blackwell said. When the 62nd deployed to the Iraq border in 2004, he was named the NCOIC of medical evacuation operations at Camp New York in Kuwait.
"After that deployment, things started to change," he said.
As he learned more about certain medical professions, he found his interest leaning more to becoming an X-ray technician. Due to regulations at that time, he wasn't able to complete the reclassification, and decided to get out of the Army in 2006. His life took another turn and he started a new career working as a certified ophthalmic assistant as a civilian.
"It was the longest two-year break of my life," Blackwell said. "I had been in the Army for 10 years, and I only had 10 more years till retirement. I needed to get back in."
The Department of Defense allows prior servicemembers who want to rejoin the military to choose any branch. Because he had a good civilian job and a wife from Centralia, Blackwell wanted to stay in the South Sound area. He had once wanted to be a flight medic, but because of the changing economy, he said that a new career centered on computers could set himself apart after retiring from the military.
"Everything in our culture evolves around computers, so if you have a computer background, you always have a job," Blackwell said. "So I went to the Washington Air National Guard recruiter at the Tacoma Mall, and said I want a marketable job for when I retire."
So Blackwell was off on his next adventure to put on the blue suit with Air Force staff sergeant rank, and take the new career path as a network infrastructure technician with WADS at McChord Field. The sector's primary mission of guarding America's skies is the conduct of aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning in homeland defense, civil support and security cooperation to defend and secure the United States and its interests. His job, within that mission, is to keep the unit's network and computers running, including providing assistance to users updating their passwords and helping set up work stations.
"Its interesting work and I'm never bored," Blackwell said. "It's always a challenge and being prior medical, I still have a lot of learning to do."
The past three years has been a positive experience for the Tumwater native. He is a physical training leader in his section, and helped a troop lose so much weight that other people in the unit have taken notice and are asking what's the secret.
"You have to be committed to get off your fourth point of contact," Blackwell said. That kind of language is synonymous with many Soldiers-turned-Airmen. "I'm hard-wired Army; I can't completely ever change that."
Regardless of the words he uses, his drive to never stop learning and motivate others is what earned him a spot as McChord's Professional of the Week, which recognizes outstanding leaders on the base. Blackwell's supervisor Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Hollis referred to Blackwell's unlimited potential and inspiration to excel within the unit as the driving impetus for why he earned the recognition.
"He is a fast learner who has been instrumental in maintaining the Global Command and Control data link to higher headquarters," Hollis said. "He is the section's primary safety monitor, ensuring all personnel are briefed on the latest safety information as well as identifying and repairing safety hazards within the work center. He is a tireless professional."
The future is bright for Blackwell. He plans to pin on technical sergeant rank in December, ending a long period of having been an Army sergeant and Air Force staff sergeant for more than nine years. And after retirement, Blackwell either wants to combine his expertise in medicine and computer maintenance to eventually get a job fixing hospital and medical equipment, or go to X-ray technician school. Either way, his careers in the Army and Air Force have taught him the skill sets he needs to exceed.
"This has all been worth it," he said.
Lorin T. Smith: email@example.com