In 2002, Pat Tillman left a successful football career with the Arizona Cardinals to join the US Army. He was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. The official story was that he was shot by enemy forces during an ambush, but it was later revealed that he may have been killed by friendly fire. Family and friends created the Pat Tillman Foundation in 2004 to honor Pat’s legacy and pay tribute to his commitment to leadership and service.
Between the two of them, DJ and Dustin had over 27 years in the military prior to entering physician assistant training at MEDEX Northwest. Both served with the US Army, where they received medical training and became medics deployed throughout the world.
Dustin Golding spent his military career stateside between Fort Bragg NC, and Fort Lewis WA. In between, he had three deployments overseas: Iraq in 2004-05, and Afghanistan twice. He attended Airborne School for parachuting, and was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg before being deployed to Iraq.
During his 7½ years with the Army, Dustin trained as a Health Care Specialist—a Medic—providing trauma-related and primary care in Afghanistan. There he worked as the Aid Station Noncommissioned Officer. Back in the US he attended Jumpmasters School in Fort Benning GA. This elite training led to a supervisory role as a Platoon Sergeant.
Dustin’s third deployment was to Afghanistan where he was responsible for managing multiple aid stations. This gave him an opportunity to work directly with MDs and PAs, inspiring him to return to higher education and studies in civilian life as a physician assistant. “In many ways MEDEX was a perfect fit”, says Dustin. “Historically, MEDEX has an appreciation for veterans. What’s more, my family is one hour away from the Yakima satellite in Tri-Cities, WA. “
For Dustin the didactic year proved challenging. “I’m really eager to get out and see patients; to work hands-on.” Looking ahead past his clinical year he wants to work in primary care or family practice. “I like variety, and my first job as a PA will have to be family friendly”, he says.
“Being one of the Tillman Scholars is a high honor. I’m excited to be part of a network of leadership and community of scholars.”
DJ Smith grew up outside Detroit MI but moved to Tampa FL as a high school freshman. After his sophomore year of college he joined the US Army. He soon discovered that he was not a good fit for the conventional career Army and, after a year and a half, transferred into Special Forces where the military made greater investments and there were more opportunities to grow.
“I spent 3½ years as a demolitions expert in Special Forces out of Fort Lewis, and then was selected to become a medic,” recounts DJ. His recruitment as a Special Forces Medical Sergeant was, in part, driven by a shortage across the Army. “There were supposed to be two medics for every unit of 12. In reality there was one medic for every unit.”
The Fort Bragg-based training was rigorous. “This was the toughest academic experience of my life,” he says. “Here was the military training people who knew nothing about medicine, and there was a large failure rate. One third were successful.”
DJ had been in the US Army for 8 years and Special Operations for 8 years by the time 9/11 happened. After that came a succession of overseas deployments including the Philippines in March 2002. “For five months I worked with a team training the Philippine army in their efforts to combat Al Qaeda affiliates operating among the southern islands.”
He spent 2003 to 2005 in Australia working with Aussie troops on an exchange program centered around special operations tactics and medicine. After that he was assigned to a Special Mission Unit that was deployed in teams of 6 to 25 to undeveloped theaters. In some of these settings he was the only medic supplying services to his fellow soldiers. “This was a daunting task and a big weight to bear,” says DJ. “There were no hospitals or medical infrastructure, so I was operating with autonomy. It was all about problem-solving.” Reflecting on this difficult task, DJ is characteristically upbeat. “It was a humbling experience but there was no better job in the world.”
After 20 years in the US Army DJ Smith retired in August of 2012. He started his online course in anatomy and physiology as the lead-in to MEDEX Northwest PA education in March 2012. And why did he choose MEDEX for his PA education? According to DJ there were three reasons. “First, it’s the geography. I love Washington state with its mountains and water,” he says. DJ has been married to his high school sweetheart for 20 years, and they settled in the Seattle area to raise a family.
Second, he chose MEDEX Northwest for its reputation. “MEDEX is the second oldest PA school in he nation,” he says. “Their commitment to military veterans is solid. They are genuine in wanting to transition veterans to civilian life.”
Third, DJ sees that MEDEX values the past experience of all applicants. “Other PA schools let that slip,” he says.
Like Dustin Golding, DJ has one more year left to his PA education—the clinical year. Looking ahead past his 2014 graduation DJ thinks he’ll work in emergency medicine for about five years. “This was a strong suit of my military training. Responses are automatic no matter how devastating the injury,” he reports. The training and drills allow an objective response. After putting in his time in the ER, he imagines moving into primary care and family medicine, where he could make steady and significant investment in patients.
Both Dustin and DJ will receive $13,000 from the Tillman Military Scholarship to apply to their education. In return it is expected that they participate in an annual Tillman summit of scholars, and invest in an online presence with the organization. Most likely they will be asked to partner with non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity and Team Rubicon. The latter is a non-governmental organization formed by veterans to act in rapid response to national emergencies, often prior to the appearance of FEMA. This requires self-sufficiency and a strong sense of a personal mission, something drilled into soldiers.
MEDEX Northwest is proud to have Dustin Golding and DJ Smith as part of our team. They are a part of a long line of US military veterans who have been essential to our tradition from the start.