News: From operating room technician to Army aviator
Story by Staff Sgt. Regina Machine
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – Most students in college have a part-time job, but few have one as a surgical technician with training they received from the U.S. Army. Even fewer Army aviators can claim they received training to perform orthopedic amputations, plastic surgery, neurosurgery and brain surgery.
Maj. Jonathan Steinbach, an aviator with the Wash. National Guard, C Company, 1st Battalion, 168th General Support Aviation Regiment (Air Ambulance) assigned to Third Army/ARCENT Aviation Task Force Raptors, has a background as a surgical technician and serves as an Army aviator.
“I was an enlisted surgical technician in the Army Reserve,” said Steinbach. “I worked as a surgical technician at a private hospital while I was a cadet in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at University of California–Berkley.”
It wasn’t until the summer before his senior year that the Spokane, Wash., native decided he should go active duty as an infantry soldier. The infantry was what he thought he would be good at, but his ROTC advisor encouraged him to become an aviator instead.
“It sounded interesting, flying helicopters, so I did a flight physical and requested it,” Steinbach stated. “I was then branched aviation in the regular Army.”
Even though going from the operating room to the cockpit of a helicopter was a unique transition, Steinbach completed it with ease.
When Steinbach completed his regular Army commitment in 2003, he moved to Washington for work and spoke to the battalion commander of the local National Guard headquarters, inquiring about where he was needed the most. The battalion commander told him that he was needed with C Company, 1 Battalion, 168th GSAB. So he put his uniform back on again and returned to aviation.
“I left the medical corps as an enlisted soldier and became an aviation officer,” Steinbach joked. “Some would say I am a glutton for punishment.”
Steinbach, however, does not consider his decision to switch career fields to be punishment.
As the Task Force Raptors liaison, he works to shape the mission and set appropriate expectations with their clients. The unit’s mission is to provide air movement support to leaders and distinguished visitors in Third Army’s area of responsibility.
Although being an aviation liaison can prove to be time consuming, it does not stop the pilots from maintaining proficiency with their skills.
“Maj. Steinbach and I are both current UH-60 Black Hawk pilots,” added 1st Lt. Jason Miller, a Shelton, Wash., native and deputy Aviation Task Force liaison also assigned to Wash. National Guard, C Company, 1 Battalion, 168th GSAB.
They maintain their currency by flying missions at Camp Beuhring. There they replace other pilots and fly all of their scheduled missions to reach their mandatory flight hours.
He is proud of the job that the members of his unit do here as well as at home station.
“The best thing is being associated with the professionals in the C Company, 1 Battalion, 168th GSAB,” stated Steinbach. “The young men and women in the flight company make me incredibly proud to be a soldier and an aviator.”
“When I go out to the flight line with a very important person and I see the crew chief standing at attention and rendering a salute under the rotor disk of a raging Black Hawk, my chest swells with pride,” Steinbach stated.
Steinbach has not truly left his humble operating room beginnings. As a civilian, he is a sales representative for a less invasive surgical treatment. In the operating room, Steinbach refers to himself as an instructor pilot.
“I teach surgeons how to do surgery with a robot, and I teach nurses and technicians how to give the surgeons what they need while keeping the patient safe throughout the procedure,” Steinbach added.
When a procedure goes well and a patient was spared a large, painful incision, Steinbach said he is proud that the surgical team worked so hard to learn new technical skills to better their patients.
Steinbach mentioned that he considers himself fortunate to be able to use the two career skills he has learned while in the Army to assist others, and credits his fellow aviators for his continued success here.
“As a staff aviator, I do not consider myself to be the best pilot,” Steinbach added. “The other pilots and crew chiefs are so patient and generous with their skills and their experiences, it makes me proud to be in their community.”
Through coordination with host nations, understanding of the local terrain, and proficiency in their skills, the aviators in charge of the Aviation Task Force, Third Army, and its allies develop bonds, which stand to improve regional security and peace throughout Third Army’s 20-country area of responsibility.