By Steve Larson
Public Affairs Office
Staff Sgt. Gene Cokers goal in life is to one day become an Army surgeon. To that end, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving at Fort Riley with the 4th Brigades 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery as a combat medic.
He later enlisted in the Kansas Army National Guard and
served in Manhattan with the 130th Field Artillery Brigade while pursuing
degrees in microbiology and clinical psychology as part of his pre-med
curriculum at Kansas State University.
Recently, the Florida native had the opportunity to
expand his hands-on medical experience under the Strategic Medical Asset
Readiness Training program. This line of effort is part of the U.S. Army
Medical Departments Medical Skills Sustainment Program under the direction of
the Office of the Surgeon General of the United States Army.
The two-week training was just the sort of experience
Coker had been hoping for.
I was a student with the SMART training in hopes of
obtaining more civilian-side experience outside of the extensive military experiences
I have, said Coker.
Coker said the class was conducted in Camden, New
Jersey, at the Level 1 Trauma Cooper Hospital.
Level 1 means all doctors needed for any trauma are
at the hospital and available for all situations, said Coker.
While the SMART program had been in existence since
2018, this was the first class to train in the Camden location. Medical Command
plans to continue expanding the program, which includes personnel from all
Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard components, to more medical facilities
across the United States.
The training was hands-on with actual patients in an
effort to give a more concrete sense of self efficacy to those who will be
deploying, said Coker, and to give Guardsmen an additional point of more
detailed, continued training to retain core skills.
Coker, who is currently assigned with the 177th
Area Medical Support Company, was the only Kansas Guardsmen enrolled in his
class, which ran the gamut of medical career fields.
All of them are from medical-related military
occupational skills, from x-ray techs, lab techs, combat medics, and
administration, said Coker. From what I was told, it included physician
assistants and doctors, as well.
During the training, Coker discovered there are
similarities in what the military and civilian medical practices do, but there
are also some differences.
In the Army, we deal with mostly acute injuries in
real time, while on the civilian side the most you see are chronic long-term
illness, said Coker. I also thought, as a combat medic, you worked on a level
of speed at which most did not operate due to the nature of the injuries seen
in combat, yet the EMT and paramedics I worked with were the same or even
faster, which left me reacting faster than I thought I would have to.
I remember when we arrived to a call to find a women
who was having an extreme asthma attack and they had her on the CPAP machine,
loaded onto a gurney and in the vehicle within 10 minutes, said Coker. I was
pleasantly surprised to find I was able to keep up with them despite not having
had any training or experiences outside a military setting.
Coker urged anyone with an interest in an Army medical
career to get with their units to learn about the approval process for the