By Joshua Cohen
Vermont National Guard Public Affairs
When Staff Sgt. Claire Johnson, a combat medic, joined the New York Army National Guard, she did not anticipate the course her military career would take.
“I originally enlisted in the New York Army National Guard when I was 17, right out of high school,” Johnson explained. “My dad was in the military, so he always pushed me in that direction, I never really knew I wanted to be in the Army, I knew I wanted to be in the medical field first.”
In 2015, Johnson attended Army Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and Combat Medical Specialist Advanced Individual Training at Fort San Antonio, Texas.
After serving in the New York Army National Guard for a year, Johnson transferred to the District of Columbia Army National Guard where she continued with her military and medical training. This is where Johnson obtained her paramedic qualifications through a civilian program while simultaneously becoming familiar with the Blackhawk helicopter.
“After that, I went through another civilian program with the Army for my critical care certification,” Johnson added. “I was in Chicago for two months working with burn and trauma surgeons and other flight medics getting our certifications.”
Deployed to Afghanistan from 2018 to 2019, Johnson said the operational tempo allowed for partnership training. “It was a great experience to train with the personnel and medics from other countries,” Johnson said. “For a few months we trained Afghan Army flight medics, running through scenarios with them to be ready for situations.” We helped them prioritizing equipment for the number of patients they could carry in their Mi-17 helicopters. We also helped them to make the most effective use of the supplies to provide treatment for as many patients as possible.”
After the deployment, Johnson decided to move to Vermont and transfer to the Vermont National Guard.
“I made a color-coded spreadsheet of the education benefits offered by each state; I decided to move back to the Northeast to be near family in New York and Vermont was a state that offered 100% tuition benefits to guard members.”
Soon after arriving in Vermont, Johnson was assigned to the State’s COVID-19 pandemic response. “I helped set up medical equipment and facilitate the movement of equipment that was brought in from across the State, units came together and built an entire functioning hospital in three days,” she explained.
On temporary orders, Johnson now assists recruiting by visiting local high schools and teaching students how to perform emergency first aid. “We have been going to area high schools and teaching students stop-the-bleed classes, use of tourniquets, and basic first-aid while providing a military exposure they may not otherwise have,” said Johnson. “It has been a different experience, talking to a high school class of 30 students challenged me to become a better public speaker.”
With 382 flight hours, Johnson looks forward to her next deployment. Johnson recently completed flight medic instructor training and will soon transition to begin training new flight medics and crew chiefs.
“When I first started in the military, I never imagined I would be where I am now.”