by Zach Read - firstname.lastname@example.org
Pediatric respiratory therapist Mark Hall joined the Florida Army National Guard one month after his seventeenth birthday. He was a high school senior.
Hall had been around the Guard his entire life – his dad was full-time Active duty with the Florida Army National Guard, headquartered in St. Augustine, and his mom was a civilian employee with the Guard.
“My mother’s boss, General Charles Willis, swore me in,” says Hall. “Most people are sworn in by a captain at the recruiting station. I gave my first salute to a General.”
Hall spent 32 years and 11 days with the Florida Army National Guard, the D.C. Army National Guard, and the North Carolina Army National Guard. By the time of his retirement from the North Carolina Army National Guard last year, he was averaging, on a monthly basis, one weekend drill, three to four additional days in uniform, and several nights per week doing military work at home, all while working for the North Carolina Children’s Airway Center at the North Carolina Children’s Hospital.
“Service is something I’m proud of,” he says. “And it was also a lot of fun. I met some of the best friends I have through the Guard.”
During his career, he performed many different roles, accumulating greater responsibilities and higher leadership positions. He also had several deployments. In 1989, he went to Honduras on a medical outreach mission. In 2007, he went to Moldova, a small landlocked country between Romania and Ukraine, for a Department of Defense project called Partnership for Peace, where he helped train Moldovan Special Forces. Most recently, in 2011, he spent one year at Camp Arifjan, in Kuwait, with the 113 Sustainment Brigade out of Greensboro, North Carolina, where he focused on medical operations and contingency planning across the Middle East, in the Central Command Area of Operations.
“We prepared for everything that could happen,” he says. “We had to make sure there were enough medical people in the right places to provide the appropriate amount of medical care no matter what situation arose.”
A Team Behind Him
Before Hall left for his year-long deployment in 2011, plenty of details needed to be worked out relating to benefits and other areas of his job. The team from Human Resources at UNC Health Care, he says, made his transition as smooth as it could have possibly been.“You have a lot on your mind during that time,” he says. “It can be unnerving. I had 20 years with the state and I didn’t want to jeopardize missing some step that would make it difficult for me coming back. But the folks in HR made the transition totally seamless. A team of HR experts explained each step of the process for me.”
Throughout his career in the Guard, Hall has felt fortunate to work in a medical culture in which military service is respected. In his leadership position as a senior NCO with the Guard, he often served as an intermediary between Guard members around North Carolina and their employers, who weren’t always supportive of employee deployments and sudden call-ups.
His own experience being called to duty could not have been any different.
“More than anything else, what’s stood out through my deployments has been the support I’ve received from UNC Medical Center, the departments I've worked for, and my colleagues,” he says.During most his time with the Florida Army National Guard, he worked at UNC Hospitals. He recalls one instance in which his unit, the Florida Air Ambulance Unit, was mobilized for riot duty in Miami. He was working in the neonatal intensive care unit when he received an order go to Miami in the morning.
“With that short of notice, the department kicked in and my colleagues were there to cover my shifts while I was gone,” he says. “It was incredible.”
During Y2K, Hall was with the Air Ambulance Unit in the D.C. National Guard. At that time, no one knew how the rollover would impact computer systems, so his unit was mobilized to assist with the Park Service Police, D.C. Metro Police, and military aircraft such as Blackhawk helicopters. If something were to go wrong, Hall and his unit needed to be available with Vietnam-era Huey helicopters, which weren't dependent on modern computers to operate.
“We spent that New Year’s Eve at the Pentagon on a helipad, but again it was a case where people on my unit at UNC came in and covered for me,” he says. “In any of my roles at UNC, at any time, I’ve never received negative feedback from my department, and there was never animosity from my colleagues.”
In 2011, when Hall went to Camp Arifjan, the Children’s Airway Center needed a replacement for him as a temporary backfill. It was understood that when Hall returned from deployment, he’d be back in his position with the center. Partway through the deployment, however, the backfill fell through. Rather than seek another person to fill the role, his team took on extra work to cover for him until he returned.
“I’ve been at UNC for 24 years,” he says. “I’ve had amazing support from my friends, coworkers, and managers. I’ve been very fortunate.”
Serving His PatientsHall’s passion for serving has been paralleled by his desire to serve patients across North Carolina. As a respiratory therapist, he’s worked in the neonatal intensive care unit; the pediatric intensive care unit; fourteen years with Carolina Air Care, during which time he traveled to outlying hospitals by ground ambulance or helicopter to pick up children or premature infants; and in the Children’s Airway Center for the past eight years.
Today, Hall helps manage and maintain home ventilators for approximately 40 children around North Carolina and surrounding states.
“I love what I do,” he says. “The Children’s Airway Center is one of the most prominent in the country, and we serve families from all over the region. One day I’m seeing kids in clinic in the morning and later that afternoon I’m helping with an ENT surgery, doing bronchoscopies, managing and helping get ventilators and home care set up so that a child may be discharged, and training families on how to use the ventilators.”
Hall has noticed that his military service has helped him build connections with the families of many of his patients.
“Quite a few of my regular patients of the Children’s Airway Center are from military families,” he says. “They’re very happy with the care they get in Chapel Hill, and because of my military background, I’ve developed a very special bond with them. Whether it’s mom or dad who has served, we’re able to talk the same language and share stories. It makes it an open relationship. For them, specifically, I view myself not only as a health care provider, but also as a liaison, trying to advocate for them and their needs.”
UNC Health Care one of 15 recipients of the 2014 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award
The Freedom Award is the Department of Defense’s highest recognition given to employers for exceptional support of Guard and Reserve employees. The 2014 recipients were selected from 2,864 nominations received from Guardsmen and Reservists for going far beyond what the federal law requires to support their military employees. Read more about the Freedom Award. UNC Health Care has a tradition of physicians, staff, and students who have served or are currently serving in the military. Read about trauma surgeon Amy Rezak Alger, North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center director Bruce Cairns, chief of abdominal transplant surgery David Gerber, neonatologist Martin McCaffrey, Surgical Intensive Care Unit director Sean Montgomery, medical student Eric Strand, and pediatric surgeon Timothy Weiner.