JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
Not many people can say they’ve received awards from every branch of service in the military. Through hard work, dedication and a love for his job, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ryan Folks, 192nd Medical Group health systems specialist, 149th Fighter Squadron medical element NCO in charge, and aerospace medical services technician, achieved just that.
“Although we may have not had the best of everything, we made the best of everything,” said Folks.
According to Folks, his humble beginnings are what made him who he is today.
From the time he was born, until his high school years, both of Folks’ grandfathers taught him to not take things for granted.
“I learned to always treat people the way you want to be treated and to try to make a difference,” said Folks.
Beginning of a career
According to Folks, he initially wanted to build racecars for a living, but ended up getting a heart for people somewhere along the way.
“Divine intervention stepped in and next thing you know I wanted to do something in public safety, whether it be fire, police or emergency medical services but I didn’t have the money to do it,” said Folks. “I found a job where I could be paid to do it all and that’s when I enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard.”
After joining the U.S. Coast Guard and finishing basic military training, Folks was sent to U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Chase in San Diego, California, where he spent the first 4 years of his career.
“I started working as a mechanics assistant but we were called firemen or firemen apprentice. It dates back to the days of steam engines; it was our job to keep the fire going,” said Folks. “I knew I wanted to do something medical, but there was a two-year wait, then they closed the school.”
While on the Cutter Chase, Folks was recognized for his hard work and received his first achievement medal, the U.S. Coast Guard Achievement Medal.
“The first achievement medal was very humbling,” said Folks. “I felt as if I was just doing my job, but they saw that I could wear many different hats. I’m happy to help out anybody who needs it when they need it.”
From the Cutter Chase, Folks continued in the reserves and was transferred to San Francisco, California. He was cross trained from admin and personnel work to medical work and was sent to corpsman school and oversaw medical readiness for troops.
Working with other branches of service
“I met somebody pretty amazing and decided to follow her to the East Coast,” said Folks.
After a year and a half stationed in San Francisco, Folks moved to Massachusetts with his new wife and was assigned to a port security unit.
“I was sent to independent duty corpsman school, which is basically being a medical provider,” said Folks. “On top of doing medical stuff, they sent me to a lot of training in Camp Legume, North Carolina. My last stint with them was an eight-month deployment to the Middle East.”
During that time, he was exposed to working with different branches of service, as his job was to provide waterside security to high valued assets and cargo ships going in and out of the port, as well as seeing patients out of the clinic.
“The cool thing about medicine is that it’s universal,” said Folks. “People are going to get sick, they’re going to slip, trip, and fall and it doesn’t matter what uniform you’re wearing. It’s one team, one fight. This led to the 2nd achievement medal.”
During his deployment, the Navy recognized him for a job well done.
“I was the only coast guard corpsman that went with my unit and they primarily had me work out the clinic,” said Folks. “They also needed a medic to provide medical coverage for the waterside security team, so with my law enforcement background, they said, ‘Folks, you’re our guy.’”
Change of pace
After almost 10 years of service in the Coast Guard, Folks made a life changing decision to separate from the military.
“[My wife was also an] active duty military member and it was becoming hard for us both to be co-located without one of us being gone all the time,” said Folks. “She was tasked to go to school in San Diego and I knew if I was to follow her, I’d be deployed right away. I decided it was my time to go back to school.”
Folks’ inactive ready reserve status lasted about a year and a half. During that time, He stayed home with his daughter while also going to school full time for nursing.
They would later find out that his wife received orders back to the east coast again but this time, to Virginia. Unfortunately, all the hard work Folks had put into his school work would not be able to transfer with him.
Finding a purpose
It was a Saturday morning in his Biology class when Folks received a phone call from his wife, that his daughter had hit her head and was knocked unconscious.
His wife and daughter had been at a playground when the accident happened. As they were rushed into an ambulance, they realized the stroller they had with them would not fit in the back of the emergency vehicle.
“They ended up throwing it in the back of a firetruck and said, ‘hey, just come pick it up when you get discharged,” said Folks. “The paramedics that took care of her were awesome.”
After his daughter was discharged from the hospital, Folks was not only able to thank the emergency responders personally, but they gave him a tour of the station.
“This experience kind of rejuvenated my love of wanting to help people again,” said Folks. “I wanted to be like the guys that were there for my family, I want to be able to do that for somebody one day.”
In July of 2011, the family moved to Virginia and due to the great experience with the emergency medical team, Folks did research and found an emergency medical services program to attend.
Back to work
“I realized I also missed wearing a uniform,” said Folks. “I’m going to get back in, but I’m going to do this right.”
Folks enlisted into the Virginia Air National Guard and immediately ran into issues as none of the credentials he earned during his time in the Coast Guard or civilian schooling would transfer. Although he was an independent duty corpsman with a nursing background and one semester away from a paramedic’s degree, Folks was mandated to go back to tech school and start from the ground up.
After working his way back up in the ANG, he was assigned NCO in charge of the squadron medical element, which led Folks to receive a full time position with the 192nd Medical Group.
“The opportunity arose to deploy, around this time my wife decided that being married to me and juggling two careers wasn’t working out,” said Folks. “It is what it is. It’s been my driving force now.”
According to Folks, the deployment was exactly what he needed. He was able to mentor junior troops and was able to have more hands on care with patients, which is what he was most passionate about. He was also able to apply the paperwork knowledge he acquired from his Monday through Friday job as a health systems specialist.
“Having just served with Tech. Sgt. Folks while deployed, I got to witness his professionalism and work ethic first hand,” said Lt. Col. Michael Schaner, 149th Fighter Squadron commander. “He is absolutely the best of the best, as you can’t beat his vast experience in multiple services, positive attitude in everything he does, and willingness to put the team before himself.”
After returning from deployment, Folks was awarded the Air Force achievement award, NCO in charge of the year and overall guardsmen of the year awards.
Now with a new home and all his awards under his belt, Folks is hopeful about what the future holds.
“Your time in the military is really what you make of it,” said Folks.
Folks is eligible for retirement from the Guard in five years or add another eight to that for two retirements. According to Folks, he also has options to go back to school for more certifications in doing what he loves in a clinic or flying and is now a nationally certified paramedic.
With options for his future, Folks is leaving it up to his faith.
“I know I’m not the one driving this bus, I know God is good and I’m just going to try my best to stay in tune and just enjoy the ride,” said Folks.