Applying pressure to gunshot wounds, managing the shock of injured Soldiers struggling to survive and quickly administering medications amidst life or death, fast-changing medical conditions – are all things with which retired Green Beret Roland Paquette is extremely familiar.
Paquette, who fought the Taliban as a Soldier and medic in Afghanistan with a US Special Forces unit, is now saving lives as a physician assistant in the emergency room at the University of Texas County Hospital.
Despite the seemingly self-evident contrasts between a combat environment in Afghanistan and a civilian hospital in Texas, Paquette says that there are profound similarities between the two.
As a Special Forces combat medic, Paquette had a razor-sharp focus on keeping injured comrades alive during the crucial “golden hour,” that period during which MEDEVAC helicopters and emergency military doctors were most likely to save the life of a critically injured Soldier.
“Trauma is trauma whether you are in the desert or in a multi-million-dollar hospital. There is not much difference. Now I have a world of resources at my fingertips. Surgeons are two minutes away, and any resource you could possibly think of is there,” he said.
Under the supervision of an attending physician, who often communicates from a remote location, Paquette now treats a wide-range of medical conditions, from heart attacks and strokes to broken limbs, lacerations and even some gunshot wounds. While there is naturally a much lower threat of gunshot wounds at home as compared to combat, Paquette does regularly draw upon his combat experience to treat serious injuries.
Green Berets are often referred to as “quiet professionals,” as they are not known to talk much about their combat experiences. Not surprisingly, Paquette was somewhat reluctant to discuss his own sacrifice and experience in the warzone. However, being by no means a stranger to combat injury and trauma, Paquette said that his combat experience both inspires and informs his current mission in the hospital.
Paquette was on-the-move on patrol with his Green Beret team in the Afghan desert in 2005, when an enemy-planted IED struck his vehicle. His unit was operating in the Helmand Province on a special, high-risk counter-ambush mission.
“The hardest part of guerilla war is fighting the bad guys. You want to get them to show themselves, then you can gain some ground,” he said.
His unit had made plans to be in a local village where enemy fighters were setting up to attack; the idea was to turn a planned enemy ambush into an advantage.
“We were out on patrol and somehow the bad guys knew where we would be driving. Luckily, I was the most severely injured in the group. Our gunner was ejected and injured his leg. A passenger up front got a concussion,” he recalled.
In the attack, Paquette lost one foot and severely damaged the other foot. He now walks with two prosthetic legs from his thighs down to his knees and feet.
“I had a traumatic amputation of one of my feet, and the other was severely mangled,” he said.
“I don’t remember what it feels like to walk without prosthetics. Recovery was initially hard and fraught with disappointment. For every two steps forward, I would make two-steps back. This is something I deal with on a daily basis,” Paquette explained.
Like many Green Berets trained with a specific set of unique warzone-relevant skills, transition from war can bring its challenges. For instance, despite Paquette’s combat-tested medic expertise, he still needed to complete all of the requisite courses to formally become a civilian physician’s assistant
.For Paquette, this was hardly a deterrent. After working for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, Paquette decided he would help injured civilians as a physician assistant, a key way to leverage the extent of his “medic” experience from the warzone.
He then spent several years finishing pre-requisites for a physician assistant program and completing clinical work as part of his training. He attended the University of Texas Health Science Center to earn his current credentials.
Although Paquette did often use his expertise as a combat medic, he explained that all Green Berets are fighters and Soldiers first – as needed – depending upon the combat situation.
“Everybody in the Special Forces has a primary job, which is to be a Special Forces Soldier if you are in a hostile fight. My job as a medic was second to everything else,” he explained.
For Paquette, it has been a long journey from his early days as a student in a Special Operations prep course prior airborne school before attending rigorous Special Forces selection. He graduated from The Special Forces Q course as an 18D medic in the Green Berets.
Rolands wife Jen Paquette, passionately supported and stood alongside her husband while he was deployed. She later volunteered for the Green Beret Foundation, where she is now Executive Director.
The Green Beret Foundation, headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is a special organization committed to helping Green Berets in virtually every respect. They help treat and support injured Green Berets and also assist retiring Special Forces/Green Beret members as they transition from combat to the civilian sector.
My husband and I felt like our time in Special Forces as servants to our country and community was cut short at no fault of our own. We had to figure out how to contribute again and to have purpose. The worst thing that can happen to a Green Beret is not that he loses his legs. Its that he can't find his purpose. The wives are similar. I do this through the GBF (Green Beret Foundation) and he does it through his work," Jen Paquette said.
"Green Berets have substantially more casualties then other SOF units with substantially less resources. It's a problem- a problem that requires us to think unconventionally about our business of supporting Green Berets and their families to balance important community values, traditions and history that must be kept intact while obtaining just enough exposure to raise awareness and funds to support an overburdened community," Jen Paquette added.
----To visit the Green Beret Foundation and learn more about the organization Click HERE----
While quite happy to have transitioned into a circumstance which allows him to use his skill to help others, Roland Paquette at times feels like his combat days were not that long ago; he has weathered the rigors of transition and found occasion to add tremendous value to the civilian world by saving lives – just as he did behind enemy lines in combat.