War on Terrorism

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Face of Defense: Soldier Brings Life Experience to Service

By Army Sgt. Tanjie Patterson
3rd Sustainment Brigade

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, May 14, 2013 – Many enlisted service members join the military right after high school, but Army Spc. Neil Hood, a health care specialist here with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, gathered life experience first.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Spc. Neil Hood stitches up a patient at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, March 21, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Tanjie Patterson

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Hood was born in Montclair, N.J., and moved to Orlando, Fla., when he was 15. After high school, he earned a bachelor’s degree in humanities at the University of Central Florida.

He worked a number of different types of jobs — in a coffee shop, watering plants and gardening, and working at a convenience store, among others.

“I worked many jobs during and after college, but once I started a family, I realized that I needed insurance, something more stable, and I wanted to do something different,” he said.

Hood said he originally wanted to join the Marine Corps because his father, grandfather and cousins were all Marines, but he couldn’t do so because of his age. At age 35, Hood elected to enlist into the Army.

“I waited a while for a job that I wanted to become available, so once they offered me the job as a medic, I took it,” he said. “I was excited and nervous all at the same time, because I had done nothing medical prior to me joining the Army, but I also looked forward to learning something new.”

Hood attended basic combat training at Fort Benning, Ga., and advanced individual training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he graduated with honors. Now he is assigned to his first duty station at Fort Stewart, Ga., but he’s currently deployed here.

The father of two -- a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter -- said the change was drastic.

“Transitioning from working in a retail environment to working in health care was a huge change for me,” he said, “but it helped me have an appreciation for learning again, because it had been about 11 years since I’d been in college.”

Hood works at the clinic here, screening patients for the physician’s assistant and treating minor symptoms. When he’s not working in the clinic, he’s providing direct medical coverage for convoys throughout southern Afghanistan.

“I get a great deal of satisfaction from taking care of patients,” he said. “I feel like what we do as far as helping take care of people is a noble pursuit, and I feel great about it.”

When he’s not aiding the pain of fellow soldiers, you can find him surrounded with friends or watching movies.

“Being a health care specialist doesn’t allow for much free time, but the little time that I do get, I like to spend it with friends,” he said. “The best part about being deployed is that I’ve got to meet a lot of different people from around the world, and I’ve made some new friends also.”

His short-term goal is to be promoted to sergeant.

“I want to become a noncommissioned officer so that I can mentor young soldiers,” Hood said. “I feel like I have a lot to offer when it comes to development and communication as well as relationship building.”

Hood’s ultimate goal is to be accepted to the Army’s Interservice Physician Assistant Program. The IPAP program allows qualified officers and enlisted soldiers the opportunity to become a physician assistant. Upon completion of the program, graduates earn a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska and they also receive a commission as a first lieutenant in the Army Medical Specialist Corps.

“I would love to become a physician’s assistant serving in the military,” he said. “The Army has gifted me the desire to stay in the medical field.”

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