Celebrating Our Veterans
In honor of Veteran’s Day, we celebrate the brave men and women among us who have served their country in the Armed Forces. We have many dedicated employees across our organization whose skills and expertise gained in the United States military have shaped their career paths, leadership, and passion for patient care. Here are just a few of those stories.
Matthew Wolpoe, MD
ENT and Facial Plastic Surgeon
United States Army Reserves
Dr. Matthew Wolpoe, Billings Clinic ENT and Facial Plastic Surgeon, spent 12 years in the United States Army Reserve, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He was able to use his advanced medical training that he received in the civilian world to care for soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors.
He says his military service made him a better doctor, that any time you are put in a situation where you are taking care of combat casualties it improves your surgical skill. The injured soldiers that Dr. Wolpoe has cared for inspire him, especially because their number one priority is their unit and getting back to their team. They don’t complain about their injuries, event amputations or other life-changing injuries.
The reserves also helped him keep his life in perspective. One of the reasons he joined Billings Clinic is because he learned through the military that he was much happier when the majority of his job was related to taking care of patients. He says, “I think I’m a better doctor and a better person for having served in the military, and I’m proud that I had the opportunity to serve our country in that way.”
To the men and women who serve our country, Dr. Wolpoe has this to say:
The men and women that serve in the armed forces now are an all-volunteer force. They represent a very small segment of our population, but yet the burden they’ve had to carry has been a very great one. Many of them have been deployed multiple times and have risked their lives for our country, and I think they deserve our long standing gratitude. I think we should be thankful for them every day, not just on Veteran’s Day.
Michael Smith, RN
Executive Director of Patient Safety and Quality Resources
United States Air Force
Michael Smith enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. He was an Aerospace Propulsion Specialist with focus on jet engines and had the privilege of working and flying on missions with the C-9a “Nightingale” Aircraft, which served as a flying intensive care unit.
The most rewarding part of his job was knowing that his work directly linked to the success and safety of so many people. His most memorable moments are from making significant repairs to an aircraft then watching it taxi to the flight line, get loaded with patients, and having full confidence that they would all be safe. Many of his team’s patients had significant burns and wounds expected during war and they deserved nothing but the best flight safety and medical care. The sense of pride this caused was unlike any other.
Michael could not have become a registered nurse without the training received in the military. One might think this a great leap- jet engine mechanic to registered nurse- but these two professions align very close together. Firstly, the Air Force taught him how to learn and achieve goals. Secondly, the theory of jet engines and human anatomy and physiology are nearly identical. Lastly, being in a training environment of “fail fast, fail often” in order to learn from experiences shaped his process improvement beliefs and led to his career as the Executive Director of Patient Safety and Quality Resources.
To the men and women who serve our country, Michael has this to say:
The fact that you volunteered speaks louder than words. We live in turbulent times and your sacrifices are so appreciated. You stand on a foundation built by exceptional people throughout our Country’s history. Thank you. There are many careers which need your expertise and experience including healthcare.
Conference Center Specialist
United States Navy
Mike Burns spent much of his adult life in the military, serving in the United States Navy. In 1990 Saddam invaded Kuwait and U.S. troops were deployed overseas. Mike will never forget that phone call, “Petty officer Burns, you have two weeks to get your affairs in order.” He prepared to ship out, but fortunately his crew was able to stay in the states.
Mike’s career at Billings Clinic coincided with his 20 years enlisted in the U.S. Reserves. He became an EMT 1 working at a fleet hospital in the Navy with a 500 bed MASH unit. Back in Billings, he used that expertise to care for patients on the hospital orthopedics and neurology floor before a stint with the EVS crew. Now Mike has the challenging duty of running the Conference Center.
One of Mike’s fondest memories of his time in the military was spending two weeks at the Royal Air Force base in England. Much like this one, the armed forces gave Mike many experiences and opportunities to learn and grow. He says that it was an honor to serve and he met a lot of neat people along the way.
To the men and women who serve our country, Mike has this to say:
I am honored to have served our country, and I’m grateful for all of the wonderful people I met along the way. Each and everyone of you should carry the same pride in knowing that you are making a difference and helping keep our country safe.
Janice McFarland, RN
Manager of General Surgery and Urology
United States Navy
Janice McFarland was a leader in Naval aviation at a time when women were scarcely seen on the flight deck. She is one of only two women who deployed to Desert Storm with a battle group of 10,000 men. She was even interviewed by CNN. Being able to fly for the United States Navy is something for which Janice will always be grateful.
Janice enlisted in the United States Navy in 1986 as an electronics technician. While deployed on a West Pac, she was sent back to the U.S. to participate in the Naval Aviation Cadet Program, a program that allowed personnel with college credits to join the aviation side of the Navy. She trained to fly fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters receiving her “Wings of Gold” and commission as an officer on October 13, 1989.
Janice says her experience in the Navy taught her to embrace checklists, the importance of reliability and safety. It strengthened her leadership skills by showing what it truly means to be a leader, especially in a male-dominated field. She now leads the team in Billings Clinic General Surgery and Urology, and her time in the military has contributed to her phenomenal management skills.
To the men and women who serve our country, Janice has this to say:
Thank you!! What you do every day may not be recognized by most people and they may never understand why you do what you do, but we are a brotherhood/sisterhood that will always be there for you. Take pride in what you do and in serving your country. You are unique and wonderful and I am proud to call you one of our team!!
Patient Assistance Liaison (PAL)
United States Army Reserves
The meaningful and life-long friends he has built during his time in the United States Army are what make Sergeant Shayne Merry so proud and humbled.
He joined the Army in 1989 and continues to serve in the Reserves, training in transportation, management and cooking. The experience of serving in the military has taught Shayne, who works as a PAL at Billings Clinic when he is not off serving in the reserves, to pay attention to details, as well as loyalty and commitment. The Army stresses ATD (attention to detail) in many aspects of training.
To his fellow military personnel and veterans, Shayne has this to say:
I would like to thank any and all of my Brothers and Sisters in Arms for the service they gave to our country, regardless of their Branch of Service.
Billings Clinic Volunteer
United States Navy WWII Veteran
Sarah Styger’s time in the United States Navy was humble but impacted her life forever. She is a volunteer at heart and a women of duty. She spent 18 months in the United States Marine Corp while the men were off at battle during World War II. She processed records for the Captain’s Office as a part of the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services).
Sarah was honored in 2014 to get a seat on the Big Sky Honor Flight, an emotional experience and break from her many volunteer engagements. As a volunteer for Billings Clinic, Sarah has helped in the Cancer Center, worked on the Science Expo, and spent hours in the office.
Sarah is grateful she could do something for her country in the days of WWII and be a part of such a major event in history. She says, “We lost a lot of men in the war, leaving children behind. I wanted to help.” Now, at the age of 91, Sarah continues to pray for her country and the brave men and women who keep us safe.