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A Red Hot Career

  • Published
  • By Keri Ruiz
  • PHOENIX PATRIOT Winter 2014

When Andrew Pepin talks about his future, he describes a career path that's red hot with embers he's stoked thoughtfully, methodically and academically, every step of the way.
Pepin is a civilian firefighter with the Air National Guard's 179th Airlift Wing located in Mansfield, Ohio. He's also an active-duty guardsman who has served with the unit for the past six years. His dream growing up had always been to become a firefighter. He earned an associate degree in emergency fire services at Stark State College, which gave him the professional certifications he needed to work as both a firefighter and paramedic.

Military calling
However, a few years into his first job as a paramedic with a private ambulance company, Pepin began to take a closer look at how his older brother, Timothy, was thriving in the Army National Guard and decided to research the possibility of a military career for himself.

"Obtaining an education can be life changing, whether in climbing the military ranks or becoming an asset in the civilian sector."
- Andrew Pepin
"My brother showed me how an ordinary person can do the extraordinary in serving our country," Pepin says. "I chose the Air National Guard because I could still have my dream job as a firefighter, but there were also a lot of promotion opportunities within that branch of the Guard, including health care administration, which appealed to me," Pepin says. "That pretty much sealed the deal."

Pepin joined the Ohio Air National Guard on July 5, 2007--the day after America's Independence Day. It was a symbolic move by Pepin that made him feel both proud and excited, yet apprehensive about his unknown future. His initial guardsman duties were as a fire protection apprentice. While he was in the Guard, Pepin also completed a second associate degree in fire science from the Community College of the Air Force. He knew that supplemental education and professional certifications would help him move up the ladder into a leadership position.

Patient care in a "pitch-brown" sandstorm
His leadership as a guardsman and firefighter/paramedic was tested during two deployments to Kuwait--one in 2008 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and again in 2011 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Pepin recalls an unusual situation when his Guard fire unit was called out for emergency response.

"There was an emergency air raid and we had to respond to patients who had some injuries, but primarily were suffering from exhaustion and dehydration, which happened quite a lot over there because of the desert heat," Pepin recalls.

"It was the middle of a sandstorm, so it was 'pitch brown' as we used to call it; you could barely see your hand in front of your face," he says. "But, we found the patients, tended to them and lit flares and placed them in a large circle around them so that our emergency medical air evac units could find us."

A desire for more
Throughout his career as a firefighter and paramedic, Pepin was exposed to health care professionals on several different levels with many positive experiences. And, while he had reached the rank of staff sergeant as a non-commissioned officer, he wanted more out of his Air Force career. He knew that with a bachelor's degree, he would be eligible to become a commissioned officer with the opportunity to expedite his move up the military health care career ladder.
He enrolled at University of Phoenix in the Bachelor of Science in Health Administration degree program with a concentration in Emergency Management. He completed the program in 2012.

"Choosing this degree program helped me diversify my education and better equip me to take on additional roles in military health care," Pepin says. "The University of Phoenix program was a perfect match for me in that it allowed me to merge my experience as a firefighter and paramedic with my plans for a future career in health care administration."

Climbing the health care ladder
Pepin achieved second lieutenant rank and was selected as the 179th Airlift Wing's Health Services Administrator and Medical Service Corps (MSC) Officer. In the new leadership role, Pepin supports a range of health care provisions, from war and emergency planning to health systems design. He's responsible for overseeing operations specific to medical facility command and administration, medical material and services, patient affairs, medical recruiting, data systems design, health services training and education and much more.

"I think my story holds the simple truth that higher education can create career advancement opportunities," he says. "Enlisted military members could benefit greatly from understanding how important an education is when you're attempting to maximize your potential."

"Obtaining an education can be life changing, whether in climbing the military ranks or becoming an asset in the civilian sector," he adds. "I'm living proof of that."

Cooking up a bright future
With a new career he loves, serving his country in the military branch of his choosing, and having the full support of his fiancée, Pepin sees a bright future ahead of him. He jokes that with his new MSC officer role, he may keep more regular hours than when he was a firefighter. That would allow him time to pursue his other passions in life--craft-beer brewing and cooking.
"My future in-laws gave me a cookbook as a hint," he laughs. "Maybe they think I'll become the next famous chef like Jacques Pepín--no relation, of course." ★