Two sisters have come together in a unique unit where they are not only sisters but sisters in arms.
Serving in separate branches, sisters, U.S. Army Spc. Jessica Lee and U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Julie Lee, are both members of the Colorado National Guard’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield explosive Enhanced Response Force Package.
Prepared for the worst possible disasters, natural or manmade, both are able to serve together due to the unique nature of the CERFP. This specialized joint team is capable of assisting local, state and federal authorities in assessing the likely outcome of a catastrophic event, developing consequence management tactics, and augmenting emergency management agency capabilities.
CERFP is a rapidly deployable state, regional, and national all-hazards response team capable of providing search and extraction, decontamination, remains recovery, communications support, medical triage, and command and control.
What led these sisters to serve today is thanks to a bit of chance and a common interest. Their family emigrated from the Republic of Korea to the U.S. when Jessica and Julie were 12 and 11, respectively. Both their father and maternal grandfather served in the Republic of Korea Army alongside U.S. Army Soldiers.
“When my sister and I first talked about joining the military, my parents were very supportive,” said Jessica. “I know our family would not be here if there weren’t people who served in the Korean War. I know how much dedication and sacrifices it needs to fight in the war. Our grandfather served in the Vietnam War along with the U.S. military. He struggled so much after the war, and it took his whole life to recover. Because of that, our family is so thankful for all the Korean War veterans.”
Their father is an engineer, and their mother is a dental assistant. Toward the end of high school, they said they set their sights on the medical profession with the aspiration to both become doctors.
Knowing that the medical school application process is arduous and selective, both looked for ways that could give themselves a competitive advantage while also getting experience in the field. Their choice, then, to become emergency medical technicians, was not unusual.
“I wanted to ensure that I have true passion in medicine and spend the next couple of years studying before applying to medical school,” said Julie. “I wanted to get diverse experiences and chose to become an EMT because they are the first responders that can provide a wide variety of patient care in most emergency situations.”
Julie went on to complete training to become an EMT and immediately found difficulty finding work without any experience. It was at that point that she met military medics giving a demonstration at her school.
“In our last week of EMT school, an Army recruiter came to our class and talked about the benefits of becoming a combat medic in the U.S. Army,” said Julie. “He mentioned the Soldiers of the National Guard, which I had never heard of before, are Citizen Soldiers that are able to live life as civilians but are still able to serve the country. After I graduated from EMT school, I started to look for jobs and shortly found that a lot of EMT jobs wanted some experience beforehand, and that’s when I contacted the Army recruiter about becoming a medic in the military and also introduced him to my sister, Jessica.”
Both having heard positive things about the military from their father and grandfather, they began researching the branches and positions some more.
Jessica said she was drawn to the idea of being an Army Combat Medic. While it is the more strenuous of the two options, she liked the role because it traditionally allows for more extreme medical procedures that may happen on a battlefield. She said she felt that this would give her more of a diverse set of skills before entering the medical field. This eventually led her to joining one of the search and extraction teams where she had to learn additional skills to help rescue persons in dire situations such as a broken elevator shaft.
“I was very drawn to the fact that combat medics do a lot of hands-on medical procedures on the field,” said Jessica. “I also liked the fact that they are allowed to do procedures such as cricothyrotomy and needle chest compression that EMTs cannot perform on the civilian side.”
Julie took a more pragmatic approach and said that most doctors spend their time exclusively in clinics and traditional hospital environments. She said she felt that being an Air Force Medic would more closely align to that role. She later learned an additional benefit that she had not considered was the networking that she would gain. Since the Colorado Air National Guard provides the doctors and physicians assistants, etc. to the CERFP, Julie has been able to build strong relationships and has gained shadowing opportunities that she might not have been able to otherwise.
“I was able to get a lot of hospital experience as an Air Force medic,” said Julie. “For our last half of Air Force medic training, we rotated between different specialties in the military hospital. I was able to learn a variety of procedures and met a large spectrum of patients. Also, I had an opportunity to go to Rush Medical School as one of my trauma training and practiced procedures like chest tubes, needle decompression and intubation on cadavers. I am very fortunate to have these opportunities which I wouldn’t have as a traditional pre-medical student.”
Together, they have been in the CERFP unit for four years. Since they are on different teams, they are not always side-by-side, but they do often see each other at training events and occasionally cross each other’s paths as part of the job. In the case of Julie, she had to take the vitals of Jessica when she came out of the Hot Zone during their latest exercise to ensure her ability to continue on with the mission.
“I never thought I would be working with my sister on the same mission when we joined different branches,” said Jessica. “But I love learning about what she does on the CERFP mission and am very excited to see her every now and then to cheer each other up.”