Adventures in radiography: growing up on a farm near the small town of Ringgold, Ga., Sgt. First Class Jeffery Vaughn, M.S., R.T.(R), never imagined he'd be sidestepping land mines in Cambodia or taking x-rays in Belgium.
"It's certainly a world away," laughed SFC Vaughn, who now lives in the Washington, D.C., area with his wife Jennifer and daughters Gracie, age 6, and Abby, age 4.
SFC Vaughn's journey into the radiography profession wasn't planned. He pursued marketing in college, receiving a bachelor's degree from Jacksonville State University in Alabama in 1988 and a master's degree in human resources management from Troy University, also in Alabama, a few years later.
During his undergraduate years, SFC Vaughn joined the Army Reserves to help pay his tuition. He enjoyed the Army life so much that he enlisted for active duty in 1990. The Army gave him a choice of career tracks: radiography or paralegal work. He opted for radiography, thinking it offered him more advancement down the road.
"I had never really thought about radiology too much," admitted SFC Vaughn. "I could have turned it down and continued my current job as a buyer for a department store, but when you are making $19,000 a year working 80 hours a week, you have to find something better."
He was assigned to Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where he studied radiography for six months. He did his clinical training at Madigan Army Medical Center in Ft. Lewis, Wash., and graduated in September 1991.
Shortly after graduation, SFC Vaughn received orders to head up the radiology department of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, the central command of NATO military forces, in Mons, Belgium.
The department was small with only three R.T.s, but its equipment was not lacking. SFC Vaughn says the film-based system was similar to the ones he used in the United States. His main challenge? Overcoming the language barrier. Many people in Belgium speak French. A two-week crash course provided SFC Vaughn with enough language skill to get by, and he developed more comfort with the language during his next two years in Belgium. (Ask him if he can still speak the language today and he's quick to say "no.")
His duties in Belgium were light-years away from his hectic department store position back in Atlanta. He worked Monday through Friday and was on call one week a month. Weekends were his to enjoy.
"I absolutely loved it there. It was two hours from Paris. I got to go to the French Riviera, and visit the Netherlands and Germany," he said.
He also met his future wife overseas in 1992 when she visited her aunt, who was chief of nursing at the hospital where SFC Vaughn worked. The couple has been together ever since, marrying in November 1993, a week before the groom reported for duty back in the States.
In 1997 SFC Vaughn re-enlisted in the Army, left Georgia and arrived at a combat support hospital in Ft. Campbell, Ky. Unlike his other posts, which had clinical sites, SFC Vaughn was prepared to be deployed, but never was. "When you are in a combat support hospital, you need to be ready to go at all times, no matter where you might go."
Happy with life in the Army, SFC Vaughn re-enlisted again and did a three-year stint at Tripler Medical Army Medical Center in Honolulu in 1999. As floor supervisor of the radiology department, he was actively involved in imaging and coordinating the flow of patients.
"I enjoy diagnostic radiography," he said. "I get to go to the operating room and do portable exams throughout the hospital. Unlike other modalities, you're not so much staying in one place."
The Killing Fields
One of SFC Vaughn's most unique and memorable travel experiences was a 17-day special assignment to Cambodia. The Army needed someone to train the radiologic technologists at a hospital and evaluate patients who'd been injured by land mines.
"When I got there, they were using about 10 times the amount of radiation necessary to get the same image," he recalled. "And they were hand-dipping films. I had to read up on that quite a lot."
The department's antiquated methods didn't end there. "The only thing I had for a dryer was a ceiling fan. Drying time took about 7 minutes," he said.
During this short assignment, 10 additional land mine victims arrived at the emergency room, including a 4-year-old boy who had been playing with a mine. "It had blown up, taking parts of both arms and his eyes, and peppered the rest of his body," SFC Vaughn remembered. "It certainly changed my perspective on life." So did a short jaunt to Cambodia's infamous "killing fields."
SFC Vaughn and his colleagues visited one of the provinces where Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot hid during the 1970s. Signs on the side of the road warned that the area had not been cleared of land mines.
"You had to be careful where you stepped. You walked and held your breath. You walked where other people walked," he explained.
A visit to the nearby International Red Cross Prosthetics and Rehabilitation Program left SFC Vaughn even more appreciative of the advancements in health care in the United States. He learned that the prosthetics in Cambodia were made from plaster of Paris, a far cry from titanium that is used in developed nations. SFC Vaughn also saw braces made for a 2-year-old with polio, another scene that left an indelible mark on his mind.
"When I came back to Hawaii, it took me a little while to gather my thoughts. Nowadays, I try not to take things for granted," he said.
Back on the Mainland
After his stint in Hawaii, SFC Vaughn volunteered to teach radiography at Ft. Sam Houston in Texas. "I kind of wanted to test the waters; maybe this was something I wanted to do after I retired from the military," he said.
SFC Vaughn liked teaching very much, in some aspects even more than he enjoyed clinical work. "You get a sense of accomplishment when the light bulb goes off and your students get what you're talking about."
Today this well-traveled Georgia native works as a radiology manager at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the nation's capital, a post he has had since June 2006. He runs the day-to-day activities for the department, which boasts about 250 employees and patients from all different walks of life. While he enjoys his latest challenge and the opportunities it presents, he is less involved in patient care and admits he misses it. However, the job does allow him to keep abreast of all the latest technologies.
"You have to stay up with the changes in the field or you're going to fall by the wayside," said the former ASRT military delegate.
Time To Relax
When SFC Vaughn's not traveling across the globe for the Army, he visits interesting locales such as Canada, Lithuania and China, where he and his wife adopted their two daughters. He's also an avid golfer and dreams of playing in Scotland some day.
At the moment, a simple trip to Wisconsin is the only thing on his travel itinerary. Although it might not be as glamorous as his previous destinations, SFC Vaughn is quick to point out that it's where he'll get to relax a bit, and he welcomes that opportunity.
By Kelli Miller Stacy, Contributing Writer
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|Author:||Stacy, Kelli Miller|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2007|
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