Piqua grad serves as Air Force flight nurse


Courtesy photo.

TROY — Troy resident and United States Airforce Captain Nate Copen recently returned from a five-month stay in Germany as part of his job as a flight nurse for aeromedical evacuation.

Copen, 33, graduated from Piqua High School in 2004 prior to earning an associate degree in nursing from Edison State Community College. He later completed the RN to BSN program through Ohio University.

Thanks to his parents, Ron and Connie, Copen said he became familiar with and interested in the medical field from an early age.

“I grew up around the hospital because my mom and dad both work in healthcare,” he said. “They worked for Piqua Memorial when I was a kid and, being their only kid, I was around it a lot and had a lot of exposure to it. The idea of having the ability to physically make a difference for somebody is something that I thought would be a really cool skillset to have.”

After graduating from Edison, Copen worked at Dayton Children’s Hospital and Upper Valley Medical Center before deciding to join the military in 2016.

“I just wanted to take my career to another level; as a nurse, you start to want more for your career and what you do,” he said. “A lot of my friends have served, in all four branches, and when I went to visit one of them, I was able to witness the comradery and see how well they work together. I thought, ‘This is what I want for my life and my career,’ so I went to a health professions recruiter and started the process.”

After joining, Copen began the “lengthy” process of becoming an Air Force flight nurse. After being commissioned and taking his oath, he completed five weeks of basic training for healthcare professionals at Maxwell Air Force Base, in Montgomery, Alabama.

From there, Copen reported to his squadron at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, where he was prepped to become a flyer.

“At this point, I was already a nurse, I had the skills and degree, but now I needed to understand what it’s like to be at a high altitude taking care of patients,” he said.

After several months of flight and specialty schools, Copen reported to the Wright-Patterson 445th Aeromedical Evacuation squadron and spent four months flying missions as a type of “residency,” after which he earned his wings.

Copen said the responsibility of each mission varies. He said he has participated in both foreign and domestic trips.

“There are ‘live’ missions out of Andrews Air Force Base in D.C., where you accept the patients who are coming from overseas, then disperse them back to their bases throughout the United States,” Copen said. “You can also deploy, which means you go to different places depending on where you’re needed. I went to the main hub, Ramstein Air Force Base, in Germany and that is one of the biggest hubs for aeromedical evacuation with the biggest missions, as far as patient loads.”

Copen said Ramstein, where he was stationed during his five-month deployment, is the final hub before taking patients back to the United States.

“Those patients are from all over, wherever our military is,” Copen said. “They go to Ramstein, where they’re stabilized, and from there we bring them to Andrews Air Force Base.”

Copen said the reach and muscle of the U.S. Air Force’s aeromedical evacuation crews is extensive and plays an important role in the United States Military.

“Just to put it in perspective, there is absolutely no limit to what we’ll do to get our troops home,” he said. “We can get a troop from one part of the world to the United States in under 24 hours. Even if it’s just one patient, but that patient needs to be taken back to the United States, we will take our aircraft, put the patient on it and fly straight back to the U.S. Our troops are very well taken care of medically, and we get them to where they need to be.”

Copen said his time in Germany was productive and efficient. He noted the training he had received beforehand, along with a strong sense of comradery, led to successful missions.

“At no point did I feel too stressed; because of my training, I felt comfortable in my environment and confident taking care of every single patient I came into contact with,” he said. “I always think of the quote, ‘When you’re under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training — train well.’”

While on his tour of duty, Copen said he flew flags on his aircraft in honor of his home and community.

“When you’re overseas, you get a lot of time to think and I was missing home, thinking about what I could bring back to the city of Troy to show them my appreciation for their support, so I flew them flags, which were with me all five months of my deployment and were on the jet with me through each mission,” he said.

Copen returned from his stint in Germany about a month ago, and will soon return to being a traditional reservist.

“Aerovac isn’t like your typical commercial reservist that you hear on about where it’s one weekend a month, two weeks a year,” he said. “We are doing a lot more than that. Along with our one weekend a month and two weeks a year, we have a lot more to maintain as flyers, with a lot of competencies, so we fly a lot.”

While Copen said he flies often, he noted that his squadron puts a big value on their reservists’ family, professional, and personal lives.

“Our squadron is very pro-family. They want to make sure our family life is good and our civilian life is good, so everything we do is voluntary,” he said. “They calling it ‘managing your tripod’ — you’ve gotta make sure you’re managing your family life, civilian career, and maintaining your military standards.”

Along with his reservist responsibilities, Copen will begin a new job at Troy’s Kettering Hospital this month, where he will work in surgical services in the operating room and the post-anesthesia care unit.

Copen lives in Troy with his wife, Haley, and their 16-month-old son, William. He looks forward to continuing to serve the United States in his role as a member of the Wright-Patterson 445th Aeromedical Evacuation squadron.

“The military is definitely not a ‘me’ and ‘I’ type of job. I just play a very small part in this very big mission; we are one big collaboration and one big family,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s a great humbling experience to be able to serve the mission and be able to bring our troops back to their loved ones.”