ANG 2015 Outstanding NCO of the Year SSgt Douglas Kechijian
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. – The drive to succeed in a job he thoroughly enjoys while being able to serve others is what fuels Staff Sgt. Douglas Kechijian, the Air National Guard’s 2015 Outstanding Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, and one of the Air Force’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.
Kechijian serves as a pararescueman with the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing, based in Westhampton Beach, Long Island, New York. As a native New Yorker graduating from college shortly after 9/11, he sought a way to take his ability and skills further and found it with the Guard.
“Initially, I didn’t even know the difference really [between active, Guard and Reserve.] The more I learned about the Guard, I liked that you have the same opportunity to do things as active duty, just with a little more flexibility. Couple that with the fact that there was a Guard unit an hour away from where I grew up. I thought, ‘OK, this is a really easy decision.’”
The pararescue mission is to rescue, recover and return American or allied forces in times of danger or extreme duress, no matter what it takes. It requires being able to operate in any environment and overcome whatever obstacles may lie between the pararescue Airmen, or “PJs,” and accomplishing their mission.
“Pararescue allowed me to pursue my passion for medicine in a more exciting way,” he said. “You can do trauma medicine in the civilian world … but there are very few professions in the civilian world in which your way to get to work is parachuting, scuba diving, rappelling out of a helicopter, mountaineering. I found the ‘adventure sport’ aspects of pararescue to be just as exciting. You can do any of those for recreation, but to have a job that incorporates all of those disciplines is unique. Fortunately, I had to opportunity to do it in the Guard.”
While Kechijian was chosen among thousands of Air National Guard members for this honor, he feels that any pararescue Airman could stand in his place. For him, it’s not about the individual accomplishing a mission, it’s the mission itself.
“I just do what I do,” said Kechijian. “What I’m being recognized for, I feel you could say the same thing for any PJ, especially when it comes to the things we do downrange. We’re all trained to the same level, and sometimes different guys are given different opportunities to do what they were trained to do. I was fortunate to have that opportunity, but I’m not unique. These awards are great, of course, but they’re not why we do any of this.”
“We have a very serious job to accomplish – especially in pararescue, where lives are at stake,” said Kechijian. “We’re typically responding to a situation where potentially it’s the worst day of a person’s life, and if we’re not excellent in all we do, it could have catastrophic consequences. Sometimes I think that we can lose track that there’s a finite thing that we have to accomplish … that we need to get a result. In a war, you’ve got to win.”
Kechijian holds a doctorate in physical therapy and has integrated the physical demands of his military life with his civilian career. Applying his knowledge and skill to help his teammates improve is part of how he embodies the Wingman concept. He provides physical therapy treatment and advice to members in his unit and is also working to develop a human performance optimization program there.
“Physical fitness is a big part of my civilian career, and things like human performance, keeping people healthy and injury prevention are huge initiatives in the pararescue field. I’d like to take what I’ve learned in the civilian world and try to apply it into a tactical setting, to look at it from a sports medicine standpoint.”
Just as Kechijian supports his wingmen, he acknowledges that he wouldn’t be able to succeed without the support he receives from his family.
“I like to spend time with my family, my wife,” he said. “We both like to travel – she’s into outdoorsy stuff as well, so anytime we get the opportunity to get outside and leave the city, we do that. She’s supportive. I couldn’t do what I do without her. Between my professional obligations and Guard obligations, she’s been really patient. She wishes that I was around more often, but at the same time she recognizes that it’s an important part of who I am.”
The pararescue field places high demands on an individual’s time and energy, but Kechijian has seemingly mastered the balancing act between civilian and military life that so many Air National Guard members and their families experience. The key, he says, is to love what you do.
“Most of my hobbies involve some form of physical activity … but I don’t wake up thinking, ‘I can’t wait for the weekend,’ because I’ve got the next 30 years of my life or more to be working, so if you don’t enjoy what you do – if there isn’t some overlap between what you do professionally and personally, I don’t know how you can be a happy person.”
“When I’m with my Guard unit, or we’re on a training temporary duty, that’s fun,” he said. “Yeah, it’s also work, but I enjoy it. If we go to Arizona to do skydiving training, or Florida for scuba dive training, train on ice climbing in Colorado, I’m working when I do that, but I’m also fulfilling a hobby … there are very few jobs where you get paid to do so many things you enjoy. So I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing now. If there was something else that was more appealing, I’d be doing it.”