SALT LAKE CITY, Utah –
After two years in community college searching for what piqued his interest, James Ranstead found it in a Biology for Allied Health class with a focus on nursing and got motivated to “do school.”
He connected with an Army recruiter, only to be told there were no 68C (practical nursing specialist) slots available. He declined to join as a 68W (combat medic) because “I knew that nursing would get me to an end goal of nurse anesthesia and I would be wasting my time if I did anything else besides 68C. I knew that I wanted to get into nursing, but I also wanted to join the military,” said Ranstead.
He planned to join the Army Reserve so he could finish school, get licensed, and start practicing in the civilian world, “so it was the best of both worlds.”
Ranstead only had to wait another month before the recruiter called back with a 68C slot. He signed the paperwork and shipped to basic training with a plan - finish basic, start working as an LPN, finish prerequisites, get accepted into and finish nursing school, and then head to anesthesia school.
“Things changed quite a bit – I tell people that I ended up taking the scenic route because my mindset changed during basic training where I joined the military, sort of for myself to begin with. I was hearing the stories that my drill sergeants were telling, and it really changed my mindset and influenced me to want to deploy and to want to serve the military… and it's gonna sound super cliche and sappy… but to serve the country in a bigger way than just getting benefits from the military,” said Ranstead.
After AIT, Ranstead immediately began looking for ways to serve differently. He found his way into the 915 Forward Surgical Team (FST - now the Forward Resuscitative Surgical Detachment), which had a deployment scheduled to Afghanistan and “I knew that I wanted to be a part of that,” he said.
“I knew I wanted to go to school and keep on that timeline. But I was very willing to put things on hold to go and deploy, kind of do my part, or at least start to do my part, and also have that experience,” said Ranstead.
The FST’s mission allowed Ranstead and another LPN to cross-train into a variety of responsibilities. With only a small team of seven, “We were basically the first line after the field medics…do surgery to stop the damage and then MEDEVAC them to a Role 3 somewhere else in the country” for follow-on care, he explained.
While he typically conducted triage in the ER, managed the ICU/PACU, and facilitated patient transport to/from the flightline, during times of low patient care, Ranstead’s unit worked alongside the Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB), training the Ugandan security forces and infantry unit on the forward operating base.
“We trained them on CLS (combat lifesaving skills). It was just a ton of cross training really because we're always trying to stay ready and learn more for whatever came our way,” said Ranstead.
While deployed, Ranstead also worked with a few nurse anesthetists, “who allowed me to work closely alongside them to get more exposure, basically job shadowing. That deepened my desire to go to anesthesia school. Of course, deployed medicine is far different than what it's like [in the states], but it still allowed me to see what they do,” he said.
Ranstead was accepted into nursing school at University of North Carolina-Greensboro, but his plans were put on a temporary hold as the unit redeployed in 2020, a month before things shut down for COVID.
Ranstead mobilized in April with an UAMTF (Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force) for the COVID response for a few months, and then started the two-year journey of nursing school in August.
The day after graduation, Ranstead was offered a nursing position for the trauma and surgical ICU at Oregon Health and Science University, where he currently works.
“Right now I'm getting my ICU experience in order to get accepted into a nurse anesthesia program. Right now I'm trying to figure out if I want to do it as a civilian or if I want to do it to do the Army CRNA program, because there's benefits of doing it either way,” said Ranstead.
While he’s focused on professional development as an NCO, he’s also considering commissioning as an officer.
“I truly do enjoy being an NCO and I enjoy the enlisted corps,” said Ranstead. “But in terms of career progression, I’ve completed nursing school and have my degree and feel like commissioning is the right thing to do, and I can make an impact as an officer as well.”
Ranstead won the USARC 2023 Best Warrior Competition NCO of the Year in September and was promoted to staff sergeant in October.