When Aaron Chase, BSN, RN, an Emergency Department (ED) nurse and veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, decided to return to service and join the U.S. Air Force Reserve a few years ago, some of the younger trainees noted the age gap between them and questioned why he wanted to join.
For Chase, the answer was simple: “I’ve got more to give.”
His dedication to serving others is the thread that connects each point along Chase’s career path, from his time in the Marine Corps, to counseling adolescents to his current roles in the ED and Air Force Reserve.
“It sounds cliché, but it’s about service and taking part in something that’s a lot bigger than yourself,” he said of his decision to join the Air Force Reserve. “I have an opportunity to give back to a country that has done a lot for me, and I can contribute my expertise to a team.”
Calm Under Pressure
In 2021, Chase was called for an Air Force Reserve mission to evacuate refugees from Afghanistan and provide them with vaccinations prior to their travel to other countries.
“We got very short notice that the Air Force needed volunteers to mobilize for a refugee operation and that there was going to be a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan,” he recalled. “There hasn’t been a mission like this before, so we were building as we went.”
As they prepared to land in Kabul, the capital and largest city of Afghanistan, Chase learned that forces on the ground were attacking the plane.
“We landed under fire,” he recalls. “Fortunately, the defenses around the base kept us safe.”
Chase, the medical commander of the flight, kept calm despite the circumstances. “You wait to fall back on your training. You’ve got your team with you. You rely on your experience, your discipline and not wanting to let anyone down.”
From that point on, the mission ran relatively smoothly. Chase’s flight ended up the last in the mission and serving to evacuate 60 airmen and soldiers who had been in the country for a few months. Chase’s unit then returned to Qatar, a country on the west coast of the Persian Gulf, for a week on standby in case air medic crews were needed to respond to the crisis.
During that time, he made a meaningful connection.
“One of the airmen asked if I would be going back to Germany,” Chase said. “He handed me a cross on a necklace that belonged to a Marine who was injured in a bombing blast and asked if I could help to return it.”
Chase was able to use his resources within the Air Force, as well as social media, to identify and verify the owner of the cross. “It was cool to be able to return it to him,” he said, noting that he mailed the cross after a brief exchange of messages with its owner.
In Germany, the mission continued with vaccine clinics for Afghan refugees. “We vaccinated about 1,200 refugees for MMR and varicella in one day,” he said.
The vaccine clinic continued for about a week and a half, after which Chase returned home to New Hampshire and working night shifts in the ED.
‘Every Day is a Good Day’
Chase earned his nursing degree after his time in the Marine Corps while he was serving in the Marine Corps Reserve. At that time, he was working with children in a residential facility.
“Working with kids made me figure out that I wanted to be in a field like this,” he said. “My mother told me I should go to nursing school, so I looked into it, and it seemed like something I could do.”
He began at the Brigham in the Burn, Trauma and Surgical ICU and then transferred to the ED about three years ago. “The best part of the ED is how varied the patients are,” he said.
The teamwork has been an important part of the experience as well.
“Every day is a good day in the ED,” he said. “There are challenges, but we have the benefit of our training and the teamwork we have developed. The crew is fantastic. Everybody works well together and comes together for the patient. That’s a lot of what the military is like — you have to be able to rely on each other.”
Seeking Work-Life Harmony
In addition to managing his ED schedule, a commute from New Hampshire and his role in the Air Force Reserve, Chase is a husband and a father of six. He aims for harmony among his family and professional responsibilities rather than balance.
“Balance means everything is equal,” he explained. “I’m happier when there’s harmony. I strive to give attention where it is needed versus trying to balance everything equally.”
When he’s home, Chase can be found exercising, spending time with his sons and driving them to swim practice and kickboxing and having date nights with his wife.