When Kentucky National Guard Maj. Patrick Howell prepared for a recent 10-month deployment to Poland to help fight the global pandemic, he knew he had a long list of concerns.
He worried about missing moments with his family. Birthday parties. Anniversaries. Holidays.
He worried about missing moments at his job as the human resources director for HealthWorks Medical in Paducah. Meetings. The day-to-day interactions with staff. Keeping the practice humming.
And yet, all of those concerns at the office worked themselves out, thanks to his boss, Dr. Kyle Turnbo, who held Howell’s job open for him. That spirit earned Turnbo the Patriotic Employer Award from the Office of the Secretary of Defense in July. The award recognizes employers who support National Guard or Reserve members during their service and deployment.
“Patrick is a critical member of our executive team, and to be without him was not easy,” Turnbo said. “We had a lot of people in our organization to step up to try to fill that void, but we were certainly elated to have him back.”
Howell nominated Turnbo for the award. “It was totally unexpected,” Turnbo said. “I didn’t really think that we did anything that most employers shouldn’t do. Patrick is serving our country, sacrificing his family time and personal time to support and defend our country, so the least we can do as employers is to support that in any way possible. I really wasn’t expecting recognition of what I consider to be our patriotic duty.”
Howell’s unit, the 1163rd Medical Company Area Support, deployed to Poland in June 2020 to provide medical services such as diagnostic labs, basic triage, dental treatment and routine medical readiness requirements, according to a news release from the Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs division. The unit focused on providing support during the pandemic and provided COVID-19 testing. The location also became a designated COVID-19 vaccine distribution center for the U.S. Forces in the area. The unit returned home in April.
Howell, who has served with several other smaller deployments, said the Poland trip was the longest one away from home.
Howell joined the National Guard as a way to pay for college expenses at Murray State University, where he majored in biology, and then he went on to pursue an MBA. He didn’t expect to stay in the National Guard for 15 years and didn’t expect the Guard to allow him so many opportunities to grow as a leader. He is now pursuing a doctorate in health care administration from the University of South Carolina Medical School.
“There’s just so many opportunities that are unique in the military, from leadership opportunities to real-world experience that can assist you that’s unique to the military and not easy to find in the civilian world. I feel like these opportunities, and these experiences have really set me up for success to offer unique perspectives and experiences.”
Howell kept in touch with his family and his office, HealthWorks Medical, through virtual teleconferencing during his deployment. He appreciated being able to stay informed at the office, and that’s another reason he nominated Turnbo for the award.
“I think recognition was due, just for going above and beyond what they’re required to do for me in a situation like this,” Howell said. “I think it’s an effort worth highlighting and commending, and I really appreciate having the opportunity to be involved in a company and with an owner who has that support for his employees.”