Ashley Richards’ entire family was born, worked and stayed in Niagara Falls, New York and the surrounding area. But, not Richards. She saw the Army Reserves as a way out of town and into healthcare. After graduating from high school in 2005, Richards wanted to be a part of, “something that was larger than myself, but I didn’t know what that may look like.” That’s when she joined the Army Reserves—better, she determined, than the Marines because, “at least the Army had tents. I didn’t want to sleep on rocks.”
She trained as a certified surgical technician because, when asked if she had an aversion to blood, she answered, “no.” For the next eight years, she was part of the 1982nd Forward Surgical Team. In November 2011, she was deployed with her unit to the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan.
“We did emergency field surgery on our soldiers, as well as coalition forces from Poland, Jordan, Czechoslovakia, France and Canada, and service animals, too” she explained about her deployment.
While her first impressions of the field were that it was very cold and boring (November through January were off-season for fighting due to the snow-blocked mountain passages), the heat turned up in February. Then, she said, she got her dose of reality.
“It became very real. You are in ‘go’ mode, which was almost like a defense mechanism,” she said.
This experience taught her that she had to rely on the others in her unit—great role models who encouraged and pushed her in positive ways.
“That’s why I’m in school now. The field surgeons kept giving me more and more responsibility, showed me different techniques, and challenged me,” she said. “I underestimated my ability to learn new things.”
Richards also said that the Army opened her eyes to what was outside of Niagara Falls and took away borders. After she was separated from the Army Reserves, she landed a job as a traveling surgical assistant and eventually ended up in Roanoke, where she was talked into staying. She traveled to Rwanda in 2013 on a medical mission trip for women and children, and to Guatemala to do patient assessments in 2014. She learned that she loved working with women and children in healthcare.
Richards is currently earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Sciences at Jefferson College. Her goal is to become a Physician Assistant, hopefully in surgery.
“I love how something so complicated is actually so simple in perspective,” she said. “At the end of the day it’s all about taking care of one another regardless of the situation or circumstance. ”
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