JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas - Eighteen years ago, when Master Sgt. Robert George walked into an Air Force recruiting office in his hometown of Binghamton, N.Y., he was asked by his recruiter to pick three medical occupations that he would consider if he were to join the Air Force.
When George looked over the list of career options presented by the recruiter, “pharmacy technician” caught his attention immediately.
“I had never heard of one before so that piqued my interest,” George said. “Pharmacy technicians were needed, so that is the job they gave me.”
Being selected to become a pharmacy technician turned out to be a wise career choice for George, the senior enlisted leader for the Pharmacy Technician Training Program at the Medical Education and Training Campus at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. In his role at METC, George oversees and evaluates the performance of over 30 instructors in the program.
The Pharmacy Technician Training Program trains enlisted medical students from all military services, including Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, on the roles and functions of a pharmacy technician, who assist military pharmacists at military treatment facilities and in deployed settings.
As a supervising instructor in the METC pharmacy program, George said he wants to help set a good foundation for the students who are beginning their military service. Each year, about 300 students train in the program.
“We are one of the first experiences that the students have in their military career,” he said. “We want to set good examples for the students. We want to mentor them in ways that not only makes them want to be good pharmacy technicians, but to be good service members.”
George, who has been at METC for three years, said one of things he likes about his job is that he also gets to mentor the instructors he supervises.
“I feel if I’m mentoring the instructors and setting a good example for the instructors, they will in turn do the same and set a good example for the students of what a leader is,” George said.
George said he emphasizes four values to the students and instructors in the Pharmacy Technician Training Program that have guided him during his career – patient safety, trustworthiness, attention to detail and military core values.
He said pharmacy technicians perform a crucial job in the military since what they do is important to the health and well-being of the patients they serve, including active-duty, military family members or veterans.
“Pharmacy technicians are essentially the right hand person to the pharmacist at military treatment facilities and they perform daily tasks within the pharmacy,” George said. “They are like the last piece of the puzzle in the medical experience, double-checking the doctor’s work, checking for allergies and interactions with other medications that patients may have been prescribed.”
He was deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, for five months in 2013. While there, he worked in both inpatient and outpatient services and served as both the pharmacy logistics technician and vault custodian, overseeing controlled substances, at the base’s military treatment facility.
George’s deployment to Afghanistan was the first time he got to work in an inpatient setting with service members.
“I got to see patients close up at their worst times,” George said. “I realized how technical and precise our job needs to be because it could be the difference between life and death.”
George has served as a pharmacy technician for 14 of the 18 years he has been in the Air Force, including at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.; Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.; the Air Force Academy, Colo.; Brooks City-Base in San Antonio and JBSA-Randolph.
While at the Air Force Academy, he also served in the honor guard, performing funeral detail for former and fallen service members. George said that experience inspired him to go to JBSA-Lackland, where he was a basic military training instructor for four years.
George said by working as a military training instructor and being a member of the honor guard at the Air Force Academy, he was able to be involved in the entire military experience, from the beginning of a person’s military career to the ending of their military life.
METC is his first duty station in which he has had the opportunity to be a training instructor in a pharmacy technician training program.
“It’s been the most challenging experience I’ve had so far in my career,” said George of his time in the Pharmacy Technician Training Program, because of the many units he has to work with, including joint service partners, the 59th Training Group at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and METC.
Cmdr. Randy Martinez, program director for the METC Pharmacy Technician Training Program, said George has helped to improve the quality of instruction in the pharmacy technician program.
“He’s the role model instructor, in my opinion, on how to conduct a class, how to manage students and how to teach students,” Martinez said. “That’s why I ask him to teach the other instructors.”
Martinez said George’s efforts to improve the quality of instruction have been reflected in comments given by students in surveys critiquing the faculty at METC. The surveys are given to students who have completed the program.
The comments from the students include much more satisfaction with the program and the feeling that their instructors are very motivated to educate and help them learn, said Martinez.
“He has helped our instructors and our program be better just by communicating, by assisting, by setting expectations and just being the quality person he is,” Martinez said.