January 12, 2021
Story by Joe Vinduska
Photo by Melissa Koren
When Richard LaFlame left high school, he thought he would go to college and travel a traditional educational and career path. However, after stalling out on his degree at Syracuse, he enlisted in the United States Army and put his education on hold to serve his country as a combat medic.
“When I went on active duty, I felt like that dream had died for me,” he said. “I thought I was not going to be able to finish college and it would have to be something I would have to try and finish after active duty and it was just profoundly disappointing for me.”
However, while stationed at Fort Riley, LaFlame enrolled in Barton’s Emergency Medical Services program and graduated with his associate degree in EMS in 1999.
“Getting the opportunity to continue to work on my degree while still on active duty gave me a lot of hope that active duty wasn’t going to be just wasted time,” he said. “An added bonus was that some of my military training counted towards my degree.”
Barton’s flexibility was a key benefit not only for LaFlame but for his classmates as well.
“Not all of the students at Barton were soldiers,” he said. “Many were non-traditional students trying to get their educations in the evening while still working. Having academic organizations that have the flexibility to allow for that is important.”
Another highlight of working towards his EMS degree at Barton, was the opportunity to interact with non-military personnel.
“As a soldier, the number of times that you interact with civilians academically is incredibly few,” he said. “Being in a class with civilians allowed me to form friendships and those connections became really important. It was a good example of how we needed to learn to network, and that wasn’t something that was always taught at the soldier level.”
LaFlame used the momentum he built getting his degree from Barton and picked up right where he left off. He finished his bachelor’s degree at Syracuse University shortly after leaving active duty in 2000. He received his master’s degree in physician assistant studies from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in 2007 and his doctorate in 2019.
“Going to Barton gave me confidence,” he said. “Too many people walk away from the degree they started and think they’re never going to be able to get there and it’s just not true. Sometimes you have to crash against the rocks, dig in, and realize you can restart and reinvent yourself.”
LaFlame lives in New Hampshire and works as a physician assistant at the Veterans Administration’s Home-based primary care program. He continues to serve in the Army National Guard and said working as a PA is very rewarding.
“Physicians can’t always spend as much time with their patients as they’d like and I enjoy that I can sit down, listen to the patient, and learn what is really important to them.”
LaFlame has now served more than 20 years in the military, including deployments to Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates. He started on active duty as a Private and is now serving as a Major in the New Hampshire Army National Guard. He has a special place in his heart for training medics and “paying the education forward.”
“Never underestimate the power you have to overcome adversity and the value of hard work,” he said. “I want to thank Barton Community College for being part of my journey.”
For more information on Barton at Fort Riley, go to fr.bartonccc.edu/.