FORT SMITH, Ark. – As a teenager, Ché Kinnard liked art. In college, he became more interested in the medical career field, and this passion took off when he joined the Air National Guard in 1990.
“Medical was the best choice for me because it provided hands-on, real-time medical training,” said Senior Master Sgt. Kinnard. “I believe medical is the best job for newcomers because we have a high-performing team, built on trust, inclusion, and diversity. A person can join our team and expect to be developed into a ready, medical-capable Airman who can prove combat service support to Agile Combat Employment force elements.”
Kinnard has a wide range of experience in the medical field. He’s served as a medical service technician, aerospace medical service technician, medical administrative technician, and a public health technician before assuming his current role as the medical senior enlisted leader.
As the SEL, he’s responsible for unit readiness and mission accomplishment for everyone in the 188th Medical Group. He’s also the full-time supervisory health systems specialist overseeing medical readiness for more than 1,000 Airmen to ensure they are medically ready for worldwide duties.
This will be important as the 188th Medical Group heads to Guatemala in October for a joint, Medical Ready Training Exercise mission with the Navy.
“While everyone else is taking care of Guatemalans, I will be responsible for taking care of the 188th people,” said Kinnard. “I will be in charge of training, plus the health, morale and welfare of our personnel while we’re there.”
It won’t be the first time he’s been to Guatemala, so he knows how important it is to take care of his medical people.
“I’ve been there about five times,” said Kinnard. “You are definitely in a Third World country. The villages we work in are affected by extreme poverty unimaginable to the average American. You want to do the most good for the most people, but you must be realistic and take care of your own people too.”
When 188th Medical personnel arrive in country, they ride a bus to a predetermined village. Sometimes they see patients in a church or classroom, and facilities typically do not have running water.
“Everyone is very appreciative, and the kids are excited to see you,” said Kinnard. “We do the best we can with the resources we have.”
On this trip, the 188th Medical Group is partnering with the Navy’s USS Comfort.
“We will see people like usual, but if they need surgery, we will refer them to the Naval ship,” said Kinnard. “It’s actually a Navy mission, and we are supporting them with manpower. At our site, we will have 20 Air National Guard medics, 20 host-nation medics, and 20 Naval corpsmen providing care.
“Once the word gets out that we’ve come back, people start showing up,” said Kinnard. “In a short period of time, we’ll help thousands of people.”