Discipline. Teamwork. Leadership. The ability to work under pressure. Doing a job completely and well.
These are characteristics and skills Spectrum Health employees who served in the U.S. Armed Forces developed while serving our country. They’re characteristics the employees still use today in both serving patients and supporting colleagues.
Sean Wethington: A calm look in the room
Sean Wethington always wanted to be a fireman. The part-time respiratory therapist at Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after graduating from Big Rapids High School in 2000 to get firefighter training—and like many teenagers, to see the world and move away from home.
It’s a decision he doesn’t regret.
“It taught me to work under pressure,” Wethington said. “You’re put in some stressful situations and you have to think on your feet.”
Wethington is a full-time fire department captain for Big Rapids Department of Public Safety. As a firefighter, and as a respiratory therapist, he said he continually uses the leadership skills he developed in the Air Force.
“People are looking for answers or for someone with a calm look in the room to give them strength and support,” he said. “You get called to some trying situations. Your confidence puts calmness into patients and lets them know things are going to be alright.”
Wethington served four years as a firefighter in the Air Force, serving at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas for two years, Kunsan Air Base in South Korea for a year and in Oman in the Middle East after 9/11 for three months protecting airplanes and a tent city with 2,500 tents near the Yemen border.
Upon returning to Big Rapids after his military service, Wethington enrolled at Ferris State University and studied nursing before pursuing respiratory therapy.
He said his time in the military also taught him to assert himself and be willing to try new things. “You have to put yourself out there,” he said. And as a fireman, he said his goal is about saving lives.
“As long as everybody goes home safe, it’s a good day,” he said. “And you’re called to somebody’s worst day.”
Wethington lives in Big Rapids with his wife, Amanda, and their two children.
Cheryl Unger: Missile control to MRI tech
Spectrum Health United Hospital MRI technician Cheryl Unger felt a calling to serve, following in the footsteps of her older brother and her grandfather, who served in World War II.
After graduating from Evart High School, Unger enlisted in the U.S. Army and served for six years, followed by another 16 years in the U.S. National Guard.
While in the Army, she served in Schweinfurt, Germany, as a hawk missile control person and at Fort Hood, Texas, as a patriot missile operator.
While in Germany she went on a live-fire missile testing mission to Crete, Greece, where her unit shot down a drone with a missile.
In Texas, she participated in training scenarios at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
While in the National Guard, she deployed to Iraq, where she served 13 months in 2004 as a firefighter.
In Iraq, Unger said there were quite a few incidents that “were pretty hairy,” especially while working near a dumping ground for ammunition and improvised explosive devices.
“We had a lot of explosions,” she said. “Those are always interesting.”
Unger has worked at United Hospital in Greenville for 11 years. After completing her six years in the Army, Unger enrolled at Ferris State University to begin her medical studies.
Her husband, Tim, is also a veteran, serving in the Army and the National Guard. The couple lives in Canadian Lakes.
Like Wethington, she cites and credits her military training for helping develop her work ethic.
“It gave me a lot of discipline to make sure I stay on task and the patient gets the care they deserve,” Unger said.
Lucas Grawburg: And… Action!
Fellow United Hospital employee Lucas Grawburg echoed Unger’s comments.
“It taught me to follow through from start to finish,” he said. “Preplanning, self-discipline, taking pride in your work,” he added.
Grawburg grew up in small Lakeview, Michigan, the son of a Vietnam veteran. His older brother enlisted in the Army after high school, and Grawburg was called to do the same.
After a couple years at community college, and with no idea what he wanted to do, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines, and went to boot camp in San Diego, California.
In retrospect, he said Marine boot camp was fun.
“The drill instructor’s job is to stress you out,” he said. “War is the most stressful situation you’re going to be in, so their job is to weed you out, to stress you out and to see if you can handle it.”
“I did well,” Grawburg said. “I didn’t have any problems.” After boot camp, he was sent to Fort Meade, Maryland, to Military Occupation Specialty school where, after taking tests, he was assigned as a combat motion videographer.
His job? To document training, record events on base and shoot instructional videos.
Grawburg would spend the next 18 months at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms in the Southern California desert. The center operates live fire arms training that promotes readiness of ground forces.
Grawburg’s role was to film the training, which included all facets of ground unit training using bombs, hellfire rockets and air support. The combat scenarios included live fire rounds at simulated targets.
While stationed in California, Grawburg bought a horse, Banjo, that he would ride in the desert.
“The desert was a pretty boring place for a kid who grew up in Michigan,” he said. He would ride out to Pioneertown, California, which was a movie set town where Roy Rogers and Gene Autry performed.
From the desert sands of California, Grawburg next went to the jungles of Okinawa, Japan, to document training in jungle environment.
Looking back, Grawburg said he’s glad he served. “Without a doubt,” he said.
Grawburg has been with United Hospital for almost 12 years working in facilities, primarily as an electrician. He lives in Lakeview with his wife, Kadren, and their four children.
Dr. Tom Ziolkowski: Patriot physician
Tom Ziolkowski, DO, was first exposed to the military while getting his undergraduate degree at the University of Tampa, as his roommates were members of the Amy ROTC. He was impressed with their discipline and their routine.
Ziolkowski entered a Health Professional Scholarship Program where he’d serve four years of active duty in exchange for financial assistance with medical school at the University of New England.
After meeting his wife and starting their family while doing residency training in Philadelphia, Dr. Ziolkowski started active duty in 2011 in the Air Force at Andrews Air Force base near Washington, D.C. He worked as a surgeon as part of the Medical Corps that worked at Andrews Air Force Base and at Fort Belvoir Army Base in Northern Virginia.
Deployed to the Middle East in 2012, he spent six months at the Al Udeid Air Base in Doha, Qatar. Dr. Ziolkowski worked as a general surgeon and was training as part of a mobile unit surgical team to provide damage control surgery in the field.
He performed the first pancreatic surgery at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.
Upon completion of his military service, Dr. Ziolkowski and his wife, Shaina, moved to Rockford, Michigan, where they live with their five children. He started work as a general surgeon at Spectrum Health United and Kelsey hospitals.
Dr. Ziolkowski says his time in the service increased his patriotism.
“It definitely gave me a sense of service,” he said. “By giving back to our country we know nothing is free.”
He said being in difficult circumstances in the military taught him to not to take things for granted, especially someone’s military service.
“I appreciate veterans more than I did before,” Dr. Ziolkowski said. “I recognize it in my patients as well.”
On Veterans day, he said he will send a message to his roommates and to those he served with, and said he flies a flag at the family’s Rockford home at all times.
“It’s a source of pride,” he said.