By Corbin Smith
“Everyone has a story, and if you’re willing to hear it, it’ll bring you to your knees.”
That is a quote that teaching professor Dr. Kent Blad shared with the 18 students that accompanied him on the Utah Honor Flight last May. He spoke of the 50 veterans that traveled with our nursing students to Washington DC to participate in truly a life-changing experience.
Honor Flight is a non-profit organization founded in 2005. Since then it has grown into a nationwide organization, with chapters operating in 45 states in the US. The Utah chapter was formed in 2010, and starting in 2013 Utah began doing flights regularly. According to their website in 2018, Honor Flight has served 21,189 veterans while serving 222,133 nationwide.
Honor Flight allows war veterans to visit war memorials in Washington DC. During the trip, veterans are taken to various historical and memorial sites. They get a special tour of the Arlington National Cemetery and visit Fort McHenry. The highlight of the trip, though, is the Heroes Banquet, done to spotlight and honor the services and bravery of our veterans.
Today, thanks to the efforts of Blad, BYU and Utah Honor Flight have partnered to allow nursing students to act as “guardians”, or chaperones, to the veterans who participate in this trip. This has become an opportunity students can use for their clinical practicum of the public and global health nursing course in the spring.
This all started in 2014 when Dr. Blad realized that a connection could be made from the course he teaches on caring for the veteran patient and Utah Honor Flight. Blad felt strongly that allowing students to participate in the Honor Flight would be the best learning experience for each of them. “Instead of teaching our students out of a textbook, we have the veterans live and in color, teaching the students about themselves and telling stories from their war experiences and how it affects their lives. That is what really makes a difference,” he explains.
Blad was right. The Honor Flight impacted the lives of every student that attended. Each student was able to hear understand a little bit better the life of the veteran they served, and not one of them left without a touched heart.
Fifth-semester student, Amanda Landon, was one who was greatly impacted by the Honor Flight. She says, “My experience with the Honor Flight was in a word: incredible. It was amazing for me to see the degree to which they are gracious, humble, and loving. I saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to give back in a small way to those who gave so much.”
Meanwhile, the Honor Flight was particularly special for Hannah Hoffman, another 5th semester student here at the college. For Hoffman, it was special because she was able to take her grandfather to the Honor Flight. “The coolest part for me about the Honor Flight was that I developed such a strong relationship with my grandpa. I saw another side of him I had never seen,” she says.
While spending time with her grandpa during the Honor Flight, Hoffman feels like she learned two major lessons that will help her progress as a nurse. First, that nursing is more than just caring about the physical health of your patients. She says, “The reality is that there was a lot to focus on with our veterans. There are spiritual, mental and emotional needs to meet on the trip. The priority was create a feeling of understanding and one of safety, where he could feel safe to share things that maybe he wouldn’t share with someone else, and know that he would be validated and that he would receive empathy and compassion.” That is the epitome of the Healer’s art!
Second, learn the stories of your patients. Not judging your patients is an important aspect of nursing and will affect greatly if they trust you or not. Hoffman explains, “The Honor Flight helped me see how to develop a strong nurse to patient relationship. It is easy to see the stubborn side of veterans, but during the Honor Flight I was able to see who they really are.”
The Honor Flight is an impactful experience each year for all who attend, especially for Blad, the bridge between the BYU College of Nursing and Utah Honor Flight. “I am constantly amazed by these men and women,” Blad says, “They help you gain a new perspective on life every year.”
Want to learn more about the Honor Flight, in only 60 seconds? Check out this video: https://youtu.be/KPHd4Tud-1c