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Why I served my country: Veterans tell how military experience opened doors, broadened outlooks, taught valuable skills

Upstate veterans and friends at the Central New York Veterans Day parade in 2012. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KEETER)

Upstate veterans and friends at the Central New York Veterans Day parade in 2012. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KEETER)


For some it was a way to afford college or gain entry into the working world. For others, it was duty.

Military service changes the lives of many Americans, including several who now work in a variety of jobs at Upstate. They are influenced by lessons and skills learned in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard or Marine Corps.

Don Sadeckas was a military police officer in the Army who retired as a sergeant first class in 2001. He still feels pride when he sees a military member in uniform, knowing that they are up to whatever comes at them.

“I am proud to be a veteran, and I am also proud of those who served before and after me. I thank them every opportunity I get,” he says.

When Yetta Williams enlisted in the Air Force, she at first didn‘t recognize the significance of her role. It began sinking in when she arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

“We were told that we were now ambassadors for the president of the United States, and that we should be aware of that at all times and conduct ourselves accordingly,” she recalls. “It occurred to me that I didn‘t just represent myself. I represented my family, my church, Christ, the company I work for. I have never forgotten that.”

Williams married an airman named Austin, who now works at National Grid.

Of no relation is an Upstate coworker, Elliott Williams, who says men from his family have served in every war or conflict in America‘s history from the Civil War to Iraq.

“Being a veteran is more than just a label or a title. It is who and what you are,” he says. “Though I am far removed from military service, I am still a soldier and always will be – just like those relatives who came before me and those who will come after me.”

Among the more than 9,000 employees at Upstate Medical University are 251 military veterans. Here‘s what eight have to say about their experiences serving America.

Elliott Williams

Elliott Williams

Name: Elliott Williams of Auburn.

Upstate job: Patient registration in the emergency department.

Military service: Army, 1980-83.

Reason for joining: Family obligation. “My family has produced soldiers and sailors in every war or conflict in this country‘s history from the Civil War to the present-day Iraq conflict. All males in my family are expected to participate in some type of military service.”

What he gained: “Being from Brooklyn, I had already been exposed to different cultures, but going to different countries (at age 18, he was stationed in Camp Stanley, South Korea) and seeing those cultures in their native lands and living by their own traditions, I quickly learned I was wrong about thinking one group of people was fundamentally better than another group of people because of money or educational status or color or whatever. I learned that there is no better or worse when it comes to people, there is only different: different lands, norms, beliefs, languages, etc.”

Gregory L. Eastwood, MD

Gregory L. Eastwood, MD

Name: Gregory L. Eastwood, MD, of Jamesville.

Upstate job: Professor of bioethics and humanities and former president of Upstate Medical University.

Military service: Navy, 1972-74.

Reason for joining: “During the Vietnam War, military service was required of male physicians either after one year of residency or after full training. I entered the Navy after full training in internal medicine and gastroenterology.”

What he gained: “My two years in the Navy allowed me to improve my clinical skills. Also, I was able to spend about half my time doing research, and I developed close personal and professional associations with several people, which persisted for many years after I left the Navy.”

Don Sadeckas

Don Sadeckas

Name: Don Sadeckas of Cicero.

Upstate job: Director of equipment and supply logistics.

Military service: Army, 1980-2001.

Reason for joining: “It was a great opportunity to travel, meet great people and do things that I never imagined or thought I would do. I was fortunate to serve during a time when there were not many conflicts in the world and only a small portion of the military needed to deploy.”

What he gained: “Three lessons I took with me: 1. Appearance matters. Dress for who you will meet, not for the day of the week. 2. You can‘t do everything on your own. Most successes come from teamwork. 3. Confidence is king. Don‘t second-guess yourself.”

William Marx, DO

William Marx, DO

Name: William Marx, DO, of Jamesville.

Upstate job: Chief of the division of trauma, critical care, burns and acute-care surgery.

Military service: Army, 1978-2001.

Reason for joining: “I had a Health Professions Scholarship to pay for medical school.”

What he gained: “I learned structure, leadership skills and surgery. My residency was at Letterman Army Medical Center on the Presidio of San Francisco. We had a very close relationship with the University of California at San Francisco, so I was able to learn from the surgical faculty at UCSF and from the faculty at Letterman. The residency was excellent, and I am fortunate to have had the opportunity.

“I think my service affects all aspects of my career and life. I appreciate the things most people take for granted. To use a cliché, freedom isn't free.”

Willie White

Willie White

Name: Willie White of Jamesville.

Upstate job: Central receiving manager.

Military service: Army, 1977-98.

Reason for joining: ”I was ill-equipped to attend college. I was still in high school and decided in advance that I was going to join the Army to get experience in something that would become a career.”

What he gained: “Leadership qualities. Being a team player. Diversity. Multitasking. Opportunities that I never would have had if I remained in my small world and surroundings, opportunities to travel and experience different cultures, countries and even other states; to learn skills and earn a living through my experiences and travels; and just being a part of something bigger while serving my country.”

Yetta Williams

Yetta Williams

Name: Yetta Williams of Syracuse.

Upstate job: Staff assistant in environmental services.

Military service: Air Force, 1974-78; Army wife, 1980-1983.

Reason for joining: “I couldn't get the kind of job I wanted because I had no experience, and I couldn't get any experience because no one would hire me without experience.”

What she gained: “I learned to be flexible and adapt to change. Life is full of changes on and off the job. I learned to change direction and to take a stand, as necessary. When told to do a task that I really don't want to do, military service taught me to grit my teeth and do it without complaint.“

Nancy K. Markowski

Nancy K. Markowski

Name: Nancy K. Markowski of Erieville.

Upstate job: Nursing station clerk in the medical intensive care unit.

Military service: Army, 1979-81.

What she gained: ”Discipline, strength, training -- and how much I love this country.”

Timothy P. Endy, MD

Timothy P. Endy, MD

Name: Timothy P. Endy, MD, of Manlius.

Upstate job: Chief of infectious disease division.

Military service: Army, 1982-2006.

Reason for joining: “Medical education, and to serve my country.” He grew up on Air Force bases around the world, watching B-52 bombers taking off from Plattsburgh during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and watching medical evacuation planes landing in Japan near the end of the Vietnam War.

What he gained: “As an active-duty medical officer, I helped soldiers prepare for both Gulf wars and vaccinated soldiers as they pre-deployed in Kuwait for Gulf II. I remember the strength of the wounded soldiers with terrible wounds and amputations as I took care of them and their infections at Walter Reed (Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.) I‘m proud to have served with such great Americans.”

Layout 1 finalThis article appears in the spring 2016 issue of Upstate Health magazine.