[00:00:00] Scott DeLuzio: Thanks for tuning into the Drive On Podcast where we’re focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community. Whether you’re a veteran active duty guard reserve or family member, this podcast will share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio.
[00:00:18] Scott DeLuzio: And now let’s get on with the show.
[00:00:21] Scott DeLuzio: Welcome back to the Drive On Podcast. Today, my guest is Brandi Saunders. Brandi is an air force veteran who served as a critical care medical technician. Who’s here to discuss her time in the air force and her transition back to civilian life. The various changes in her career as she got back into the civilian world.
[00:00:44] Scott DeLuzio: So welcome to the show. Brandi. I’m really glad to have you on.
[00:00:48] Brandi Saunders: Thank you so much, Scott, for having me. I
[00:00:49] Scott DeLuzio: appreciate it. Yeah, absolutely. So for the listeners who are not familiar with you and your background, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
[00:00:59] Brandi Saunders: So I joined the [00:01:00] military when I was 19. I was born and raised in New Hampshire.
[00:01:04] Brandi Saunders: I signed up as an aerospace medical technician thought I would be up in space doing vital signs on pilots, but I quickly learned that everything in the air force has aerospace in front of it. Shortly after training, where you become a nationally registered EMT, I was assigned to the intensive care unit at Lackland air force base.
[00:01:28] Brandi Saunders: That is a level one trauma center that serves both military and civilians in that area. And about a year after of being a permanent party. So I joined in February of 2004 and on February 28th, the day before my 21st birthday, I deployed for the first time to Germany. Yeah. So it was considered a deployment, although it was not an active combat zone.
[00:01:54] Brandi Saunders: So it was in support of operation enduring freedom. So at Landstuhl, [00:02:00] any active military that is injured down range they are sent to Landstuhl as kind of a landing base where if they are air force, they will go to Wilford hall in San Antonio. I believe I may need to correct that, but if there are made, they will go to Walter Reed.
[00:02:19] Brandi Saunders: I’m sorry of the air force. They go to Bethesda army. They went to Walter Reed. And Navy, I believe maybe it says the two. This was also during the combination of bases we’re combining so that we were there was some joint bases that were happening at that time, but anybody that was injured in their perspective military service would go to that appropriate hospital.
[00:02:41] Brandi Saunders: If they weren’t going to make that plate back to the states. If they were that critical needed, emergency surgery, we would fly their families in and they would be stay at the Fisher house across the street from the hospital and they would be able to say goodbye. There, we would do the purple heart ceremony at bedside.
[00:02:59] Brandi Saunders: A lot of [00:03:00] Personnel such as generals and secretary of defense would come to long stool to be able to do those purple hearts ceremonies and to thank us for taking care of the soldiers, to thank the soldiers. And so it was a very active time in 2006.
[00:03:18] Scott DeLuzio: I think I would like to get into more on what took place there because I served as an infantry man. So I’ve seen the other side the combat side where you. Out on patrols. You’re going through these villages. You’re doing the combat operations, but I haven’t seen the other side.
[00:03:41] Scott DeLuzio: Fortunately for me, I wasn’t injured during my deployment to the extent that it required me to be evacuated like that to Germany or to any place else. So I was fortunate in that respect, so I’ve never really seen your side of. The whole [00:04:00] equation in this deployment. And especially since you were there in support of operation enduring freedom.
[00:04:07] Scott DeLuzio: You know, the same theater that I was taking part in as well. So it’s interesting to me because I’d like to kind of dig into a little bit more of what you saw, because you’re not on the front lines, you’re not getting the bullets whizzing over your head. The IED is going off under your vehicles or things like that.
[00:04:23] Scott DeLuzio: But you’re seeing the after effects of that. And so. I’d like to know about that, how that affected you and what that meant for you to be a part of all of that.
[00:04:35] Brandi Saunders: Yes. And I will I just, I also did one other, took five minutes to the 2008. I did operation Iraqi. To Iraq, which was on a, in a combat zone a little bit different, but we were in secured on a pretty good base that, so, I mean, the closest that I’ve ever actually felt to getting, frontline action, like that was in the middle of the night, walking to the bathroom trailer and having hearing the incoming, incoming, [00:05:00] incoming coming in at the speaker that was closest to.
[00:05:02] Brandi Saunders: But that, yeah, I didn’t face that active type of trauma that you did but I think the one that was the most kind of traumatic was that operation enduring freedom in Germany.
[00:05:13] Brandi Saunders: And it is because of the toll at 2005 was extremely busy. We. We were getting, I think it was about 26 patients every day. And there were times that we were getting in mass casualties and it was just flooded. So we, anybody that is, if they’re walking wounded, they’re Medibank. So the, they fly out of Ramstein, which has an air force base right down the street from that is launch tool.
[00:05:42] Brandi Saunders: The army base launched stolen. Doesn’t have As far as amenities, what Ramstein has that kind of plays into the army air force type of rival rivalry. But I worked with the army in the ICU. They were the main [00:06:00] operators of that base in the hospitals. So we were under army command. So that was probably the first time in my life I’ve been made to push for my attitude or something because the air force doesn’t typically do that, but.
[00:06:12] Brandi Saunders: It was a different type of environment than what I was used to back home in the ICU. At Wilford hall, at Lackland in the air force, as a medical technician, we can do pretty much anything that our nurse, our doctors allow us to do. And when you are at your skill level, it depends on your qualifications.
[00:06:34] Brandi Saunders: So at that time I was brand new into the military. I was still a pretty good at, IVs and working in the ICU. Just get a higher level of expertise quicker. So I was allowed to do a lot of the fasciotomy care as soon as somebody comes in, somebody back up. So how to tell you how to like the day kind of goes when you go.
[00:06:55] Brandi Saunders: I worked at day shift. So when I would walk in, we would first get our manifest for what was coming in. [00:07:00] And at the time I had a friend from back home who was a Marine, and I actually had dinner with his sister last night, but we, I knew that he was deployed during that time. And so one of the things that I would quickly do is scan to make sure he wasn’t on there, that list.
[00:07:15] Brandi Saunders: And so. It would be a combination of, army. There was some air force. We did have one air force, female that I’ll never forget. Cause you, when you’re looking at the manifest is coming on, you’re seeing the ages, the names and the ranks in the service. So. Most of the time it is it’s men.
[00:07:33] Brandi Saunders: And so in most of the time it’s not air force. That’s just how it was falling out. So whenever there were air force or a woman that kind of would stick with me, but you’re looking at all these people and the way that you’re kind of coping with it. Or for me as, I couldn’t really think of them as people anymore, like it just bodies because they would come off of once they fly into Ramstein.
[00:07:59] Brandi Saunders: [00:08:00] There’s a bus that was turned into an ambulance. So it would bring them to our ICU and all the ICU staff would be downstairs. And they wouldn’t even go to the ER. They come right in and we will live right up to the ICU and we start immediately undressing any of the dressings and stuff that have been done down in field hospitals.
[00:08:16] Brandi Saunders: And that is primarily because there’s a bacteria that isn’t in the sand in Iraq that can be very toxic to them. Compromised people. So we swab them, get them tested for it and immediately. Undressing which has the packing, that’s all in their wounds. Anytime that somebody is injured in like an IED blast or anything that causes burns their body swells.
[00:08:38] Brandi Saunders: And they also lose the ability to regulate their body temperature. So inside these rooms that we take them in it’s he controlled the temperature is very high so that they their body temperature stays where it needs to be. And. We have to do what’s called fasciotomy is which you are cutting into the fascia of the skin to release the pressure.
[00:08:57] Brandi Saunders: And that all has to be dressed with dressings [00:09:00] inside of it. And kept moist, but not moist enough that it’s going to grow bacteria. It’s gotta be frequently changed. So you are dealing with 26 people blown up every day and it. Very challenging to see. This was the first time that I had kind of seen these types of wounds, even though working in the ICU and prepared me a little bit.
[00:09:22] Brandi Saunders: It was not to the extent that I was seeing warrant injuries. And then the families that would have to fly in to say goodbye were often my age with young kids at home newly, I mean, some of these kids were so. And I mean 18, 19, and you just knew, look at them, their lifestyle never going to be the same.
[00:09:44] Brandi Saunders: And so once we can get them stable, they will fly to their perspective base and get further care there. Anybody that has severe burns goes to Bamsi. The Burke army medical center from team will come and get them. [00:10:00] So we have the families there that was. Obviously traumatic to deal with. We had all these missions coming in that we had to get them prepped for another kind of situation.
[00:10:12] Brandi Saunders: That was a lot of times we were waking up these service members for the first time in our ICU. The last thing that they would have remembered is being under. And most of the time we are putting them under like a medically-induced coma for their benefit to get them transported to us. And so we’re waking them up to assess whether they can breathe on their own.
[00:10:33] Brandi Saunders: And the first thing they think of is that they’re being held captive and a lot of anger and fighting, not knowing, or hurry up, patched me up so I can get back out there. Having to tell them that they’re not never going back there the guilt that they would feel for leaving their friends in the battle not knowing what happened, the confusion does my family know.
[00:10:55] Brandi Saunders: So it was very, kind of a lot of emotional aspects with [00:11:00] it. And a lot of stories that as much as you try to compartmentalize and for me, I’m a very human type of sympathy person. Like I, I feed energy off other people, but I carry their stories with me. And it’s a point that you kind of have to try to carpet compartmentalize and think that they are the bodies, right.
[00:11:21] Brandi Saunders: Because you just can’t, you can’t know everybody’s story and know their stuff. And be able to function I can tell you that I had an extremely hard time there, and I know a lot of other counterparts that I was with had issues as well in Landstuhl. They had a bar on the base that was about it for amenities.
[00:11:40] Brandi Saunders: They had a bar that we sang karaoke, I think, every night. And we would work like, 12, 13 hours, and then it, that was the only thing kind of do. It was different. We didn’t have a, we had a shoppette, we didn’t even have like a BX or any type of grocery store or anything like that. So the [00:12:00] amenities, there were not. It was mainly the focus was the hospital. I can remember one time when we were coming in, so was somebody had died in transport and that wasn’t uncommon.
[00:12:12] Brandi Saunders: Also what happened in transport is codes had starts. So we would oftentimes have to jump right on the gurney and start taking over for compressions and. There’s only so much personnel, right? They, that hospital also wants those services, all the community that lives in that area. So one of the service members that come in had died in route and they had wheeled him to the side of the emergency room, like where you’re walking in, why we took everybody else out, nobody went back and got them for awhile.
[00:12:43] Brandi Saunders: It was a couple of hours. And that was a huge thing. It was. Because you have people coming in for ER visits and doctor’s offices that are, like I said, servicing the community in that area that are military dependents and stationed there. So. [00:13:00] That was, there was just so busy, like to be able to understand how that situation can happen.
[00:13:06] Brandi Saunders: You have to understand how busy and active things were every single day. And it wasn’t like anybody was trying to forgetting, but that person wasn’t going to the ICU anymore. So somebody needed to come there and, take them through the next steps with them. But we would also get helicopters that would come in from.
[00:13:24] Brandi Saunders: If it was more of a smaller mission that didn’t come in on like a C 17, one of the times that AMC was the burn team was in route to us to come pick up service members. We actually got a mass casualty, and that was from downrange and. We’re already on their way to us didn’t have enough personnel or equipment to be able to transport.
[00:13:46] Brandi Saunders: I think they thought that they were coming in to pick up the three people that we had with burns to go there. And when, by the time they landed, it was going to be like 15. So it was, they needed equipment from us tomorrow and they needed a personnel. [00:14:00] So I had just worked 12 hours shift and. Then they sent, selected me to go with them to be a medical.
[00:14:09] Brandi Saunders: And do the critical critical care air transport with them. And then two, I worked there for a week to learn more advanced care on how to take care of birds. So some of the things that I learned were super important were how you take care of. Is, if you can do a good job initially on the burn care, it helps the service member with the healing process and may help with less reconstructive surgeries.
[00:14:33] Brandi Saunders: So I tried to learn the most that I could to make the most impact. And it was at that time that I was at Bamsi that I ran into a patient that I’d taken care of. Few weeks of the deployment and Germany. And he had talked to me and express that he was not exactly happy that we saved them. And then the amount of trauma that he’s been dealing with since coming [00:15:00] back with surgeries and with nightmares and with tension with his wife was not going so good for him.
[00:15:06] Brandi Saunders: And he was pretty upset. Those types of moments where like, what are we doing? And. Is this what’s the purpose and all these young men and women that are severely disfigured and burnt and lives are forever changed. It was a very different kind of perspective to hear and it made it hard to find kind of purpose.
[00:15:32] Brandi Saunders: And it, I will say though, when I went to Iraq, that purpose became more clear. With seeing the Iraqi army and the civilians, what they were being exposed to every day, as far as terrorism and the realness of it was, enlightening and inspiring how they were doing these things. And so here we’re coming, the stories that like will always affect me to back up and go to Germany.[00:16:00]
[00:16:00] Brandi Saunders: I remember there was an 18 year old gunner on a tank that was hit by an IED and he was paralyzed from the armpits down. And so we, the doctors, when they were telling him this, decided to order it. From him for him. So, in the dining facility, they use beer to cook on some certain recipes.
[00:16:20] Brandi Saunders: It is not very good beer and very, and in Germany it has very good beer. So when I found this out, I was like, wait, wait, wait, let’s not get a DFAC beer for him. I ran to the shoppette and got some hefeweizen and came down in They. So when they told them we have given one of those, I stayed after ship to talk to him for a little bit.
[00:16:40] Brandi Saunders: He just had such a positive attitude. He was like, you know what, I’m gonna go to the Olympics for the special Olympics. I’m gonna win it. And just this whole world that this has a world was changed and this experience, but seeing his positive and attitude with it, it was very inspiring.
[00:16:57] Brandi Saunders: And the number of servicemen that [00:17:00] did not care about. Themselves. And I say service spend on, there were definitely service women. And just the majority of it was men in the act of combat. They were very not caring about their own injuries and just wanting to get back out there. That was it’s inspiring.
[00:17:19] Brandi Saunders: And that the camaraderie also every Marine that came in a Navy corpsman was with them and would not leave their side. And. It’s just that bond that you feel. So it was very hard for me when talking to some of these my patients about explaining that this was my deployment and that their deployment was actually what caused them here.
[00:17:41] Brandi Saunders: That was that, that was hard. So in Iraq, the, some of the army that we had. There was an Iraqi army guy who saw a a terrorist heading towards a mosque with explosives in his car. And he took his [00:18:00] vehicle and parked it in front of it, knowing that he was about to get blown up. And he was blinded in talking with him like that he would have done that 10 times.
[00:18:08] Brandi Saunders: To be able to stop what was happening and then hearing some of the civilians that were facing the terrorism. There was a gentleman who actually was on the Iraqi news about, so a lot of the civilians and Iraqi army, when they’re injured, they don’t have the disability resources that our country. To be able to care for them in the longterm.
[00:18:30] Brandi Saunders: And there was a gentleman whose family member was involved with terrorists and he and his wife lived on a farm. They refuse to participate and they were bombed and their house was blown up in their car. And his wife was in the car and I believe he was in the house. Well, he ended up. Having a leg amputated and an arm amputated.
[00:18:51] Brandi Saunders: And then he contracted a flesh-eating bacteria that took his other arm and took his leg. And so then when I was caring for him, [00:19:00] so because he had this bacteria, he was in an isolation room and it meant that you couldn’t care for other patients, like he was your patient for the day. And usually for your time for the next couple of days so that it wouldn’t transfer any type of there’s no risk of infecting anybody else with that type of bacteria.
[00:19:14] Brandi Saunders: So. I got pretty close to him and why I was I’m taking his blood pressure. One day, I, there was a blood clot in his hand and I noticed that his hand was swelling and I wasn’t able to get pulses. And I immediately called the doctors. They came in the ultrasound, confirmed it, and it was going to have to be amputated.
[00:19:30] Brandi Saunders: So he was going to be left, being a torso. And he wanted us to let him die. His wife who had not been as severely injured was still pretty injured, but she was able to walk. She was not in our ICU. She was in the the ward, a unit that we had. And we as medical in the military were not allowed to just let people die.
[00:19:54] Brandi Saunders: So we had to go to the ethics board and request and kind of do [00:20:00] this petition and Iraqis asked if they could talk to me because he wanted to die in, into. And there was going to be nothing that could help him to maintain a life, to care for his wife afterwards, if he ever did eventually get out of the ICU.
[00:20:15] Brandi Saunders: So he felt like he was a burden. And we w I think that we were able to win that and they were able to discontinue care and I sat with him for awhile. Tart.
[00:20:29] Scott DeLuzio: I can only imagine the amount of pain that you see coming through on a day-to-day basis, in all sorts of different all sorts of different ways. There’s like you were saying, there’s children, there are people like this man that you’re talking about and For myself, if I was in your shoes, when I first step foot into the hospital on this deployment, that the very first deployment I would be there with a very very positive mindset where I would [00:21:00] think everybody that I’m coming through in, or that is coming through and I’m treating.
[00:21:06] Scott DeLuzio: I’m doing what’s best for them. I’m helping them to overcome the worst that their life has given them and giving them an opportunity to move on and continue with their lives. But but then you start hearing these stories like the person that you talked about, who you first treated, and then you met up with later on and they were having.
[00:21:30] Scott DeLuzio: They were having troubles at home there the treatment and everything that they were going through was just too much for them. And to me, that would not have been something that I would have even thought would be a result of what was taking place, that the type of care that was being given wouldn’t even occur to me, that would be someone’s reaction.
[00:21:55] Scott DeLuzio: But then you see other people like the person that you [00:22:00] saw who was paralyzed from the armpits down and the attitude that person had was I’m going to make the best of this. I’m going to compete in the Olympics and I’m going to kill
[00:22:13] Brandi Saunders: it, whatever I’m going to do, I’m
[00:22:14] Scott DeLuzio: going to kill it and whatever it is.
[00:22:16] Scott DeLuzio: Right. And so, to me it makes it feel like you have to keep trying, no matter what it is, you have to keep trying, because there is good that comes out of this that there are people who want to. Keep pushing forward and they want to make something good out of this bad situation. They want to do something.
[00:22:41] Scott DeLuzio: And you can’t let those people down. And when these people come through, you never know who’s going to be the more positive glass, half full type person versus the glass half empty type of person. Right. You never know. And so you kind of have to just. Doing the best that [00:23:00] you can. And gosh, I can only imagine how difficult that is to see that many people, that many different stories, that many different injuries that are a lot of times, very much life-changing injuries.
[00:23:14] Scott DeLuzio: You know, if that, to me would be the hardest thing to deal with. Especially for someone like yourself, who you said, you’re very empathetic. You feed off of other people’s emotions and things like that. You’re feeding off of some pretty nasty stuff. And. That has to be difficult to carry that with you.
[00:23:35] Scott DeLuzio: I want to fast forward a little bit to when you were getting out of the military. So you’re in the military, you have all this medical training. And I know a lot of times when people get out of the military they feel like they, they need to do something with the training that they received in the military.
[00:23:52] Scott DeLuzio: But that wasn’t the case with you. You ended up getting out. Did not end up working in the medical profession. [00:24:00] What was that transition? What was that transition like for you? And how did you come to the decision to step away from the medical field?
[00:24:10] Brandi Saunders: So I am a big person on getting other people’s perspectives and opinions on things.
[00:24:16] Brandi Saunders: And I pulled a bunch of the doctors that I worked with. Cause it on, Medical school and what that would entail and what that would look like. And whether they, there were a couple of doctors that I worked with that had gone to medical school later in life. One was a woman doctor who had went as a single mom.
[00:24:36] Brandi Saunders: Another one was a PhD first and then went to a doctor. Those were two doctors that I worked with very closely in my ICU at Wilford hall that I really respected their opinion. And I asked them like, if I thought about doing that because in my career field, I’ve done so many advanced procedures.
[00:24:55] Brandi Saunders: For me, it would make sense. Like if I’m going to continue that route to kind of just keep [00:25:00] going that way instead of instead of, doing nursing because when you leave the military, the only thing that you’re really have as far as creditation as an EMT, basic as far as on the foreign O side of the air force.
[00:25:12] Brandi Saunders: So that means that I can’t even put an ID in, on an ambulance. And I mean, I can do an IV blindfolded behind my back. Like I said, Then when it makes sense for me to kind of just go right into it. I knew that I would need more schooling to be able to do the stuff that I was more skilled at and would want to give the best care of.
[00:25:35] Brandi Saunders: My husband who was applying for pharmacy school, I was in Iraq. That would’ve meant that both of us would have been in full, four year type of programs that two kids, so that after talking to the doctors, it just wouldn’t have been a realistic path for me to do in. And then. Evaluating myself, is that, how would I be able to give the level of care that I would want to, to civilians?
[00:25:58] Brandi Saunders: And it’s not [00:26:00] that anything gets, but the people that I take care of in Germany and Iraq, as far as military were the most frayed and honorable, and it. It’s just a different level of pain tolerance. And they, I just didn’t know if I would be able to give the proper care and after seeing so much stuff that I have, how would it affect me to continue seeing it?
[00:26:23] Brandi Saunders: So I decided that I knew nothing about college or anything. I was the first one in my family to graduate high school. So nevermind. I didn’t know. People go to college without money. I knew nothing about it. So I was like, oh, I’ll go to school for teaching. So I was active duty. I started getting my associates and the first class I took was like a math one.
[00:26:44] Brandi Saunders: The teacher pulled me outside and was like, you’re really good at math. You should think about being a CPA. And he’s like my dad’s one. And I went home and Googled, what’s a CPA. I took an accounting course. I loved it. I thought it was a different way of thinking. One of the things that I got really good at when I was in the [00:27:00] ICU as I’m reading test results and using kind of the numbers to my advantage, I’m a very numerical person and weird about numbers.
[00:27:09] Brandi Saunders: So I was able to read arterial blood gas drawings and be able to anticipate what we were, the next course of action or knowing, somebody’s vital signs and being able to prepare and set up for procedures before the doctors would even, before we even call them to let them know.
[00:27:24] Brandi Saunders: So I was able to translate that more trends, accounting. And then I also realized my family. At first, I was like, I want to do taxes because taxes is always been something very scary and sounds, to the normal person that it’s I don’t know what to do with it. So I was like, if I could help people by explaining it to them, that would be really great.
[00:27:43] Brandi Saunders: And ideally I wanted to just stay home for a little bit too so I wanted to get all this schooling and then be able to have a career that I could stop and kind of take care of my family for a little bit and then go back to so. I chose the route of accounting and it was very good as far as [00:28:00] being able to go into different areas.
[00:28:03] Brandi Saunders: I did go into tax at first and then I went into pension. I was a pension manager for a year, which I really loved it because it was blue collar workers that you’re kind of giving back to, which is more of my roots and unions and trades. I’m very much for that. These people I’ve worked long time.
[00:28:21] Brandi Saunders: They deserve their pension now, through. Money management in terms of the market. They know there’s issues with it. So if I could help these people, I like that was the way. And then CohnReznick recruited me from the pension fund and I was now I do government and public sector audit. So that is looking how.
[00:28:40] Brandi Saunders: That is given from the government is spent making sure it’s spent appropriately. And that’s I feel like it’s for the greater good. So my big thing is I just like to be able to have something, do something that is serving, a better population and not just, making the rich richer or something like that.
[00:28:56] Brandi Saunders: So even though it doesn’t relate necessarily like a [00:29:00] lot, I get that a lot of how did you go from medical to accounting? It doesn’t a sense of kind of utilizing some of those skills.
[00:29:08] Scott DeLuzio: I can see that. I, and I like how you mentioned how, what you’re doing is auditing the government spending and where the money is going, making sure it’s being spent on what it’s supposed to be spent on and things like that.
[00:29:21] Scott DeLuzio: And a lot of the times the money that’s being spent by the government is going towards people who need. Things, whatever it may be, it could be a lower income families. It could, I don’t know the specifics of who you’re working with, but there’s people with real needs out there who really need help with something.
[00:29:41] Scott DeLuzio: And if they’re not, if the money is being spent and they’re not getting it. There’s a problem. Right? And so these people are looking to somebody because they may not have the financial literacy to know what’s going on and be able to audit this stuff too. So they’re looking for someone [00:30:00] who can come in and take a look at what’s going on.
[00:30:04] Scott DeLuzio: Audit. The spending audit the the whole process and figuring out, okay, yes, money is going to where it needs to be going. Maybe there’s not enough money going there or wait, there’s a problem. Money’s not going to where it needs to go. And now we need to figure out where is it actually going and why is it going there?
[00:30:21] Scott DeLuzio: And you end up helping people in, in a way that is different from the way you did before, but it’s still. Helping people. And so, no, you’re right. I don’t think there is a very big leap from medical to CPA work that you’re doing now. It’s certainly different.
[00:30:42] Scott DeLuzio: You’re helping people in a different way, but you’re still helping people. And I think your story to me is very refreshing because. I talk to people all the time, veterans who are getting out of the military and they feel like [00:31:00] the training that they had in the military is what they need to do when they get out.
[00:31:04] Scott DeLuzio: If they need to. If they were an MP, they need to be a police officer. If they were working in the medical field in the military, they need to continue working in the medical field or they need to whatever it is that they were doing, they need to use that skill set because I already have that.
[00:31:19] Scott DeLuzio: And now they need to just apply that on the civilian world. But. There’s also people that I talked to who hated what they did in the military, or it was so traumatic, like a lot of the stuff that you experienced, it was so traumatic that they maybe just don’t want to do that anymore. Maybe, yeah, it was good while they were doing it, but they realistically don’t feel like they could continue doing that for the rest of their career.
[00:31:44] Scott DeLuzio: That’s fine. Right. I think everyone who joined the military, no matter what your job was in the military. We all learned something in the military. We all have. Ability to learn something even as early on [00:32:00] is basic training or your AIT stage where you’re learning, what your actual job is, you learn something that you didn’t know prior to being in the military.
[00:32:07] Scott DeLuzio: So with that said, we all have that ability. So why can’t we continue doing that? We all, if you have access to the GI bill, to the funds that are available to help you get through. College or advanced training in whatever field it is that you might want to get into take advantage of that, use it and better yourself, even if that means pivoting into a new career, something that you may be really good at and you just haven’t given a shot at.
[00:32:36] Scott DeLuzio: So give it a shot. So I love that you shared how you pivoted into this brand new field to you. And. Are using what you learned from. Good for helping other people. Right. And I think that it’s really encouraging to hear stories like yours, where people made that transition successfully. Right. And I’m sure other [00:33:00] veterans who are out there, people who maybe are still serving and nearing the end of their time and service or people who have been out for a little bit They may be looking for ways to get involved in another field, another career field.
[00:33:12] Scott DeLuzio: And I know the company that you work for CohnReznick is starting to work on getting more veterans involved in accounting and things like that. Would you be able to talk a little bit about that program that you guys are starting to set up and.
[00:33:27] Brandi Saunders: Yeah. And I think one of the things that you said kind of highlighted that even no matter what job that you’re doing in the military, you’re still in the military.
[00:33:34] Brandi Saunders: So you have this identity of being a military member and a lot of service members that I’ve talked to and myself included. The biggest thing that when we got out was this identity. Yeah, of who are we? And even reading your book like your, and the way that you ended your service was not this huge. Like it was like, you know, without kind of a lot of fanfare and all of a sudden you’re out [00:34:00] and you don’t kind of think for some people, it’s like their end of their enlistment is coming.
[00:34:04] Brandi Saunders: But they may not necessarily know that they’re going to separate at that time. And they may be prepared to stay in for much longer. And then they do get out. And what do they do? And then the people that they’re around now don’t really know them as that military member. A lot of people don’t ever suspect me being prior military.
[00:34:23] Brandi Saunders: And so it’s this identity crisis of who am I and what do I do next? Well, I think that if we. Create these pipelines of people that are interested in different fields and being able to capture that and saying, well, here, if you’re interested in accounting especially because some of the government and public sector, their audits are on air force, they’re on Navy, they’re on the military organization that you were just affiliated with, which one, they need a security clearance to be able to work on that client.
[00:34:53] Brandi Saunders: So if you’re interested in that at all, how do we get you there? Because that is. That is a direct [00:35:00] resource for these companies. That there’s a huge problem right now with people and being able to hire and having resource management right now, the great resignation that’s going on. But what if we can create these pipelines that will get people to career fields, whether it not just accounting, whether it’s trades that you do.
[00:35:17] Brandi Saunders: I tried to explain this to somebody the other day, that when you think of a military base, A lot of people think of like infantry men or those types of typical jobs. Every job that’s like on the civilian side is in the military because they have to build, they function independently as their own community.
[00:35:33] Brandi Saunders: There’s a school there there’s a hospital, there’s clinics, there’s waste management. Like there’s all sorts of jobs that people do. And that they serve in and everybody’s kind of military experiences unique, but what is not all unique is that we all have to have a security clearance. Right?
[00:35:50] Brandi Saunders: So these in this are very lucrative on the. But do a lot of people know how to get their skills to where they want to be. And this like the [00:36:00] certifications that you get in the military. So I was a foreign oh seven one assassin. That means nothing with a special experience, identifier of critical care.
[00:36:09] Brandi Saunders: That means nothing on the civilian side. But what that tells you in the military is that I’m an expert in critical care medical that I can officially take care of a trauma patient, and I can do all these qualifications. That means nothing to anybody else on the civilian, but in other job fields, you’d get these certifications that they didn’t, they don’t translate in the military.
[00:36:30] Brandi Saunders: You get them, but they don’t translate into civilian. So how do we as corporate America? Create these pipelines and give people these resources and say, we’re willing to sponsor you or put money in. You invest in you. And maybe similar to the military that you’ll give us three years after what you’re done your schooling and education.
[00:36:50] Brandi Saunders: You’ll get three years in our company, and then you can do whatever you want with it. We’ve put money into you. I think it’s also would help you know, that’s a real fact that 22 veterans are killing themselves [00:37:00] today. And I, a lot of it, I feel like is struggling on the outside. Can we make that easier?
[00:37:07] Brandi Saunders: We’re looking at, we put in all sorts of money into veterans and resources after the fact, but let’s put the money in before they end up on the outside without kind of support and without direction. And. It is not easily navigatable to get to where I got to and to do it, how I did. I am very kind of lucky in certain ways that it worked out, but I was able to get my associates while I was active duty, which meant I took online classes while I was.
[00:37:34] Brandi Saunders: Only two, but it was enough that it kept me going. So when I separated, after six years of serving, I had an associates used the GI bill to complete my bachelor’s in two years. And my master’s in one, I ended up with zero financial. And a master’s degree that was allowed me to be able to take the CPA exam.
[00:37:54] Brandi Saunders: I worked with a big four company right after that, sponsored me to take it. And so [00:38:00] I was able to get there without any financial burden on myself. Now nobody’s laid that out for me and said, you need to do this, this and this. And a lot of it, like I said, was by luck by accounting, that the master’s program was an accelerated one year program that I was able to get into.
[00:38:15] Brandi Saunders: So what if we can make that easier for people, and it’s not as hard to figure out these things and investing that money and are enlisted for us cause it’s different with officer enlisted and you also have a lot of people that were like me that. Enlisted side because they didn’t really have other options.
[00:38:34] Brandi Saunders: And then you become, feel very prestigious and prideful of being in the military and then you’re out and it’s it’s kind of like a, a very low and. And there’s also. So once we get these people into corporate America, we need to make sure that we have support services that are helping them transition because corporate life is so different than military life.
[00:38:55] Brandi Saunders: And I struggle when things aren’t structured. I like knowing who my chain of command [00:39:00] is, and if somebody jumps that chain of command, it goes right to me without going, like it bothers me and it, I have a hard time dealing with those types of things because I’m programmed a certain way. And I’m one of the least military people out of all the branches being air force and being medical, but still we have kind of common factors.
[00:39:19] Brandi Saunders: And so how can we train our supervisors and management to be able to help our veterans that we’re getting in and it make sure that we’re setting them up for success. And then when certain things are happening in the world that maybe. And using the word triggering to some extent, let’s make sure we’re reaching out and let’s make sure that we’re giving somebody a, who is a veteran who’s coming into the bump, a buddy.
[00:39:42] Brandi Saunders: Who’s another veteran who, that kid ain’t gonna be able to touch base with the navigate. You know, if a manager is a more kind of looser, fly on the seat of the car, that may not be the best manager for somebody that needs a little bit more structure or a little bit more hand holding at first.
[00:39:58] Brandi Saunders: And that’s not a bad thing, but [00:40:00] it’s because they’re two separate worlds and it’s it can be like those corporate type of challenges. Are unique to the civilian challenges, right? There’s like the military world, there’s civilian worlds or corporate world. How do we make all of those blend to be most beneficial for our service members and give them, that sense of purpose, a purpose that guidance, that support.
[00:40:22] Brandi Saunders: Okay then, like I try to get involved with different organizations and I had the the re recent pleasure of going to the castle lift benefits, which support oh yeah. OIF OEF veterans with, I think it’s over with a certain amount of service disability. They do physical healing through mental healing.
[00:40:40] Brandi Saunders: And when I go to these things, Every time that I hear a service member talk about their experiences. I cry. It hits me every time I hear the national Anthem. I cry. It is a moment for me. Like I see faces the faces that I tried to compartmentalize. I’m I can more easily [00:41:00] talk about Iraq and some of those things that I can about the men and women in the military that I took care of, because I know their story is much harder.
[00:41:08] Brandi Saunders: And not much harder, but it’s more resonating. It’s the longterm effects are are there. When I hear people talk about, how they’ve had difficulties separating out with their, what they’ve seen and the service members that have died next to them. And that it’s very hard for me, but knowing that, right?
[00:41:27] Brandi Saunders: Like, so when you spoke at CohnReznick, when you were, we had, thank you so much for doing that town hall and talking about your book and your brother. There was a group of veterans on us that, that reached out to each other, like. We need to talk because this is bringing up feelings for us and we would like to talk to each other, but in our little bubble, no one else knows that we have kind of have these experiences.
[00:41:48] Brandi Saunders: So. Being able to know that there’s a community within your corporate world that can support you on different types of events of stuff like that. And, Hey, I know that this talk [00:42:00] is coming up. I just wanted to let you know that if you want to, I’m setting some time for you tomorrow morning, we can touch base and just see how that, so that it’s not steering away from us doing those things, but it’s supporting us because.
[00:42:11] Brandi Saunders: That that town hall that you gave was so beneficial. And, but I do think that it scared some people because they thought that it may have been harmful to the veterans that were listening and not and not being prepared to hear necessarily that, those details. And I got that sense with them, seeing people, their reaction, but I, this was very good.
[00:42:30] Brandi Saunders: More of these need to happen. We need to be able to talk about these things and yes, they are going to be. Cause up emotions, but what supports do we have in place that will support our veterans and in that way? So I hope that was kind of like, adding in a bunch of other things, but. It’s like a, it needs to be a well thought out pipeline and that’s I look, I have, CohnReznick behind me, that is willing to get us there.
[00:42:54] Brandi Saunders: And I have a great group of veterans that we are working with on this kind of executive committee [00:43:00] to look at how are we going to recruit, how are we going to professionally develop? And then how are we going to smart support our community both internally and externally to be able to. This program being beneficial, and then let’s share it with everybody.
[00:43:13] Brandi Saunders: Let’s go with other fields and let’s get everybody involved that could kind of help them. And then maybe that’ll help also with people in trades and get that more robust.
[00:43:25] Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. And I know that there’s a lot of companies who have these veteran focused programs, where they are actively trying to recruit veterans.
[00:43:35] Scott DeLuzio: And a lot of times. To me, it feels like it’s just one of those nice to have kind of things to it, to just more on the public relations side. Hey, we’re hiring veterans and oh, okay that’s a good thing. So we’re going to support that. Right. But I feel like it’s sort of a half-baked plan where if you’re just hiring veterans for the sake of hiring veterans, to say that that’s what you’re [00:44:00] doing.
[00:44:01] Scott DeLuzio: Okay, but what happens when you don’t have the rest of that structure that you’re talking about in place that, that network of veterans within the company who can reach out to each other can talk to each other when there’s things going on in the world? Last summer, when the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan was probably a big thing.
[00:44:20] Scott DeLuzio: I know it was a big thing for a lot of veterans that I talked to is probably a big thing within your company and the people that work there. Especially the veterans. That’s something that you want to have that network and community of people there in place to be able to talk with each other.
[00:44:37] Scott DeLuzio: And that makes it easier for you to have those veterans not only come and work for the company, but also to stay there and thrive in that job that they’re doing with your company. So, I feel like it’s a. Important step that you’re doing taking the time to get it done, right.[00:45:00]
[00:45:00] Scott DeLuzio: To get the not only just get the veterans in and help them with that whole path that you laid out, that you took, right. Between getting your associates to your bachelor’s, to your master’s, to taking the CPA exam and in all the steps that. We’re required to fall into place for you to get to that place.
[00:45:22] Scott DeLuzio: No one laid that out for you. But if someone had that roadmap laid out, just like in the military, when you sign up for the military, there’s a roadmap. If you’re signing up to become a, an MP signing up to be an infantry man signing up to be in the medical field, there is a roadmap where you go from one school to the next.
[00:45:41] Scott DeLuzio: Until you get to the point where, okay, now you’re trained in whatever that job is and now you can go and do it. There is that roadmap already in place. It would be nice if that roadmap existed on the civilian side for people who maybe had no idea about that profession [00:46:00] prior to getting out of the military.
[00:46:02] Scott DeLuzio: And they’re just stumbling into it and they’re like, okay, what do I need to do? Because in a lot of cases, it may even be easier than they. They’ve even realized, but they don’t do it because it sounds like this big, scary thing. Okay. I’m going to be a tax accountant. That sounds scary. So nevermind not going to do that.
[00:46:21] Scott DeLuzio: Right. So they don’t even bother. So if there was a roadmap laid out and said, okay, these are the steps that you need to take. We’ll help you figure out how to get through this. That to me seems like it would take a lot of the that big, scary monster that we don’t know what it even is.
[00:46:39] Scott DeLuzio: It takes a lot of that out of the equation and it makes it just that much easier for people to have a successful transition. And you’re absolutely right about the 22 veterans a day. A lot of it is dealing with the new life, the new identity, the new. Stuff that they have to deal with after getting out of the military.
[00:46:58] Scott DeLuzio: And that’s just a [00:47:00] difficult thing for a lot of people to deal with. And if we can make that easier for people, we can start chipping away at that number and bring it closer to this.
[00:47:08] Brandi Saunders: Yeah. And I like I’m honest with you when I first heard that statistic, I’m like, man, that sounds like a lot.
[00:47:13] Brandi Saunders: And then I have recently in the even in the past year or so, gotten more involved with joining veteran communities and feeling more comfortable as a medical personnel to be able to, talk about my stuff. And as I mentioned before, like I didn’t really talk about things for awhile.
[00:47:29] Brandi Saunders: Cause it was. Feel the one, like some Maya stories or other people’s stories, my pain and trauma is over their experiences. And so I just want to take that back seat on a lot of times. And so having joined these veteran forums and stuff, It’s amazing. I mean, to see you and realize that it is such an issue and it is happening, and there are wonderful organizations that step in and help deescalate situations, but seeing people cry out for help and the amount of it, and then knowing [00:48:00] the amount that don’t cry out for help.
[00:48:01] Brandi Saunders: It’s a real, it’s a real situation.
[00:48:03] Brandi Saunders: And that’s I think a lot of the focus needs to be on is preventing people getting to this point that they don’t feel like they have options or a path. And, and I explained to some people that might. Me growing up with not really having financial security or stability in my home life, as much as, some other people not having a kind of education or, like example for me that the military.
[00:48:33] Brandi Saunders: It was easy for me. It was like, my life got so much easier when I joined the military. I’m not even letting my blood pressure, which I black high blood pressure at 19 because I was living on my own working like three jobs for, six months after I graduated, knowing that that was going to be my life.
[00:48:48] Brandi Saunders: And I was never going to break that pattern of kind of poverty and never making ends meet. So when I joined the military and all of a sudden, a guaranteed paycheck and they’re paying for my housing and It just was easier. [00:49:00] And, Things can be easier in that sense that it’s set up for you.
[00:49:04] Brandi Saunders: So then when you get on the outside, some of those, like the financial struggles that you may have had, it’s not uncommon for enlisted members to run into financial problems. And there’s support in the military that will help you with that. So if you can’t like, if you need on base daycare, I remember them looking at my income and reducing our daycare price to fit my rank and what, it wasn’t like a set of, you have to pay the.
[00:49:26] Brandi Saunders: For everybody, it was, we’re going to take in, okay, you’re this rank your husbands, it depended on full-time school. All right. We’ll lower that for you. They don’t have those types of more readily available options in the civilian side that give you those support and it can feel very alone facing things.
[00:49:42] Brandi Saunders: And especially that. Talking about financial issues in corporate America, like personally is not well, it’s not something people really feel comfortable with, but if we know that we have enlisted coming in, let’s set up services that they don’t have to ask for help that we’re just giving them to them and looking at these options that, as [00:50:00] a company, that if we have these resources to better support the long-term benefits will, we’ll be of so much value than the short term.
[00:50:10] Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, absolutely. I, again, I think all of this is really great. I think your story and how you successfully transitioned out of the military into a brand new career is inspiring for the people who. Maybe are struggling to do that themselves, but I also think that what you guys are doing at CohnReznick and trying to get that set up is also inspiring too, knowing that there are companies out there who are taking this seriously and are not just putting a pretty picture up there, they’re actually doing something about it.
[00:50:45] Scott DeLuzio: And to me, actions. Much louder than words. And so I really appreciate all the time and effort that, that you and your colleagues are putting into this and doing it the right way and making sure [00:51:00] that all of this gets done. In a way that is beneficial to the military community and helping out those veterans who really do need assistance in making that transition successfully.
[00:51:14] Brandi Saunders: Yeah.
[00:51:15] Brandi Saunders: Like one of the other things that I think we talked about in our little veteran group, that corner is like, is, educating some of people about like questions to ask and stuff. And I think that when you were speaking at our company giving and we had a panel of veterans that were speaking with you we noticed that right away, some of the questions.
[00:51:30] Brandi Saunders: Are not meant to be by somebody like invasive, but they are. And knowing that like, and I mentioned this to you previously, that when people find out that I worked in ICU or I’m in that I’ve deployed, the first thing that comes out of their mouth is, wow, you must’ve seen a lot. How do you respond to that?
[00:51:48] Brandi Saunders: So maybe the first couple of years I got out, I mean, I just didn’t throw anything out. I’m like, yes, I took care of a lot of her children. I need that. It gets them to stop asking questions. It’s subtle, pretty traumatic to say that stuff to them. And I didn’t [00:52:00] know how to eloquently describe it and to say it and, Teaching people that how to kind of better skillsets for talking to veterans that have gone through some stuff.
[00:52:09] Brandi Saunders: And then we’re not assuming like my husband served and he didn’t deploy that doesn’t take away him being a veteran or his service. He just wasn’t called. And so knowing every veteran has their own unique experience, not one is all the same and just different tools that we can do to support.
[00:52:27] Brandi Saunders: Then once they are in our company is going to be really key to keeping them longterm and that, that overall mental support of, and with a company that really values me values what I’ve done and who I am and what I can be.
[00:52:41] Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. Brenda, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today and hearing your story and the inspiration and the hope for the people who are out there looking to make a transition and just aren’t sure what to do with that.
[00:52:57] Scott DeLuzio: I hope that the model that you create. [00:53:00] At CohnReznick in the CPA world could be used in many other companies, in many other industries where people are looking to get out and make a transition into some of the career field. I think it’s going to be very beneficial to the overall military community.
[00:53:18] Scott DeLuzio: Again, applaud your efforts, you and your colleagues and everything that you are doing. And thank you so much again for coming on and sharing your story.
[00:53:28] Brandi Saunders: Thank you so much, Scott. And you know, I wish you a happy Memorial day. I know that some people don’t like to hear happy and I read that your dad’s post about what your brother said, that you know about it being a happy Memorial day, and that’s why we fight, but somebody else had also said that.
[00:53:43] Brandi Saunders: I’m wishing the veterans a happy Memorial day, because I’m glad that we don’t have to you know, be celebrating them their life on this day that they didn’t actually, I didn’t pass away. So what I’m trying to say is thank you for giving this platform and for your service and for honoring your [00:54:00] brother and his legacy and everything that your family has given to the military, into the community.
[00:54:05] Scott DeLuzio: Well, thank you, Brandi. And thank you again for joining me.
[00:54:08] Scott DeLuzio: Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website. driveonpodcast.com. We’re also on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube at drive on podcast. .