Christopher Bergendahl poses in front of the Black Hawk helicopter that he helped maintaiin as part of his work with a U.S. Army medi-vac unit.
On September 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked the United States, Christopher Bergendahl ‘17, of Enfield, Conn., was a sophomore in high school. That day solidified his plans to join the U.S. military; so he signed up when he was age 16 and joined the U.S. Army right after his high school graduation.
While deployed for eight years, mostly in Iraq but also for six months in Afghanistan, he worked with a medical-evacuation unit performing mechanical maintenance on Black Hawk helicopters, helping to move patients off of the helicopters, assisting the medics during flights with patients, and manning the observation post on flights. During that assignment, he decided that he would like to find a career in the medical field after leaving the military, so in meetings with a GI counselor to plan his transition to civilian life, they talked about options and Christopher began exploring various medical technology options.
“I looked at schools all over the country and this turned out to be the best match for me,” Christopher says about the University of Hartford and the Radiologic Technology program in the College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions.
“I love this program. It gives me time learning in a classroom environment and then out in the field doing clinical internships in hospital and medical office settings,” he continues. Now age 28 and a junior in the program, Christopher’s clinical placements have included Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, Conn.; Manchester Memorial Hospital in Manchester, Conn.; and Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford Springs, Conn. After taking exams to be certified as an x-ray technician and finishing his senior coursework in 2017, he will be prepared for certification exams as a CT-scan technician.
Christopher says he’s hoping to work in a hospital/ER setting after graduation because he likes the fast-paced level of activity. Intensity is part of what he liked during his time working with the military medi-vac unit. Right now, he has intensity of another kind—coordinating school work with caring for his nine-month-old son. He and his wife both juggle child care duties and schoolwork, as she is in nursing school.
Christopher admits he had a little trepidation about going back to school at age 26 and being in a classroom with students nearly 10 years younger. “I was surprised at how motivated my fellow students were,” he says. Their focus may be due, in part, to the fact that radiologic technology is a very career-focused and selective program—enrollment is capped at 25 students per year.
“The faculty treats us all like we’re here to learn,” Christopher says, adding that his classes are very interactive with lots of discussion between teachers and students. “As students, we all bring our internship and work experiences into class discussions. So some of my military experiences have become part of our classroom talks.
“Being in this setting, with students and faculty that have completely accepted this non-traditional student, has really helped me feel like a ‘normal’ person again,” Christopher concludes.