Monday, April 08, 2019
by Kathryn Holleman • email@example.com
BJC | Cole Elmer and Terry Artis served a harrowing tour in Iraq together as members of the Illinois Army National Guard. It’s the kind of experience that bonds people for life.
When they last saw each other at a fellow company member’s wedding, they promised to keep in touch and get together when they could.
But, as Elmer says, “Life happened.”
Four years later, Elmer had been hired for a new position — vice president of BJC revenue cycle management. He was sitting in the shared services new employee orientation March 4 at the BJC Learning Institute.
Elmer didn’t know of BJC’s veteran-friendly reputation when he accepted the job offer, so he was a little surprised when orientation leader Allison Olden asked if there were any veterans in the room. He looked around, pleased to see others in the room raising their hands.
Then, Elmer realized he knew one of them.
Artis immediately recognized the voice and turned around. The two comrades shared a quick hug,
as onlookers applauded.
“It was a neat scenario,” says Artis.
Going to war
Like many young people, Artis had joined the National Guard to help pay for his education. He joined in the 1544th Transportation Company based in Paris, Illinois, in 1997, rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant. In 1999, he began his career at Alton Memorial Hospital as a radiology technologist, eventually taking a job with a mobile lithotripsy unit.
In November 2003, he was six days away from his Guard discharge when he received word that the unit was being deployed to Iraq.
“It was my turn to repay what I’d been given,” he says.
Artis was one of the older soldiers in the unit. Many were still in college — like Elmer, who was an undergraduate at the University of Illinois.
“Terry was the one who called to tell me I was going to war,” says Elmer. Artis was considered a true leader in the unit, he says. “He stepped up many times, and many times he put himself out there.”
Meanwhile, Artis says Elmer was one of his “top dogs” — a standout in the unit. “Cole was always a hard charger, one of my hardest working soldiers,” says Artis.
Their drive and courage would be tested in Iraq.
As a transportation unit, the 1544th escorted personnel and supplies along treacherous, often deadly Iraqi roads. Their convoys were targets for ambushes, roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
The company’s base just outside Baghdad, next to the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, was hit by insurgent artillery and mortars so often that the soldiers nicknamed it “Mortaritaville.”
In fact, the company suffered its first death in a mortar attack less than 24 hours after crossing the border into Iraq.
“It was a quick reality check over there,” says Artis.
Artis was injured when the armored vehicle he was riding in was caught in a roadside bomb blast. In what some might call a dubious stroke of luck, it was the first day the company had access to armored vehicles.
“The armor probably saved my life,” he says. “It definitely saved my legs.” But he suffered permanent hearing loss in one ear.
Artis was awarded a Bronze Star (as was Elmer) and a Purple Heart for his service. But he insists that others in the company were more deserving, noting that of roughly 170 troops in the 1544th, five were killed and 23 were sent home with injuries.
But the experience instilled a positive perspective in him that’s helped drive his career.
“No matter what goes wrong, at least I’m not getting blown up or shot at,” he says. “It’s actually a great view on life, knowing that your worst day here will not compare to your worst day at war.”
Making their way (back) to BJC
Back home, Artis moved into health care in supply chain within BJC. In 2016, he left briefly to work with a vendor, but he soon realized that he missed the supportive BJC culture.
“My wife said, ‘You know you love that place,’” and she urged him to return to BJC.
Artis applied and was soon rehired as on-site utilization manager for supply chain at AMH and Christian Hospital.
On his return to civilian life, Elmer finished his degree at the University of Illinois. A speaker at a Future Healthcare Executives meeting convinced him to specialize in revenue cycle management (RCM). The discipline’s analytical aspect and ever-changing environment appealed to him.
“Revenue cycle is never monotonous,” he notes.
His path included earning a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University, working for Mercy Health Systems as revenue cycle performance executive director and serving as vice president of revenue cycle operations for R1 (formerly Accretive Health) working with Ascension Health.
With two young children at home, though, Elmer wanted to spend less time traveling and was open to new opportunities. Serendipitously, he had heard that BJC was opening a new RCM job in St. Louis, close to where he and his family live in Ellisville.
Elmer applied for the BJC job and was hired. And so, he found himself in new employee orientation with his old friend.
While Elmer was surprised to have military veterans called out at the orientation, he’s since been happy to find out how much BJC values its military veterans.
“I’m very excited to be part of such a great organization that gives so much back and values its people, including the veteran community,” he says.
Artis was already familiar with BJC’s affinity for those who have served.
“I know how much BJC values veterans,” he says. “Our department, supply chain, has lots of veterans, for sure.”
He thinks that people who are drawn to serve their country in the military are drawn to careers like health care, where they can continue to serve. And he’s glad that BJC values the qualities military veterans bring to the organization.
Besides, that special appreciation is what led to Olden asking about veterans — and to Artis and Elmer reconnecting. This time, they say, with working for the same organization and using the same email platform, there aren’t any excuses. They’ll be staying connected.
Bringing veterans together at BJC
The BJC Veterans Connection group brings together BJC team members who have served and are currently serving our country. For more information, go to https://www.bjc.org/VeteransConnection.
Number of views (2966)/Comments (12)
4/8/2019 7:31 AM
What a heartwarming story. As an older veteran I can appreciate and thank them for their service, and I can understand what it means to reconnect with old comrades. I also commend BJC for their support of our veterans. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story.
4/8/2019 9:48 AM
Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story. What a treat to see these two reconnect at an employee orientation!
Thank you both so much for your service and dedication to our county!
4/8/2019 2:09 PM
Thank you to all veterans for their service. You both have such an amazing story to tell others. Congratulations on reuniting and best of luck!
4/8/2019 3:08 PM
Nice story. Thanks for sharing.
4/8/2019 8:37 PM
Thank you both for your service! Wonderful story!
4/9/2019 1:49 PM
Thanks to both of you for all you have given to the rest of us. We are honored to have you in the BJC family.
4/11/2019 10:13 AM
Very nice and heartwarming story. I love reunions.
4/11/2019 12:58 PM
Thank you both for your service.
4/12/2019 3:57 PM
What an incredible, heart warming read. Thanks so much for sharing this story. Thank you to Cole and Terry for your service to our country and for protecting our freedom. God Bless you both and all the men/women who've served/serve our great nation.
4/15/2019 5:02 PM
As a veteran and employee of BJC I am well aware of how much they do for us. Great story. Keep up the good work
4/15/2019 9:57 PM
That is an awesome Story. I am so glad you guys reconnected. Thanks for sharing
Phil or Rich
4/16/2019 1:56 PM
I am currently still serving and am happy to have multiple veteran co-workers employed by BJC that I have directly and indirectly served with over my last 18 years.