Dave Staneck has enormous respect for the heli-dunker, and for good reason. One of the more memorable moments in his job training came when Dave was inside the contraption-essentially a huge tin can meant to simulate a helicopter cabin-and it was dropped into a swimming pool and flipped upside down. His task was very simple-count to 10, then escape. Did we mention that he was blindfolded?
Dave Staneck is Lieutenant David Staneck, M.D., and his stint in the heli-dunker, along with mile swims in high-altitude flight suits, night-time aerobatics in a propeller plane, and maneuvers designed to induce the Coriolis Reaction and thereby screw up his endo-lymphatic flow (ask him and he'll explain), were all part of the training for his position as flight surgeon with the U.S. Navy Medical Corps, stationed in Cherry Point, North Carolina.
After graduating from Gettysburg in 1999, Dave, a biochemistry and molecular biology major, went on to medical school at Temple University, supported by a Navy scholarship. Then came a general surgery internship at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, followed by six weeks of aeromedical training-designed to familiarize him with the medical needs of Navy pilots. There is no better way to understand those needs, he learned, than by experiencing them. "It's so you can see what it's like taking G-forces," he explains, "so you can see what it's like when your sensory inputs are out of synch. It gives us exposure to exactly what a pilot experiences."
As flight surgeon, it is Dave's job to make sure that health problems associated with flight do not compromise safety. "There are different things you would never think twice about if you were a regular doctor," he says. "But with aviation, you have to think carefully about whether a pilot is safe to fly. Some simple problems can become big problems when you're at the controls of a $20 million aircraft."
And exactly how did Gettysburg help prepare him for the demands of his career? "Gettysburg helped me learn to be open-minded and diverse about trying new things," he says. As an undergraduate, those things included a public service trip to Chiapas, Mexico, volunteering at local hospitals, and playing catcher on the baseball team.
Although the free thinking associated with a liberal arts education and the discipline of a military life might seem at odds to some, Dave thinks they're highly compatible. "The armed forces stress high honor and high integrity," he says. "And the liberal arts college environment reinforces those values. Gettysburg instills high morals and integrity." Besides, he adds, when you're in a class with only eight people, it quickly becomes obvious who's not pulling their weight.