Roger Casey's fascination with flight started early -- when he was a boy watching his father take flying lessons.
Sometimes he would stay on the ground, his eyes on the sky as his father's plane soared among the clouds.
Other times, he would get to venture up himself as a passenger with his dad and the instructor.
"To me, it was a whole new world that opened up," said Casey, who grew up to serve five years as a flight medic in the Air Force and then as an emergency department nurse.
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The 48-year-old from West Richland now works as the Tri-Cities base chief for Northwest MedStar, a critical care transport service that ferries patients by ambulance, helicopter and plane.
It's been a full-circle journey for a man who says his "head has always kind of been in the clouds."
Casey loves the MedStar work, he said. And in October, he will receive a special honor -- a new distinction in a long career in which he has managed to blend his passions for flying and emergency medicine.
He is being inducted into the Academy of Emergency Nursing. Established a decade ago by the Emergency Nurses Association, it's a select group.
To date, there are only 110 academy fellows, with Casey and nine others joining the ranks this year.
Deena Brecher, the association president, said in a statement that Casey "inspires us with his unparalleled dedication to his patients and colleagues" and has "provided visionary and ground-breaking leadership in emergency nursing."
Casey grew up in Montana, moving to the Tri-Cities as a teen and graduating from Kamiakin High School in Kennewick.
He still recalls the first patient he flew with in the Air Force, a contractor who had been injured in Panama. He tended to him on a flight to a hospital in San Antonio, Texas.
After the Air Force, Casey decided to go into nursing. After four years working in Spokane, he joined the staff at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.
At first, he worked on a medical-surgical floor. But one shift, he was sent to the emergency department and was hooked.
"I found my niche," he said. It's not that he liked chaos or to see people in pain, "but getting patients stabilized and then transported to where they need to be -- it's gratifying," he said.
Casey spent 18 years at Kadlec, most of those in the emergency department. The past several years of his tenure, he was the hospital's trauma and stroke coordinator.
In July 2013, he joined MedStar, overseeing the Tri-Cities base. It's one of the company's six bases that serve a territory including Washington, northern Idaho, eastern Oregon and Montana.
He doesn't tend to patients in his role as the base chief. But occasionally he'll get to don a flight suit and tag along on flights.
It's been a good fit, he said. A good blend. And being inducted into the Academy of Emergency Nursing is exciting, he said.
"It's an honor," said Casey on a recent morning, in MedStar's hangar at the Richland Airport. "Until it happens next month -- I don't think it's sunk in yet."
The induction is Oct. 11 during the Emergency Nurses Association's annual conference in Indianapolis.
-- Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @saraTCHerald