By Abby Weingarten
After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico three years ago, U.S. Army Medical Corps Maj. Benjamin Stork ’03 joined the relief effort—flying as a physician in a medevac helicopter to tend to the patients from the island.
“It was the wild west those first few weeks after the storm, and there was no power to most of the island. We flew supplies, put tarps on roofs, and unloaded trucks full of food to take to communities in the mountains,” said Stork, who studied neuroscience and biopsychology at New College. “It was a good feeling to know that I was able to make a tangible difference—to make an impact.”
Stork has been making an impact in multiple ways throughout his adult life—for his family, for the military, and even for his alma mater.
He is currently stationed in Germany (the country of his birth) with the 101st Airborne Division, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade. His wife, New College alumna Kirstin Stork ’08; and their sons, 3-year-old Konrad and 10-month-old Hugo; are in Nashville, Tennessee. A member of the New College Alumni Association (NCAA) Board of Directors (BOD), Benjamin Stork graduated in 2009 and was last in Sarasota in February for the 2020 reunion.
Born into a military family (both his parents were Army doctors; and his grandfathers served in World War II), Benjamin Stork spent his childhood living all over the globe. He transferred to New College from Indiana University and joined the service after he graduated, starting with the Inactive Ready Reserve and moving on to active duty.
“I always knew that I wanted to go into the service. It teaches you to be humble, professional and to get things done for your countrymen,” he said. “It has definitely taught me to take responsibility for and ownership of anything I want to do to succeed.”
So did his experience at New College. His undergraduate career was so transformative that he joined the NCAA BOD in 2019 to give back.
“I want to have a real impact on the school, and to keep it afloat and thriving,” Benjamin Stork said. “What has always impressed me about New College is the critical-thinking skills it teaches you; that’s something that’s so rare to see in any domain of American life.”
These critical-thinking skills helped Benjamin Stork write his 2016 graduate thesis for his master of public health degree from the University of West Florida, entitled Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Army Aviators, A Review of Current Literature and Recommendation for Updated Policy. The policy that came out of his research was just published in July.
“I felt like this research really made a difference,” Benjamin Stork said, adding that he also has a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. “It’s been great to affect policy leaders in the military about how soldiers are medically treated.”
This work means the world to Benjamin Stork, who has watched his comrades perform unimaginably heroic tasks in the military. He served in Afghanistan for six months 1½ years ago as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, supporting the Afghan National Army (ANA) and United States forces. It was a mostly uneventful deployment for him (he was performing flight physicals and handling administrative tasks), though there were rocket attacks almost daily. One rocket blew up a truck in front of his barracks. He was unharmed.
Other members of his medevac team, however, were sent to “dicey areas,” where they were flying in to recover wounded soldiers.
“Some of them ended up flying into an area where there was gunfire, and SFC Christopher Celiz (a U.S. Army ranger) was shot in the neck while securing a medevac landing zone for the ANA. Bullets were hitting the aircraft and, when the guys got the call that Celiz was down, they circled back around, still taking gunfire, and went in for the pickup,” Benjamin Stork said. “The guys willing to do that, to see bullets flying and still fly back in to pick up their wounded comrade, that’s something that’s pretty special about American soldiers. They’re all working toward the same goal and mission, and they’re working for each other.”
For his own service, Benjamin Stork (a former Eagle Scout) has received such accolades as the Army Aviation Association of America Medicine Award in 2019, and the Theodore Lyster Army Flight Surgeon of the Year award in 2017. He is now part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, a rotational forward presence throughout Europe that builds readiness, increases interoperability, and enhances the bond between ally and partner militaries using multinational training events. He will remain in Germany for another eight months.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented travel to and from America, and Benjamin Stork misses his family (his wife is studying for a doctor of pharmacy degree at Belmont University). Benjamin Stork is typically deployed for nine months with 15 months in-between, and he was last in the United States in June. Whenever he is in America, he finds any opportunity to visit New College.
“Half the reason I joined the Alumni Association was to fly to Sarasota every few months,” Benjamin Stork said with a laugh. “I love staying in touch with my New College professors; they were so invested in me and their other students. That’s what’s so amazing about New College—that it sparks this desire for inquiry and novelty and adventure. My life has been so much more of an adventure because of New College. It has had such an impact on my life.”
Benjamin Stork shares that enthusiasm with other New College alumni like Karen Muschler ’07 (he recently mentored her through the Army’s Health Professions Scholarship Program).
“She just graduated from her ER residency at Madigan Army Medical Center. The best part is that she’s now coming to the 101st CAB to join me as one of my battalion flight surgeons, and will be deploying to Europe to meet us next month,” Benjamin Stork said. “Two New College alums, one U.S. Army Aviation unit!”
Being married to a Novo Collegian is a perk, too, as Benjamin and Kirstin Stork often reminisce about their New College days, even though they didn’t attend at the same time (Kirstin Stork graduated in 2012 with a degree in psychology). She can relate to her husband’s commitment to New College and is unendingly proud of him.
“I value Ben’s contribution to the military because he is truly a serviceman,” Kirstin Stork said. “He regularly goes above and beyond the call of duty.”
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.