A Navy corpsman, known as “Doc” to the Marines he cared for, is returning to his hometown of The Dalles to take on the role of program director at the Oregon Veterans’ Home.
“I’m really passionate about helping other vets so I bring a very positive attitude to this job,” said Michael Springston, a 2004 graduate of The Dalles High School.
He is looking forward to trading in traffic jams in Everett, Wash., for the slower pace of a rural community.
He landed in Washington to finish out his five-year enlistment at Naval Station Everett. After earning a business administration degree from the University of Washington, he worked with the Snohomish County Veterans’ Assistance Program with a focus on helping homeless military families.
“I lived two miles from work and it took me 45 minutes to get there,” he said of the traffic congestion in Everett.
In the last year, Springston assisted 7,000 clients and he looks forward to using this experience to take care of up to 151 OVH residents and staff.
“We were popping in Everett and I want to bring that energy here,” he said.
Springston starts his new job March 1, but will spend a few days training at the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs headquarters in Salem before settling in at OVH. He replaces Dallas Swafford, who resigned from the post last fall.
“I joined the service because I wanted to help and that is still my goal,” said Springston.
Born in Bend, he was raised in The Dalles by parents Steven and Tamie Springston.
His mother has spent 25 years as a special education assistant for North Wasco County School District 21.
His father has been employed as a fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in The Dalles for nearly 30 years.
After graduating from high school, Michael trained as an emergency medical technician in Clackamas County. During an ambulance transport, he had a life-changing experience with the patient, an Army veteran, that led him to enlist.
“He had third degree burns covering 60 percent of his body from Iraq and you knew that he had suffered, but he had nothing but good things to say about serving,” said Springston.
He decided to become a hospital corpsman to utilize his experience and went to Navy boot camp in 2008.
Springston’s first assignment was with the First Marine Division, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion out of Camp Pendleton near San Diego, Calif.
“The Marines called me ‘Baby Doc’ until I proved myself; I had to earn the title of ‘Doc,’” he said.
When he got in trouble, the Marine sergeants and officers referred to him as “Devil Dog” or “The Long Hair Guy” (because he was not wearing the ‘high and tight’ variant of the crew cut that is most commonly used by Marines).
He was with the First Marines when they responded to the massive tsunami devastation in Japan.
On March 11, 2011, a 9.0-9.1 undersea megathrust earthquake occurred about 43 miles east of the Oshika Peninsula of Thoku at a depth of about 18 miles.
It was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded to have hit Japan and the fourth most powerful in the world since modern record-keeping began in 1900, according to Wikipedia.
The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 133 feet in Mihauo in Tohoku’s Iwate Prefecture.
In places, the waves travelled six miles inland and caused 15,894 deaths, according to a reportby the Japanese National Police Agency. In addition, 6,152 people were injured and 2,562 missing.
More than 200,000 citizens were displaced and had to find temporary housing or be permanently relocated.
A 2014 agency report listed 127,290 buildings totally collapsed, with 272,788 buildings “half collapsed,” and another 747, 989 partially damaged.
The earthquake and tsunami also caused extensive infrastructure damage, including collapse of a dam.
Around 4.4 million households in northeastern Japan were left without electricity and 1.5 million without water.
Seven meltdowns occurred at three nuclear reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex and the associated evacuation zones affected hundreds of thousands of residents.
“I didn’t have a combat mission, my mission was humanitarian,” said Springston of helping to get supplies to devastated Japanese communities.
Later, Springston was attached to the Second Battalion, Fifth Marines, but was too close to the end of his enlistment to deploy to Afghanistan with the unit.
When he left the military, Springston still wanted to work with veterans. While earning his degree, he worked at the Everett Vet Center, and said it was an “eye-opening” experience to deal with those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In 2015, Springston went to work for the Snohomish program and focused on getting homeless vets into housing in an area where demand exceeded supply and rental prices were high.
“Veterans want to do things on their own, so when they ask for help, they really need it,” he said.
He would discuss lifestyle options with the veteran and leave it to him or her to make choices about which direction to go.
“They had to make the decision because they had to believe in what they are doing,” said Springston.
He worked with area law enforcement agencies to teach them “veteran culture” and how to deal with those who suffered from PTSD.
“I had a Power Point made up that addressed the mental health issues that veterans face after combat,” he said.
In his presentation, Springston recommended that an officer who had also been in the military deal with troubled veterans, because there would be greater understanding.
He looks forward to connecting with the three law enforcement agencies in Wasco County to discuss this issue.
Springston is returning to The Dalles with his own family. He and wife, Mary, are parents to Clayton, 15 months.