When Maryland State Police Trooper John Preston worked patrol from the Leonardtown Barrack in St. Mary's County, he went on a ridealong with the department's aviation unit as part of a critical care medic class.
Preston, a New Market resident, said he immediately found his calling.
"I had a very fun day, and then I decided to go ahead and apply," Preston said.
"I wanted to fly."
For the past nine years, Preston, 34, has been a flight medic on Trooper 2 based at Andrews Air Force Base, serving Prince George's, Charles, Calvert, St. Mary's and Anne Arundel counties.
Preston recently received the Trooper of the Year award for 2011 in the aviation unit. He received the award in December at the unit's annual Christmas party.
"I was somewhat surprised when it came," Preston said. "I wasn't expecting it."
Preston said the award is an honor, but he sees himself as part of a team that includes first responders on the ground and staff at the hospitals where his patients end up.
"We're just a link in the chain," he said. "We're part of the system, but we play a big role in it and we're proud to be part of that."
Aside from their primary mission of providing medical transportation, Preston said he and his pilot also take part in police operations, search and rescue missions, and activities related to homeland security and intelligence. He said providing support for police chases is one of the more exciting aspects of the job.
"The paramedic serves on the medical side of things but also as the observer, or what some people call the tactical flight officer," he said. "We're also the hoist operator. The pilot flies the aircraft, and we do all the rest."
Preston also serves as a patrol trooper during downtime and on his way to and from work. He said he gets a special sense of fulfillment seeing patients once thought to be at death's door walking out of the hospital with a new lease on life.
"A lot of times people don't want to see law enforcement, but this is a time when they do," Preston said. "Taking some people that are very ill or injured and getting them to the hospital, and then seeing them have positive outcomes, is a big part of the positives in this job."