Alumnus Ruslan Garrey puts his accounting degree to work in the U.S. Air Force Medical Service Corps
As a teenager, Ruslan Garrey (BSAcc 2012) assumed he would pursue an education in math or science because his parents were both chemists. Then he met representatives from the public accounting industry during a business-oriented summer program.
“I instantly liked their energy—I felt they were the sort of people I would want to work with. I was also intrigued by how many different doors accounting opened. From then on, I knew I wanted to go to DU because it was clearly the best program in the area,” said Garrey, whose family moved to Boulder and Loveland, Colorado, from Russia when he was 6.
“More than anything, I enjoyed how the [Daniels] program challenged us,” Garrey said. “Going through the core together forged everyone into a collective where we all knew each other well and could rely on one another in and out of the classroom. The abilities we learned, both technical and soft skills, are a testament to the program’s excellence.”
After DU, Garrey began his career at a green-energy tech startup in downtown Denver, but there was not a lot of opportunity to grow.
That’s when Garrey learned about the U.S. Air Force Medical Service Corps (MSC). The diverse jobs that officers fill in military hospitals intrigued Garrey—everything from finance and logistics to facility management, coordinating aeromedical evacuation, contingency/wartime planning, information technology and patient administration.
“The opportunities for growth, leadership and travel all played into my decision to commission as an officer in the Air Force,” he said.
After completing officer training school, Garrey worked in the hospital at Travis Air Force Base near San Francisco. Then, as a fairly new lieutenant stationed at the clinic in Altus, Oklahoma, he was thrust into the role of commanding the resource management, readiness and training sections.
“This was a big learning and growing point for me, both in terms of leadership, as well as scope,” Garrey said. “For the first time, I was not only dealing with finances and human resources, but now I was overseeing the planning and execution of exercises, as well as leading the clinic’s deployment operations. Supervising over a dozen military and civilian personnel and a multimillion-dollar budget was a heavy load to get used to only a couple of years out of DU, but I managed to grow into it.”
Garrey’s next assignment was at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea. “Wearing chemical protective gear and body armor, weapons training and loading stretchers onto helicopters is not typically what one expects to do when they enter the accounting career field, but that is just where I found myself,” he said.
In South Korea, readiness was not just for aircraft emergencies, but also the threat of sudden war.
“Every two months we would spend a week exercising for 12-hour shifts in heavy gear, repelling attacks and making sure the jets could be recovered to do their mission,” Garrey said.
Several months into the assignment, Garrey’s squadron was reorganized, and he was put in charge of the CFO and CIO functions.
“Again, this pushed my limits, but the long hours made me grow,” Garrey explained. “I was the medical representative in the base’s emergency operations center, leading the response to simulated threats like North Korean special operations forces incursions and missile attacks, along with real-world emergencies like downed aircrafts, fatal rollovers, a deadly hydrazine spill, heatwaves with dozens of casualties, power outages and waterline breaks.”
Garrey was also the medical controller in an international exercise, where he oversaw the medical operations supporting 25,000 U.S., South Korean and NATO troops preparing for wartime procedures, tabulating the casualties of war and ensuring that allies had the resources to care for them.
“At the closing ceremonies, Korean Gen. Park Chan Ju singled me out as one of the American soldiers to receive a special gift—his coin and a watch—all in the pomp and circumstance of a military band and parade,” Garrey said.
Currently, Garrey is the CIO of the medical facility at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. He leads the IT and HR functions of the hospital while the Department of Defense implements several major modernization efforts.
“Though this is another surprising shift in my career, I am thankful that being an MSC has allowed me to gain such a breadth of professional experiences.”
Garrey credits his mentors, Daniels School of Accountancy Director Sharon Lassar, Teaching Professor and Assistant Director Kathleen “KED” Davisson and the late David “Buff” Honodel for making the biggest impact on him.
“The first two always had time to talk with me one-on-one to give me career guidance and make sure that I was on the right track for what I wanted to do,” Garrey said. “Professor Honodel really pushed me and I initially struggled in his class, but after spending time with him, I feel like the type of work I can produce and pressure I can take is owed in large part to him. I did not realize until after I graduated that he was an Air Force retiree, but in retrospect it made perfect sense that we meshed so well.”
Garrey’s career benefited from his solid accounting foundation. “Understanding how money flows is important in every job—whether in the public sector, working as a CIO or making sure a clinic has the right equipment to execute a wartime or contingency response mission,” he said. “There is a surprising amount of carry-over between balancing ledgers and balancing casualty triage counts, and coordinating office functions and coordinating emergency response between firefighters, medics and security forces.”
Recently, Garrey was selected as a medical readiness plans fellow at U.S. Air Force’s Europe headquarters in Ramstein, Germany, with a follow-on assignment as a readiness planner. He is excited to stay in an operational role in Germany.
“Long-term, I may either stay in the Air Force until retirement, or look to the World Health Organization or the Foreign Service to leverage my financial know-how and knowledge of sustaining medical operations in contingencies,” he said.
Regardless of where the future takes him, Garrey plans to rise to the opportunities and challenges that come his way.