As a young man growing up on the streets of Jim Thorpe, Michael Bimler yearned to see the world outside of Carbon County. He dreamed of visiting far-off places, exotic locales that he had only previously read about or seen pictures of.
As an adult, he fulfilled this wish, traveling to Eastern Europe and the Middle East. But his journeys were not undertaken solely for pleasure: he also improved the health of countless American soldiers.
For 30 years, Bimler was a member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard's Medical Detachment. After a long career of hard work, dedication and personal sacrifice, Bimler was awarded the Legion of Merit and promoted to brigadier general on the Guard's retired list during a ceremony June 12.
"For me, the biggest highlight of my career was making a difference in the medical community and ensuring the medical readiness of our soldiers," Bimler said. "It's comforting to know that my actions made a difference."
After graduating from Marian Catholic High School in 1969, Bimler pursued his ambition of becoming a pharmacist at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science (currently the University of the Sciences). Upon receiving his diploma in 1975, Bimler returned to his roots in Jim Thorpe, working behind the counter at Joyce's Pharmacy. It wasn't long, however, until he began to feel his national pride stirring.
"At the time, I really didn't want to leave the area," Bimler said, "but I knew that I needed to give back to the country that had given me so much."
This patriotic streak saw Bimler enlisted as a pharmacy officer in the Army National Guard's 28th Infantry Division. Early on, his duties closely mimicked the tasks he performed at Joyce's, albeit on a much larger scale. Gradually, Bimler left the base hospitals behind, ascending the Guard's hierarchy.
"I've worn a couple of hats during my service," he said. "Although I started out as a pharmacist, I later became something of a logistics guru."
As he went up in rank, Bimler transitioned to an executive position, managing the health care of the individuals in his unit. This included keeping the medical facilities up to speed, making sure casualties were collected promptly and facilitating the movement of physicians around the base.
In the twilight of his military career, Bimler was given even more responsibility, leaving behind the soil of his homeland for the war-torn locales of Bosnia in 2002 and Iraq in 2005.
"For me, being deployed was a big honor," Bimler said. "I went to places I wouldn't have normally seen if I would've stayed in Jim Thorpe."
During these assignments, Bimler was in charge of training the Pennsylvania National Guardsmen in medical affairs. He also set up programs for the physicians in the unit and contracted dentists and other physicians to ensure that the soldiers were medically ready.
In Iraq, Bimler became a base commander, charged with coordinating base activities and advising personnel.
"Basically, I was in charge of the soldiers' safety," Bimler said. "It we went under attack, I commanded the defense force."
All of this newfound power came with an equal share of responsibility, and Bimler underwent extensive training before each deployment.
"Going into a combat situation at an older age was very taxing," he said. "I was physically weary, but the Army's chain of command did a great job of preparing me mentally."
Despite the strain placed on his body, Bimler claimed that the worst part of being deployed was having to leave his family behind.
"I wasn't prepared for it, and it was a really tough decision," he said. "My mom, who's 91, is a feisty old lady, and she told me not to worry about it."
Ultimately, it would seem that Mrs. Bimler's advice paid off, for her son is able to look back on his decade-spanning career with pride.
"I'm leaving with an appreciation of other cultures and an a greater appreciation of America," he said. "Really, I'm just thankful that I was able to go to these extraordinary places."
Bimler plans on taking the skills he gleamed from his time in the military and applying them to his civilian life. Currently a manager of Pharmerica, a company that dispenses medicines and equipment to long-term care facilities, Bimler looks forward to assisting other veterans in their search for medical assistance.
"I've put myself out as a resource," he said. "I want to use my contacts to help the men and women that serve our country in any way I can."