Many of my patients and their families find it very ‘interesting’ that I served in our military. I considered serving in the USAF to be my duty and my honor.
From day one, I was interested in the military. It was in my blood (my grandfather was a Navy seabee who served in both theaters in WWII and my dad was a training officer in the same conflict). I loved to watch Sunday afternoon TV shows about airpower, and seapower and whatever. One of my favorite dramas was ‘Combat’ with Vic Morrow and any war movie was spell binding.
When applying to college, I tried my best to go to the Air Force Academy. I was going to fly planes, big transports or fighters, it didn’t matter. That of course would transition into flying for the airlines or whatever. A pretty good plan for a kid coming of age in the 60’s. Then a routine vision test in the 8th grade revealed an eye abnormality that would alter my plans forever. Turns out I had a bit of a weird cornea in my left eye, very steeply shaped, a condition called keratoconus. Easily fixed for near vision with hard contacts, but totally disqualifying for any service academy. Despite this what I interpreted as a minor issue, I pursued my dream. I contacted my congressional representative who had all their applicants take a pretty grueling exam one Sat morning. Apparently I did well enough to get his blessing to take the next step, a physical exam at Seymour Johnson AFB in Goldsboro, NC. So off my dad and I went from Gastonia to Goldsboro for my first real military experience. Dad dropped me off and visited clients in eastern NC. We applicants were housed in the visiting officer quarters and hob knobbed with pilots and other crew, ate in the mess (wow, all you can eat, nirvana!), and went through several days of physical and athletic testig. Now, I had just finished my senior year wrestling season and was as fit as ever. The Sgts. there said I set the two minute sit up record (when asked how many I thought I could do, I asked how high could they count!). Apparently my more than adequate self confidence was firmly in place at age 18. But no number of sit ups or push ups or mile runs could make up for less than 20/20 vision without correction. Oh come on I wrote, after receiving the rejection letter, surely you need good officers who don’t fly!! I don’t recall getting a reply to my supplication.
So, when one door is closed, look around. It is often said that when one door is closed, others open. But I would add that these other doors were always open, it’s just that we were so focused on the one that closed that we failed to see the other openings.
By the grace (and I feel confident the direction) of God, and the influence of Ayn Rand and marine biology (ask me about my Morehead interview), I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. When I decided to attend medical school (a decision worthy of another posting), I sought funding from the Air Force or Navy health professions scholarship program which traded service time for scholarship money. Turns out docs don’t need 20/20 without glasses.
21 years later I returned to Seymour Johnson as a lieutant colonel, board qualified ENT surgeon with 17 years of military service (8 of active duty and 9 in the reserves). I was looking for that son of a bitch who said I wasn’t qualified to serve.
13 years later, prophetically on Sept 11, 2006, I retired from the USAF reserves with 30 years of service, having attained the rank of full colonel, commander of my reserve squadron with the following tribute to the USAF medics, composed and delivered by me to my squadron members at my retirement ceremony:
WHO ARE WE?
WE ARE THE MEDICS
WE ARE UNIQUE, WE ARE DEDICATED MEDICAL WARRIORS, STANDING BETWEEN DISEASE, DYSFUNCTION, DISABILITY AND OUR TROOPS, WE ARE THE MEDICS
WE ARE THE MEDICS WHO ARE CALLED WHEN THE WOUNDED CRY OUT “MEDIC!!” TO BRING COMFORT AND HEALING, SAVING LIFE AND LIMB, WE ARE THE MEDICS
WE ARE THE ONES WHO ARE MOST LIKE OUR CIVILIAN COUNTERPARTS, BECAUSE WE ARE THOSE CIVILIAN COUNTERPARTS WHEN OUT OF UNIFORM, WHO WALK THE MEDICAL WALK AND TALK THE MEDICAL TALK AND LIVE THE MEDICAL LIFE, WHO TREAT AND HEAL WHATEVER UNIFORM WE WEAR, WE ARE THE MEDICS
WE ARE THE ONLY UNIFORMED PERSON WHO THE ENEMY LIKES TO SEE, OUR UNIFORM IS THE SCRUB SUIT OF THE SURGICAL TEAM , THE RED CROSS ARMBAND OF THE FIRST REPSONDERS, WHO TREAT DISEASE AND INJURY WHEREVER AND IN WHOMEVER WE SEE IT,WE ARE THE MEDICS
WE ANSWER TO OUR TEACHERS, OUR COMMANDERS, OUR PRESIDENT, OUR COUNTRY, OUR ETHICS AND THOSE MEDICAL WARRIORS UPON WHOSE SHOULDERS WE STAND, WE ARE THE MEDICS
WE DON’T JUST SAY THINGS LIKE INTEGRTY, SERVICE BEFORE SELF, EXCELLENCE IN ALL WE DO,WE LIVE IT, BECAUSE WE ARE THE MEDICS
WE WORK TIRELESSLY, ANY HOURS, ANY DAY, ANY PLACE, BECAUSE WE KNOW THAT ILLNESS AND INJURY KNOWS NO CLOCK AND KNOWS NO CALENDAR, WE ARE THE MEDICS
WE, ABOVE ANY OTHER BRANCH OF OUR MILITARY, STAND FOR TRUTH AND JUSTICE AND FAIRNESS. WE ANSWER A HIGHER CALLING. OURS IS THE ETHICS OF THE HEALING ARTS, A TRUE SPIRITUAL GIFT
WE ARE THE DOCS, THE DENTISTS, THE NURSES, AND THE TECHS OF THE 916TH AMDF
WE ARE THE MEDICS
Is it any mystery that our civilian practice, ENT & Audiology Associates serves our military family in any way, shape, or form? From entrance physicals to retirement disability evaluations, from the infant family members of deployed soldiers to the long retired WWII vet, including current service members injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is our duty and our honor and our sacred trust.
by Douglas K. Holmes, MD