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Military Traditions

March 20, 2018 By Vern Chong

An Undocumented Air Force Officer

Volunteering for the Air Force to fulfill a two-year draft obligation, I was directed to report to Scott Air Force Base, Illinois without attending the required orientation course for new medical officers. It must have been presumed that I would learn how to be an officer by OJT (on the job training). I presumed that I would be sworn into the Air Force upon arrival at Scott. No one seemed concerned about that.

Arriving at Scott without a uniform and only a set of orders, I signed in and was told that I should be in uniform. I went to the clothing sales store where a saleslady helped me buy the required uniform and insignia. Unfortunately, she could not advise me how to place the insignia on the uniform.

Later, after signing in at the hospital, I was greeted by my sponsor, who was dressed in surgical scrubs. He apologized for not greeting me earlier since he had been busy all day in the operating room. He also had a pending major emergency operation to perform and needed an assistant. Of course, I was happy to assist. We did not complete the operation until midnight.

Later that night the nursing supervisor helped me find a copy of the Air Officer’s Guide in the hospital library. Using that guide, in the dim light of a bathroom at the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters, I placed the insignia on my new uniform and became an “officer,” despite the fact that I had yet to take the Oath of Office.

The next morning I went to the hospital Education Office for the required hospital orientation. The Education Officer appeared perturbed that I was there since I had missed the required orientation program that had been held two weeks previously. She then said she would inform me of the next course.

With that beginning and without being sworn into the Air Force, I began my service as an Air Force Medical Officer and general surgeon. Today, I might be considered an “undocumented officer!”

My family and I enjoyed a positive experience in the Air Force at Scott. I passed the examinations by the American Board of Surgery and received my certification as a general surgeon. But, after having been at Scott for over a year, the same Education Officer called and said that I was still required to attend an orientation course. Needless to say, I refused the “offer” and did not attend. Still no Oath! Nonetheless, I decided to stay in the Air Force.

After 18 years of service and several assignments, I wanted to be “legal” and had the Surgeon General of the Air Force give me the Oath of Office during a promotion ceremony.

Finally, I was a documented — not an illegal — officer! Despite a somewhat unusual entry into the Air Force, I proudly served for a very enjoyable and rewarding career of 31 years.

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