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From survival training to saving lives

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Zachary Foster
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing, Public Affairs

Some Airmen join the Air Force to travel, and some to learn a trade. For 1st Lt. David Foreman, it was to start a new adventure away from home.

In 2006, Foreman enlisted as a survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist. During that time, he learned not only to protect himself but to teach others to do the same.

“For the first four years [as a SERE specialist] we focus on teaching aircrew survival skills,” said Foreman. “After that time, we’re able to pursue positions that fit into a bigger picture.”

Following the typical teaching commitment, SERE specialists are given roles focused on planning and recovery. According to Foreman, outside of a few classes per month, his role was preparing aircrew for emergency situations.

“SERE specialists spend a lot of time developing their individual survival skills, so they understand the situations later in their career,” said Foreman. “A lot of the role SERE specialists play is in assessing risk, creating an escape and recovery plan for aircrew and ensuring that crew is adequately trained to carry it out.”

While the SERE career field had fulfilled his need for adventure towards the beginning of his enlistment, Foreman started to feel the physical commitments catching up to him.

“I remember towards the end of my enlistment finding it incredibly hard to bend down to pick up my daughter and play with my kids,” said Foreman. “That was really my wake-up call to find something that gave me the flexibility to continue serving but would give me the flexibility to live my life.”

After coming to the decision that a change needed to be made, Foreman reflected on the skills he enjoyed most as a SERE specialist. He found that he had an affinity for medicine and after successfully teaching dozens of tactical combat casualty care courses, he had the baseline skill to be competitive.

Shortly after, Foreman discovered the Interservice Physician Assistant Program, a joint service commissioning program designed to take civilians and prior enlisted service members and create experienced commissioned leaders.

“I applied to the IPAP board not expecting much because it’s incredibly competitive,” said Foreman. “Soon after that, I found myself headed to Fort Sam Houston for my first phase of classes.”

According to Foreman, IPAP is broken down into two phases. The first phase is focused on the medical background required for a physician assistant to be successful. The second phase is tailored towards military education and primarily serves to orient civilians to the lifestyle. The full program awards students a Master of Science degree in Physician Assistance Studies.

Upon graduation from IPAP, the newly commissioned officers are sent to an installation where they undergo on-the-job training. For Foreman, his initial training took place at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

Foreman now serves at MacDill AFB alongside a diverse team of medical professionals, serving the 6th and 927th Air Refueling Wings, U.S. Special Operations Command, U.S. Central Command and hundreds of thousands of retirees and dependents from the Tampa Bay area.

As an officer with enlisted experience, Foreman brings a unique perspective to his role, explaining, “there is a shared experience that connects prior enlisted officers and their Airmen. I know how it feels to carry a heavy workload and not see the impact of officers. Now that I fill that role, I try my best to both mitigate that workload and better communicate the administrative and managerial work that needs to be done.”

Seventeen years into his military service, Foreman is starting over, finding a new passion for the work he does every day. He advises anyone looking for a similar success to be patient in finding it.

“When I first enlisted, I waited 13 months in the delayed entry program for that SERE specialist slot,” said Foreman. “When I attended IPAP, I went through years of full-time school to get where I am now. Patience is key. Anything that is worth doing, is worth waiting for.”

Foreman is one example of Airmen everywhere utilizing the skills they learned while they were enlisted, now as a commissioned officer. For more information on available commissioning opportunities, see your local education and training center or recruiter.