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446th ASTS Reserve Citizen Airmen trade stripes for bars

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Melissa D. Boos, left, and 1st Lt. Kristina R. Hansen, 446th Aeromedical Staging Squadron clinical nurses, showcase technical sergeant stripes during Boos’ commissioning ceremony on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, July 14, 2020

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Melissa D. Boos, left, and 1st Lt. Kristina R. Hansen, 446th Aeromedical Staging Squadron clinical nurses, showcase technical sergeant stripes during Boos’ commissioning ceremony on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, July 14, 2020. Boos and Hansen are former technical sergeants who recently commissioned into the health professions career field. (Courtesy photo)

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --

In her first deployment as a freshly minted officer, 1st Lt. Melissa D. Boos leaned on her decade-long experience as a civilian nurse and 18 years as an enlisted combat medic to assist with COVID-19 relief efforts in New York City.

“It was great to go and use my nursing skills directly,” she said. “I am proud of being prior-enlisted, but I am also happy to serve in a new capacity.”

Boos, a former technical sergeant and now a clinical nurse assigned to the 446th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, is one of three Reserve Citizen Airmen here who have recently received a health professions commission.

There are currently three squadrons in the wing with medical commissioning opportunities available: the 446th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and the 446th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, said Master Sgt. Jeni R. Laplant, the 446th Airlift Wing health professions recruiter, who oversees the health profession commissioning process in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Reserve Citizen Airmen who qualify can fill positions as a flight nurse, clinical nurse, flight surgeon and health services administrator.

Enlisted, officer and civilian applicants interested in commissioning into a medical career field should first reach out to a health professions recruiter.

“There are so many different scenarios,” Laplant said. “A civilian with no enlisted experience has a different process than a prior-enlisted Airmen commissioning. As a recruiter, it is my job to see if you are initially qualified before applying.”

Each program has specific requirements, but all applicants must be U.S. citizens, be medically qualified for worldwide duty, meet minimum commissioning requirements and possess an undergraduate or graduate degree.

Some programs also require a candidate to submit Graduate Record Examination or Graduate Management Admission Test scores.

For those without a prior military service commission, successful completion Officer Training School (OTS) at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, is required, Laplant said.

Applicants who fill the flight nurse, clinical nurse and flight surgeon positions must complete a five-week abbreviated OTS course, while health services administrators attend an eight-week course.

Depending on which program an applicant applies to will determine the application length times. Reserve Citizen Airmen should also be prepared for COVID-19 expect delays, Laplant said.

“It is not a fast process,” she said. “There are so many moving parts. From the medical physical to getting approval from multiple organizations, the process can take up to 12 months plus from start to finish.”

Boos echoes this sentiment, her advice to Reserve Citizen Airmen is to apply as soon as possible and to be persistent.

“I could have easily given up,” Boos said. “I had to be very proactive to keep my package moving forward. It’s not an easy process.”

As Boos neared retirement, she questioned whether to focus on her enlisted career or continue with her commission application.

“It took me three years to commission,” she said. “It was sheer determination. Lieutenant Schultz and Lieutenant Hansen encouraged and supported me.”

The experience of Boos mirrors that of 1st Lt. Kristina Hansen, also a clinical nurse with the 446th ASTS.

After serving 12 years as a 446th AMDS medical technician, the former technical sergeant said commissioning made sense as part of her natural career progression.

When Hansen received an advanced degree as a civilian nurse practitioner, she realized there was a disconnect between her military and civilian goals.

“I wanted my military career to match my civilian career,” Hansen said. “I had focused on my civilian career for so long, and I finally decided ‘okay now is the time.’”

Along with encouragement and support from her mother, Chief Master Sgt. (retired) Janice G. Kallinen, the 446th Force Support Squadron superintendent, Hansen applied to commission in 2016. It took three years from the time she submitted her initial application to pinning on.

“Applying for a commission can be a long, grueling process,” she said. “The experience can be discouraging and stressful at times; especially when your package gets kicked back, you start to question if it is even worth it.”

When Hansen discovered Boos was applying for a medical commission, she coached her through the process.

“I told her (Boos) to keep trying” Hansen said. “I provided emotional support and I was her 'shoulder to cry on.'"

Airmen interested in commissioning should focus on their “why” when it gets tough, Hansen said.

“Find out what your motivation is to become an officer,” she said. “Some people focus on the financial incentives, retirement, or career goals, but there is more to becoming an officer. With it comes more responsibility and a leadership role.”

For Hansen, the challenges proved to be worth it in the end.

“I have a passion for nursing, it is all I ever wanted to do,” she said. “You help people when they need it the most. I love the fact I get to be a nurse as a civilian and a Traditional Reservist.”