Maj. (Dr.) Jeffrey Woolford, Air Force Institute of Technology student, goes through maintenance forms before taking his second fini-flight in the A-10 Thunderbolt II at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Jan. 17, 2013. At this time, Woolford was an A-10 pilot with the 81st Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem. Woolford took his first fini-flight when he transitioned into active duty from the Air National Guard to become a pilot-physician. A fini-flight is a tradition that celebrates a pilot’s final flight in an aircraft. He took two because upon re-entering active duty there was no guarantee that he would return to flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)
Nicole Woolford pins on her husband then 2nd Lt. Jeffrey Woolford’s pilot wings. Woolford joined the Air Force as a crew chief in 1989 and commissioned as an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot nine years later. He credits his wife to much of his success in his career. Maj. Woolford is currently a student at Johns Hopkins University studying for his Master’s Degree in Public Health. He is attending the school through Air University’s Air Force Institute of Technology. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)
by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard
42nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
1/22/2014 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Editor's note: This part two of a six part series about the obstacles U.S. Air Force Maj. Jeffrey and his wife Nicole faced, and how the Air Force helped him persevere to his highest potential.
By 1995, Woolford earned his Bachelor's of Science in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Once he graduated from the Academy of Military Science in 1997, he commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force Reserves and earned wings to fly as an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot a year later.
Thus far in his career, Woolford has flown 27 combat sorties in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and six combat-support sorties in support of Operation Southern Watch.
Participating in these operations helped him gain insight, experience and so much more.
To him, being a pilot in Afghanistan -where he flew the aircraft alone through the tar-black night sky splashed with nothing but the starlight and his aircraft's engine roaring-- helped him believe that he could try to accomplish any opportunity that lay before him.
This belief, along with a chance encounter with Kathy Hughes, a pilot-physician, helped him realize he could do even more.
"It was because of Kathy that I ended up believing I could become a pilot-physician," he said. "Kathy is the first pilot-physician I ever met. Over lunch, Kathy told me about the pilot physician program, and she really planted a seed."
Going through the program would fully qualify him as both a pilot and doctor; however, acquiring both those duties would require more than excessive studying and a two-hour long commute to medical school. Most alarming to him, he would have to return to active duty, forfeit his full-time National Guard position, and suspend his flying status until completing his medical degree with no guarantee there would be a place for him in the cockpit when he was done. All he had was the Air Force's promise that he could possibly return one day.
When he signed the papers to begin his new journey, his hands were shaking. But his mind was made up, certain of his decision. After landing from his A-10 fini-flight, he climbed down the ladder and shook his father's hand who said "I hope you know what you are doing." Then Capt. Woolford whispered in response "Me too!"
"It took a true leap of faith," he said, recalling the moment with a pensive expression on his face. "I had to believe that everything promised would be waiting on the other side of a decade ... and it was. People kept their word."
But the road to accomplishing both his passions wasn't easy. It had the expected difficulties that come along with going to medical school and building a family, but it was the unexpected that nearly knocked him off his feet.