No regrets part 6: Reaching beyond limits
Maj. (Dr.) Jeffrey Woolford, Air Force Institute of Technology student, has a moment of reflection upon departing for his final flight Jan. 17, 2013, at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. Woolford was taking his final flight as an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot. He is now studying public health at Johns Hopkins University through AFIT. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)
Posted 2/21/2014 Updated 2/21/2014
by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard
42nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
2/21/2014 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Editor's note: This part six 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.
NASA was never in his original plans, but thanks to the other choices he made in life; it became an opportunity that could become a reality. So he went after it avoiding his greatest fear - regret.
Woolford felt his interviews with NASA went well. He came out of the final selection interview confident in his answers and knowing that he had given it his best.
"I had told myself all I wanted was a chance to interview, and I wanted to do well in my interview," he said of the two things he asked of himself.
He walked out of the interview with confidence, "I had done very well; I got along with everyone there -- I think I've got a good chance; and that's where that large number of 6,700 and the odds started to give way that I think I'm going to pull this off."
After he completed all the selection processes, it was time to wait.
He waited. And waited. And waited some more. Then NASA released the first set of selectees.
He wasn't on the list.
He continued to wait, but his name was never on the list.
He told himself he would try his best, and he did. But his best wasn't what NASA was looking for, this time.
"I was disappointed; I was definitely disappointed ... I didn't get what I set out to do," he said of his reaction to the news.
But then, in his disappointment, he was reminded of a quote by former President John F. Kennedy: "Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be strong men."
It spurred self-reflection, and he realized that rejection wasn't the end. "How long do you feel bad about it and how long does it take you to get on your feet and move?" Woolford asked himself. "So, I think I'm going to give it one more shot to apply."
For Woolford, this is not a failure, but rather a different kind of success.
"I am convinced there has to be a reason this happened," he said firmly.
One of those reasons may be his current assignment.
Woolford was selected to attend Johns Hopkins University to earn his Master's Degree in Public Health through Air University's Air Force Institute of Technology. After that, he will finish his aerospace medicine residency, where he will learn about occupational medicine customized to diving, space and air.
Going to school to learn about these subjects ties back to what Woolford cares about.
"I would love to go above the earth into orbit, and go down to the bottom of the ocean in a submarine if I could," he said, as if imagining himself in either of those places. "I want to just live life to the fullest before I am six feet under."
It is clear to some that he is now living life to the fullest by "not wasting this."
"I am extremely proud of what you've accomplished, and amazed," said now Brig. Gen. Richard W. Scobee, U.S. Air Force North American Aerospace Defense command deputy director of operations, in an email to Woolford. He was the pilot who encouraged Woolford to further his education. "My friend, you have a story that will inspire generations of Airmen, and you need to tell it. I was, and am proud that my father started his career as a crew chief and worked his way up to commanding a space shuttle. You are doing even more, and that is awesome."
As Woolford looks to his future, he can't help but reflect on how he got to where he is today.
"I have all the faith in the Air Force, and not just the Air Force, but the people who make up the Air Force," he explained. "It's all about the other people who have believed in me. It's true compassion from someone who doesn't need to be compassionate that moves me."
This compassion, and his decisions, have filled his life with all, but regret.
"The one thing I am thrilled about is I have yet to feel regret, and if there is anything that drives me, it is the absolute and utmost fear of having regret," he said confidently. "And, that is regret for not having gotten married, but fortunately I did; not having children, but I did; not realizing the potential that I could be. And so, no regret is an overarching theme for me. And, really you compete with yourself when that's your goal."