Bishop resident Jeff Chambers has served the public in multiple roles, first as an athletic trainer and a physician assistant before becoming an officer in the United States Air Force’s Air National Guard.
In 2011, Chambers started as a captain in the air national guard’s 187th Fighter Wing, based in Montgomery, Alabama. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel last year, while also maintaining his roles as a physician assistant at and co-owner of the Watkinsville-based Urgent Care of Oconee that opened in 2016.
Chambers shared that he did not expect his latest promotion, which took place almost a year ago in November 2018.
“I was proud that [the Air National Guard] thought enough of me to promote me at that point,” Chambers said.
Joining the military
Though he only entered the military several years ago, Chambers had been interested in joining for a long time. He thought being a medical provider in both a civilian and military capacity could be beneficial.
“They really help each other out, as a synergistic thing on both things … it really makes you a better medical provider and a better clinical physician,” Chambers said.
He also had a friend who had already taken the path that he wanted to take. He knew Colonel Henry Heard, now retired, from their time working together in Atlanta. Colonel Heard worked in the same division, the 187th Fighter Wing, to which Chambers now belongs.
“He was definitely an inspiration, one of the first PAs in the air force to do numerous types of different things in the Air Force, [like] whole command of a medical group, whole combat of a field hospital in a combat zone...really a pioneer as far as the profession,” Chambers said.
Currently, Chambers has a variety of responsibilities in the Air National Guard. Sometimes, he helps provide medical attention to F-16 fighter pilots, while other times, he has helped lead the CERFP disaster team’s medical element as its executive officer.
CERFP stands for the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosive (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package. This combined military team of three army units and two air force units can provide an immediate response to the governor for incidents of a mass injury and/or terroristic nature.
Chambers described it as a 24/7, no-notice call type of response. To that end, he and other leaders in the medical element provide advanced training to first responders, emergency managers and other government officials as to how to handle mass injury and/or terrorism incidents. Fortunately, Chambers has not been deployed to cover such a large-scale event.
Additionally, Chambers explained that he has worked during humanitarian missions through the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training. This program allows localities that apply and are accepted to bring in medical personnel, such as dentists or optometrists, to indigent populations.
“Working in those austere conditions, it allows you to be able to hone your physical exam and treatment skills without all the modern bells and whistles you have in a traditional civilian practice or hospital,” Chambers said. “You’re really getting back to the basics of what you learned in school and thinking of unique treatments for providing care.”
As well, Chambers shared his deeper reasoning for wanting to get involved in the air national guard as a medical provider.
“I think it boils down to we live in a country which allowed us to have a lot of benefits, and I think everybody’s obligated to pay into it and return the favor and do what’s best for the country,” he said. “There’s multiple ways to do it, and I think military service is a great way to do it.”