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Two Keesler members selected for IPAP program

Staff Sgt. Gregory Buford, 338th Training Squadron, left, and Master Sgt. William McMillan, 81st Inpatient Operations Squadron, stand outside the Medical Center Family Birthing Center, June 3, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. (U.S. Air Force photo by Steve Pivnick)

Staff Sgt. Gregory Buford, 338th Training Squadron, left, and Master Sgt. William McMillan, 81st Inpatient Operations Squadron, stand outside the Medical Center Family Birthing Center, June 3, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. (U.S. Air Force photo by Steve Pivnick)

by Steve Pivnick
81st Medical Group Public Affairs
– KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. — Two Keesler noncommissioned officers have been selected for the Interservice Physician Assistant Program.

Master Sgt. William McMillan, 81st Inpatient Operations Squadron, and Staff Sgt.
Gregory Buford, 338th Training Squadron, learned they had been chosen in April. Both are first-time applicants.

McMillan begins the initial, intense 16-month portion at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio in December and Buford in April 2015. This is followed by 13 months of phase II training at one of six Air Force medical facilities: Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.; Travis AFB, Calif.; Eglin AFB, Fla.; Offutt AFB, Neb.; Langley AFB, Va.; or Keesler. During this period, they will hone their skills as they provide patient care under the supervision of medical staffs at the respective medical treatment facilities.

Upon graduation, both will receive master of science degrees in physician assistant studies from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha and will be commissioned as Air Force first lieutenants.

Both IPAP-selects were personally informed of their selection by their squadron commanders.

“My commander came into the class I was teaching to tell me,” said Buford, a cyber transport instructor. “It didn’t seem real. I’m very appreciative she did it in front of the students who knew how anxious I was about being accepted into the program.”

McMillan, family birthing center flight chief, commented, “My commander called me at home since I was on leave. I was shocked and somewhat in disbelief, especially after spending so much time worrying about being accepted.”

Due to his 14 years of service, McMillan had to submit a time-in-service waiver when he applied for the program. He mentioned he had enlisted at age 17.

“I had to get my mom’s permission,” he said.

McMillan had been pursuing his goal for the past five years, he said.

“I started my ‘journey’ in England by taking online classes in 2009,” he explained. “When I first stopped by the education office as an airman first class in 2002 and saw the requirements, my initial reaction was ‘No way!’ I did not revisit attempting to apply for the PA program again until both my flight commander and wife pushed me to continue in 2009. There are many different math and science requirements to meet the required 60 hours of college credits. Having come into the military with no college experience, I had to really put my nose to the grindstone.”

Buford, with no medical background, noted he had started reaching for his ultimate achievement more than six years ago.

“It took me this long because my wife was going to nursing school and we wanted to wait until she graduated before I really buckled down,” he said. “I’m going to rely on her nursing background as I go through the program.”

Both future PAs have been completing their required courses at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

Explaining his motivation to become a PA, McMillan said, “I’ve been a med tech since 2000. I want to take the next step in patient care. I’ve been influenced by the people I work with and my father-in-law, who passed away two years ago. He was an Army veteran who I could relate to. He told me to go for it and not let anything get in my way.”

Accepting that mantra and with the never-ending support of his wife, he made his dream a reality.

“When things got difficult, balancing my leadership and school responsibilities, she kept me on track and pushed me to my goal,” McMillan said. “There was never any doubt in her mind I couldn’t make it into this program. I fed off her positive attitude and confidence and it pushed me to challenge myself.”

Buford observed the two main women in his life have influenced his pursuit.

“My mom played a majorrole,” he noted. “She was in the military for 24 years in medical logistics. She and my wife combined to make a significant impact on me to achieve this.”

He added, “I would also like to express my gratitude for my supportive chain of command, especially my squadron commander, Lt. Col. Michelle Carns, for her mentorship. Also, lacking a medical background, I must thank two exceptional military PAs, Maj. Jeremy Kersey and Capt. Michael) Vietti current and former Keesler Medical Center Physician Assistant Clinical Training Program directors) for taking me under their wing and allowing me to shadow them for countless hours.”

McMillan, who is from Snyder, Texas, spent his first seven years in the Air Force at nearby Dyess AFB. He finally volunteered for an assignment to England for an opportunity to “see the world.” He is married and mentioned that the IPAP school offers a strong family support system because for 16 months the spouses are almost “single” due to the intensity of the training.

Buford, who calls himself a “military brat,” is married with two children.

“Both of my children were born prematurely and that really gave me an appreciation for the medical field,” he pointed out.”

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