Lt. Col. Kathleen Jones ’89 became an Air Force flight surgeon and joined a special operations command a month before 9-11, and her career took off. “I had 30 days of normal duty followed by two years of constant deployments,” she says. “I loved the travel; it’s a fascinating world out there.”
Focused on caring for pilots in her squadron, Kathleen also treated injured soldiers being moved to distant medical facilities. “You can’t hear anything through a stethoscope when you’re in the back of a helicopter,” she says.
Kathleen intended to be a teacher like her father, Jonathan Jones ’60, who directs the academic program at a boarding school for at-risk youth in Utah. But a high school physiology teacher with the “energy of a caffeinated teenager” awoke in her a passion for science. At Westmont, Kathleen explored medicine and research, spending time with doctors and professors. “I realized I liked the interaction with patients,” she says. Kathleen chose Westmont to avoid sitting in big lecture halls. “I wanted classes in Old Testament and philosophy to become a better learner and a well-rounded person,” she says. “I wanted the liberal arts and a Christian education.”
Unable to afford medical school, Kathleen followed a family tradition and joined the military. Her father served in the Coast Guard, and her uncles are also veterans. The Air Force paid for Kathleen to attend Loma Linda Medical School. After completing a civilian residency in family practice, she packed up for a year at Kunsan Air Force Base in Korea, where she became the doctor for all non-flying personnel.
At Kunsan, Kathleen first met flight surgeons, who care for pilots, spend time with them in the squadron and even fly with them. This interaction appealed to her, and she switched her specialty. After two tours in flight medicine, Kathleen completed a three-year aerospace medicine program, earning a master’s degree in public health, focusing on preventive medicine and working with all branches of the service, NASA and the FAA. For three years she served as chief of aerospace medicine and the senior specialist at Scott AFB in Illinois, seeing patients, mentoring young flight surgeons and deploying to Kuwait.
In July, Kathleen assumed command of the 95th Aerospace Medicine Squadron at Edwards AFB in California, where she oversees all aerospace medical personnel. “It’s a challenge to become a military leader after building a career on helping people and being an advocate for patients,” she says. “Edwards has the Air Force Test Pilot School, and it’s a challenge for medical personnel to care for pilots who are constantly pushing boundaries.”
Kathleen says she was “strangely introverted” at Westmont, where she focused on her studies. But medical school and the Air Force helped her become more assertive. “When you start doing clinical rotations, you need to learn to speak up for yourself,” she says. “Completing survival school and other Air Force programs gave me a lot of confidence. I used to be someone who didn’t want to sweat or get my hair wet. Then in training, I had to escape from a helicopter submerged in water upside down, and I realized I could do things I never thought I could.”
After 15 years of service, Kathleen can’t picture life outside of the Air Force. “I love it,” she says. “I’m not sure I could live any place permanently.”