Enlisted medic to blast off to nuclear missile operations

Staff Sgt. Alex Larson, 90th Medical Operations Squadron flight and operations medicine technician, poses in front of the missile display on F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., June 1, 2016. Larson is slated to attend Officer Training School in early 2017, then attend technical school to become a missileer. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jason Wiese)

Staff Sgt. Alex Larson, 90th Medical Operations Squadron flight and operations medicine technician, poses in front of the missile display on F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., June 1, 2016. Larson is slated to attend Officer Training School in early 2017, then attend technical school to become a missileer. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jason Wiese)

Staff Sgt. Alex Larson, 90th Medical Operations Squadron flight and operations medicine technician, demonstrates the eye examination process with the help of a coworker June 1, 2016, in the medical treatment facility on F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. After almost five years at the base, Larson learned he will be going to Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., for Officer Training School. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jason Wiese)

Staff Sgt. Alex Larson, 90th Medical Operations Squadron flight and operations medicine technician, demonstrates the eye examination process with the help of a coworker June 1, 2016, in the medical treatment facility on F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. After almost five years at the base, Larson learned he will be going to Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., for Officer Training School. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jason Wiese)

A congratulatory poster hangs on the door  of Staff Sgt. Alex Larson’s office, 90th Medical Operations Squadron flight and operations medicine technician, June 1, 2016, in the medical treatment facility at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. Larson was selected to become an officer in his first-choice career field of nuclear missile operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jason Wiese)

A congratulatory poster hangs on the door of Staff Sgt. Alex Larson’s office, 90th Medical Operations Squadron flight and operations medicine technician, June 1, 2016, in the medical treatment facility at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. Larson was selected to become an officer in his first-choice career field of nuclear missile operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jason Wiese)

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. -- When the job gets done, most folks can breathe a sigh of relief and head home to unwind after a hard day's work. For others, it means mustering up energy to start their second job: schoolwork.

For one Mighty Ninety medic, the extra effort has paid off.

Staff Sgt. Alex Larson, 90th Medical Operations Squadron flight and operations medicine technician, recently learned of his selection to become one of the Air Force's newest combat-missileers through Officer Training School.

Since his introduction to the mission, Larson longed to be a part of the nuclear missile operations community and the 13N career field was number one on his job list.

"What we do here has grown on me," he said. "As I started to understand more of the mission, I wanted to be more directly involved." 

The Tampa, Florida, native said it was his first choice because he has heard the passion in the voices of Maj. Gen. Anthony Cotton, 20th Air Force and Task Force 214 commander, and Col. Stephen Kravitsky, 90th Missile Wing commander, when discussing the nuclear deterrence mission.

Larson submitted his OTS package after being encouraged by a coworker and admitted he did not think he would make the cut, but was determined to keep applying if he didn't.

"I thought it was going to take a time or two," he said. "I made staff [sergeant], so I was totally okay with being a staff sergeant for a while."

Larson, who sewed on his new rank June 1, was accepted, which was no surprise to his coworkers.

"They said, 'If anyone here is going to make it, it's going to be you,'" Larson said.

His supervisor, Tech. Sgt. Sean Cloherty, 90th MDOS flight and operations medicine technician said Larson embodies the whole Airman concept and succeeds in his personal goals while putting the mission first.

"I've watched him do it," he said. "He multitasks, gets things done at work and goes home to three or four hours of homework. It takes a lot of sacrifices."

Cloherty, like the rest of Larson's wingmen, is excited for him, despite the fact they are losing one of their teammates.

"He's kind of a work horse around here," he said. "I think it will take a while to train someone else up."

Cloherty also said he expects Larson will do well in his next career path.

"I've not met many people who can read that many [Air Force Instructions] and memorize them," he said. "He'll do well in the missile career field."

Larson expects to finish a bachelor of science degree in health services management from the University of Maryland later this year, and will then head to his nine-week OTS class at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, early next year. Following that, he will attend technical training to become a missileer at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. 

"I think he deserves it, and I think it's starting to sink in for him," Cloherty said.

Larson also admits he's both excited and nervous about the journey ahead.

"It's pretty awesome, exciting and scary all at the same time," Larson said.

Larson's current job allows him to meet different Airmen across the base, which helped him get where he is today.

Missileers often visit the Flight Medicine Clinic and some are eager to give Larson pointers on how to be successful in his transition, as an officer and in his new career field, he said.

Capt. Carli Frasier, 90th Operations Group, and 2nd Lt. Natalia Cobbins, 321st Missile Squadron, have been particularly helpful mentors -- the latter of whom is an enlisted-to-officer missileer.

"I spent about 45 minutes talking with them," he said. "They talked about where you can go in your career and the career progression of a missileer."

Cobbins said Larson's next year is going to be a roller coaster. OTS is rigorous, mentally taxing and very different from basic military training received by all enlisted Airmen.

She told Larson the Vandenberg instructors will continue to challenge him once he graduates OTS.

"They've got the cream of the crop when it comes to instructors," she said. "They're going to push him to see if he has what it takes to be in charge of the world's most powerful weapons."

Training does not stop there for missileers, but continues throughout their careers in the operational Air Force, she said.

Nevertheless, Cobbins said there is no better time to enter the missile community.

"There's so many changes that are going on now," she said. "This is a great time to be a missileer. They're trying to come up with a better way forward all the time. I told him to come on and see where he can plug in and do his best within the entire nuclear enterprise."

She also added it is refreshing to see someone so passionate about the nuclear mission.

Larson said he will be taking the advice as best he can and working hard in his current career field until it is time for him to go.

For those wanting to cross over from the enlisted to the officer corps, Larson says to go for it.

"Don't second guess it," he said. "If it crosses your mind, do it. If you don't ask, the answer will always be no."