An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Oldest Reserve flight nurse retires

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kevin Chandler
  • 452 AMW Public Affairs
As Lt. Col. Emma Faulk shares the many fond experiences which colored her 20-year career as a flight nurse, her face tells the story more vividly than her voice. Her eyes convey the caring and compassion for people that is vital to the medical profession while her smile radiates with the satisfaction of a long career spent caring for others when they need it the most. Watching Colonel Faulk speak about her career tells you almost everything about her.

One thing her lively expression does not reveal, however, is her age.

The 67-year-old is a flight nurse with the 452nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron who retired as the Air Force Reserve's oldest flight nurse in a ceremony here Feb. 26.
Colonel Faulk's career began as many do, answering the call to serve when her nation needed her most.

During preparations for Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the armed services put out a call for nurses. Colonel Faulk, who was a 47-year-old mother and registered nurse, decided to join the Navy. But, by the time the Navy reviewed her paperwork, the age limit for entrants had been reduced to 36.

She said she tried again after her husband saw a call for nurses in a nursing magazine stating the Air Force age limit was still 47 for nurses to support the war.

The age limit brought with it a promised chance to serve 20 years and retire. She had already taken the Navy physical, so she quickly assembled her package and took it to the Air Force Reserve recruiter.

Retired Col. Nancy Driscoll was assigned to the 68th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Norton Air Force Base, Calif., the unit Colonel Faulk hoped to join. The two sat down with Colonel Faulk's husband Mason, a former Marine, to talk about what lay ahead.

Colonel Driscoll, who was the presiding officer at Colonel Faulk's retirement, said after that discussion, Colonel Faulk decided to move her application forward and on March 8, 1991 she was commissioned as a first lieutenant.

Colonel Faulk said that, while she believed she would be out of the Air Force before her 67th birthday, time would teach her we don't know how our lives and careers will unfold.

Twenty years of experience has taught her many things.

Perhaps the most important was listening for the knock of opportunity. After all, that was how she became a nurse to begin with.

While visiting a friend who was a nursing student at a Veterans Affairs medical center, she snuck into the room where the nursing students were observing an autopsy. Once she was in there she could not believe how intriguing the lesson was.

"I was fascinated and decided right there that was what I wanted to do," the colonel said.

Since then, Colonel Faulk has earned bachelor's and master's degrees in nursing and certifications as a nurse practitioner, therapeutic hypnotherapist and pain management practitioner. Capitalizing on prospects when they arose also helped the colonel meet influential people who would ultimately affect her career.

While at a conference for the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, Colonel Faulk spent time talking to Col. Allen Gilbar, who would in the end be the approving official for her third age waiver. Service members over the age of 60 require such a waiver to avoid retirement or separation from the armed forces.

Colonel Faulk said when her waiver made its way up the chain of command for approval, Colonel Gilbar approved the waiver based on their earlier encounters and his belief she could handle the rigors of the job.

"You never know when someone will affect your career," she said, smiling. "I would tell [new Airmen] to volunteer for as much as possible and network."

The colonel certainly volunteered for every opportunity that came her way, amassing approximately 2800 flying hours over her career.

"I love the flying and the travel," she said. "I saw so many places I wouldn't have seen otherwise. It was very rewarding."

In addition to her participation in numerous humanitarian missions, the colonel also deployed three times in support of Operations SOUTHERN WATCH, ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM. It was her first deployment, in 2002, that was both her most challenging and most rewarding.

As a 58-year-old grandmother, it was easy to wonder what the point of being there was, she said. But being one of the first crews in Djibouti and evacuating injured service members out of the contingency area made the deployment a rewarding experience, she said.

Ultimately, it was the comfort and aid she provided the injured that made Colonel Faulk's career so satisfying.

"It takes a special person to get out there, give it all you got, and appreciate what you're doing," she said. "If you can make someone feel better, though, you do it."