Never too late to fulfill a dream

Posted April 26, 2018 at 5:00 am

j Paul Niles joins Air Force at 42.tif

By Julie Ann Madden

As he graduated from high school, he considered his options of going to college or joining the military.

“I was looking at becoming a physician through the Army,” said Paul Niles, Akron Mercy Medical Clinic’s Physician Assistant. “I even had an Army recruiter come to my house but for whatever reason…life just happens.”

“(Joining the military) didn’t happen at that time,” he said, “but it’s always been in the back of my mind.”

Listening to his brother Matt’s high praise of the Iowa Air National Guard’s 185th Air Refueling Wing and seeing the positive things happening in his brother’s life kept the dream alive for Niles.

“Matt’s experience really influenced me to look into the military again,” said Niles.

“Both of our grandfathers had served in World War II in the Navy,” he said. “They were part of the Greatest Generation — It’s a very honorable thing to do and I always admired them for their commitment and sacrifice.”

Another influence was a fellow medical professional who loved to run marathons just like Niles. This man was the Guard’s clinic manager at the time.

“I just happened to mention to him if you’re ever looking for another PA, think of me if I’m not too old,” the 42-year-old told The Akron Hometowner.

And things just fell into place from there. Niles enlisted in the Summer of 2016 and it took a whole year before he actually received his Commissioning Date, which was in August 2017.

At that time, Niles began participating in the 185th’s guard drills with the understanding he had one year to complete the Reserve Commissioned Officer Training (RCOT).

Niles attended the RCOT from Feb. 22 through March 10 this winter, graduating with the rank of Captain.

At RCOT, half of the 56 cadets were already enlisted personnel and the other half, including Niles, had no previous military service.

“The best way to describe officer training is basic military training, the type of stuff you see on TV, meets graduate course work,” said Niles. “There’s a very standard way of doing things, way of speaking, way of marching, way of addressing people. It all has to be textbook — if not, you’re going to get called on it, which is okay.”

“They have a method to their madness,” he said. “They’ve been doing this a long time and it works.”

“We were evaluated on a number of levels — mainly looking for our leadership abilities,” said Niles. “They were really trying to make leaders out of all of us.”

“Some are better leaders than others,” he said, explaining they did multiple tests of physical training, obstacle courses and a mock deployment where the cadets had to implement and lead like they were on a deployment. “I was in charge of the Civil Engineering side of things. I don’t have a background in Civil Engineering.”

“It was nerve-wracking,” said Niles, “but a lot of fun. We learned a lot of things and were able to think on our toes.”

A typical day at RCOT was waking up at 4 a.m. with lights out at 10 p.m. However, the cadets had presentations and speeches to prepare so for Niles, it meant he was lucky if he got five hours of sleep a day.

“But we all did it,” said Niles, explaining the cadets came from medical fields — pharmacists, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, technicians and dentists — and from about every state in the country. “A very diverse group of people coming together with all kinds of different backgrounds thrown into a pretty stressful situation.”

“It was incredible getting to know everyone and being able to talk about our different backgrounds, what we could bring to the table,” he said. “That was the best part — meeting other people, networking. I feel very confident the Air Force is developing very capable leaders.”

“It was a very cool experience,” said Niles. “It’s been a very good experience and I’ve enjoyed it and am looking at serving many years in the Air Force.”

“I’m someone who is committed to things,” he said. “As you can see with the clinic here, I’m committed to this community, this clinic and seeing things through. As for the military, I’m in it for the long haul as well — 20 years.”

“Obviously, I have the support of my wife, my family and my children,” said Niles, “because people in the military don’t serve alone. Your family is always right there with you serving.”

Noting the month of April is Military Kids month, “families are some of the bigger heroes,” he said. “They are the ones keeping things together so men and women in the service don’t have to worry about things at home.”

“I don’t want people to think I’m a hero,” said Niles. “I’m not. I’m not looking for that. The heroes are those that you don’t even know their names. They are protecting us every day — day in and out on the front line or behind a computer desk.”

“They are the real heroes,” he said. “My job is really just to make sure that airmen at the 185th are fit and can be deployed at any moment’s notice. I’m just answering a call.”

“I’m also setting a good example for my kids, the discipline aspect and service before self,” said Niles, explaining guardsmen can be deployed at any time with orders from either their state’s governor or the President. “It’s funny. I never saw myself as being that military guy but I do find myself talking about ‘Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence In All We Do.’ Those are the three core values of the Air Force but you can use them everywhere — in family life, work environment and even faith-based, church life things.”

Niles hopes to pass on these values to his children as he encourages them — both his sons and daughters — to look at the military as a career option.

“I’m not pushing them that way but just want them to know their options,” said Niles. “If I could get them all through the Guard, that would be awesome.”

“So maybe in high school, you had that thought of joining the military or doing something extraordinary like running a marathon,” said Niles. “Just never give up on that thought. If you believe in it, there is a way to accomplish your goals (even if you are several years past high school like me).”

“It’s always good to keep looking forward, reaching for the stars,” he said. “Never stop. You should always be trying to improve yourself.”

If anyone is interested in learning more about the 185th Air Refueling Guard unit, there are recruiters at the Sergeant Bluffs base or check out their website or contact Niles at 712-568-2411.

Niles also invites people to participate in the annual Remembrance Run/Walk, which is a fundraiser for the Siouxland Freedom Park held the Friday before Memorial Day. This park is located in South Sioux City, Neb.

“You pay tribute to those who gave their lives,” said Niles, “It’s also a good time with food, music.”

For more information, visit the website:

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