Air Force med tech becomes Air Force nurse at site of First Continental Congress

  • Published
  • By By Col. Michael J. Underkofler, USAF (Ret)

April 1, 2021 was more than Fool’s Day for Alyssa Miller. Instead, it was the day the six-year Air Force med tech realized her dream of becoming an Air Force nurse. Miller was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Nurse Corps in Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The nearly 250-year-old building has been the home of many momentous events, but on this day, it was the commissioning ceremony that took top billing.

Miller, a native of Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, enlisted in the 514th Aerospace Medicine Squadron at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in 2015 after she finished her second year of college. One year later, she returned to her unit as a new medical technician and was assigned to the immunization clinic.

It wasn’t long before Miller completed her bachelor’s degree in nursing and got a job at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It was another two years before a nurse position became available in the unit, but when it did, “we knew we wanted her” said Lt. Col. Barb McCormick, the squadron’s chief nurse and Miller’s commissioning officer.

Military service was not foreign to Miller prior to her enlisting. Both her father, grandfather, and brother have served. She, however, is the first to become an officer. Her mother beamed with pride as she recited the Oath of Commissioning.

For a few years in our nation’s history, military officers swore an oath to obey the orders of the Continental Congress. Carpenters’ Hall was where the First Continental Congress met. Completed in 1775 by Philadelphia’s carpenters, it still serves as their guild’s headquarters, the oldest guild in the nation.

In 1789, once the U.S. Constitution was ratified, and through today, the Oath of Commissioning directs military officers to uphold the ideals expressed in a document, the Constitution, not those of a military leader or a legislative body.

Michael Norris, the Carpenters’ Hall’s Executive Director, was happy to approve using the historic building for Miller’s commissioning.

“We really feel connected to the military based on the historic use of the Hall,” Norris said. “Henry Knox, the first U.S. Secretary of War had an office here.”

 Further tying the building to Miller’s commissioning and the Nurse Corps, he added, “The Hall was used by the Revolutionary Army as an infirmary and later by the British for the same purpose when they occupied Philadelphia.”

When asked why she became a nurse, Miller simply offered that she likes helping others. In addition to serving in the 514th AMDS and working fulltime as a registered nurse, Miller is in graduate school at The University of Pennsylvania, the Ivy League school in West Philadelphia. She’s studying to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner and hopes to serve in that capacity at the children’s hospital once certified.

Like many Air Force Reserve healthcare professionals, Miller will continue to serve in the military in a role that does not require her advanced education and training. Chief Nurse McCormick, who has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice, explained, “Throughout our wing we have advanced practice nurses (nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, nurse midwifes) and those with terminal degrees who serve in positions only requiring a bachelor’s degree. Similarly, many of our med techs, as demonstrated by our new 2nd Lt.  Miller, are practicing as LPNs or RNs in the civilian world.” 

Once Miller received her shiny new gold bars from McCormick, she went out and received her first salute as an officer from her mentor, Senior Master Sgt. Mark Hiller. Hiller, a long time AMDS member was equally proud of Miller saying, “It’s a great day for Lt.Miller, her family, our unit, and the Air Force Nurse Corps.”  

Editor’s Note: Col. Underkofler served as commander of the 514th Air Mobility Wing from 2011 to 2015.