Harvard handpicks top Moody AFB flight surgeon

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Benjamin Williams
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs

Being tasked with saving the lives of others may be a profession fit for very few. Being in the role of a flight surgeon forces medical professionals to put their expertise to the test – carrying out crucial tasks revolving around assisting warfighters in contingency areas globally. In this field of work one small mistake could mean life or death for a patient due to the heightened tensions of being in an austere environment.

Meet Maj. Jeremy Berger – a hardworking, dedicated flight surgeon, thriving under those exact conditions. Berger is assigned to the 23rd Medical Group and currently serves as the Chief of Aerospace Medicine, and as the lead Public Health Emergency Officer.

Renowned as one of the best programs in the medical field, Harvard handpicked Berger for its prestigious Occupational and Environmental Medicine Residency Program – a residency reserved for the elite, where top-tier medical professionals like Berger hone their medical skills to perfection. As a true testament to his dedication and expertise, his selection reaffirms his position among the finest medical professionals in the world.

“When I found out that I was selected, I was overjoyed, excited, and amazed all at the same time. I can’t really explain the feeling,” Berger said. “I was instantly grateful for all my closest family and colleagues that helped me get to this point in my medical career… I am super excited to attend this program and I am ready to make the most out of this opportunity!”

Originally a school educator, Berger pushed himself into the field of medicine to help support his family and to follow his lifelong dream of becoming a medical professional. After a short period of working as a caregiver he eventually enrolled himself into medical school and joined the military – linking his love for medicine and healing others to the highest purpose he could find.

Twelve years later, Berger’s current position as a flight surgeon has given him experiences the average medical professional can only dream of. On the surface, his main role is to identify, prevent and manage the physiological effects – specifically in the cardiovascular realm – that can arise from exposure to extreme environments ensuring Airmen remain in optimal health, allowing them to perform their duties effectively while being airborne.

“My research mainly revolves around cardiovascular health,” he said. “Flyers must have a strong cardiovascular system as they go up in altitude – especially when they have high G's, I nerd out about that type of stuff … The subject is interesting and that motivates me.”

Although his focus is often on those airborne, that doesn’t keep him from putting in the same dedication and effort to those on the ground with his patients and fellow professionals.

Recently, he served as the acting Surgeon General on Moody’s Ready Tiger 24-1 exercise, allowing him to not only flex his vast knowledge in medicine, but also lead a plethora of Airmen within the Medical Group through a simulated contingency location scenario.

“He has had the opportunity here at Moody to take part in numerous readiness exercises and planning tasks that most of his civilian counterparts don’t get the opportunity to experience,” said Col. Christopher Gonzales, 23rd Medical Group commander. “I believe that all the work that he was able to take part in since being a member of the 23rd Wing on developing the medical aspects of Lead Wing definitely gave him an advantage over some of the other candidates.”

The exercise opportunity not only provided Berger with a wealth of operational medical experience, it also helped him better understand the similarities and differences between occupational medicine and military medicine.

“Occupational medicine and military medicine have a good overlap because the military gives you an early opportunity to lead,” Berger said. “While occupational medicine allows for hands-on work, it doesn’t always provide an opportunity to lead in the same manner that military medicine does – so the two disciplines combined provide an overall wealth of knowledge and experience.”

Every year, the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Residency Program has a tradition of taking medical professionals from the military based on their operational experience in medicine. This helps link both the occupational and military worlds of medicine together to further the innovation and learning objectives of the six applicants selected for the program.

“This makes us think about how we can take care of the whole workforce and how to be successful in our mission,” Berger explained. “Programs like Harvard and other top tier Ivy League programs really do appreciate that wealth of experience we bring to the table.”

Berger's modest demeanor and unwavering commitment to expanding his expertise in military medicine stand out as just one of his many admirable traits, setting him apart from his peers in the medical field, making him an ideal candidate for prestigious institutions like Harvard.

“He is a continuous student,” Gonzales said. “He is always trying to learn new things both professionally and personally; I learn something new every time I talk with him. He is going to thrive at Harvard, and I look forward to seeing what he will bring back to the Air Force when he is done.”

His desire to learn directly impacts his leadership style, allowing him to serve as a mentor to Airmen from various medical specialties, explained Capt. Rachel Moreno, 23rd Medical Group executive officer.

“He’s a servant leader,” she furthered. “He values you as a human and pushes you to become the best version of yourself.”

Despite his apparent successes, Berger remains humble, respectable, and approachable, naturally inspiring the people around him.

“Since becoming the Wing commander at Moody, I’ve had the privilege and opportunity to witness the amazing work of Maj. Berger-- whether it was through exercises, real-world scenarios, or his day-to-day obligations, he has always embodied what it means to be a true medical professional and a Flying Tiger,” said Col. Paul Sheets, 23rd Wing commander. “The fact that Harvard has handpicked him for such a prestigious program comes as no surprise to me or anyone who has had the opportunity to work alongside him – I know the selfless dedication he puts forth as an Airman and to the world of medicine will continue to set him apart and help him succeed. Harvard is lucky to have him.”

Albeit the praise is nice, ultimately Berger just wants to ensure the next generation of Airmen understands one thing – hard work pays off.

“What you do today can improve your tomorrow,” Berger said. “You must think about the future, and you must think about what your goals are and set your eye on the prize – success doesn't happen overnight.”