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From stripes to bars: prior 131st enlisted Airman selected for direct commission

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- (Then) Airman 1st Class Emily Opfer, administers care to a student patient during Medic Training at Sheppard Air Force Base 2008. Lieutenant Opfer, 131st Bomb Wing medical group medic, was selected for direct commission as a senior airman, and was promoted to second lieutenant February 2011. (Courtesy photo)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- (Then) Airman 1st Class Emily Opfer, administers care to a student "patient" during Medic Training at Sheppard Air Force Base, 2008. Lieutenant Opfer, 131st Bomb Wing medical group medic, was selected for direct commission as a senior airman, and promoted to second lieutenant February 2011. (Courtesy photo)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Second Lieutenant Emily Opfer, 131st Bomb Wing medical group medic, was selected for direct commission as a senior airman, and was promoted to second lieutenant February 2011.

A direct commission officer is a uniformed officer who has received a commission without the typical prerequisites for achieving a commission.

She is scheduled to attend Commissioned Officer Training at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., where she will be taught the characteristics, skills and mindset to become a leader in the Missouri Air National Guard.

"It has been an eye-opening experience going from an enlisted, where I was lower ranking, to a position of supervision," said Lieutenant Opfer. "I've always enjoyed working with people in my unit and I'm glad to have the opportunity to help them out. One of the reasons I commissioned was to be an advocate for my medics; since I was there myself. I realize what types of changes would really make a difference. I'm enjoying the process and am very grateful for this opportunity."

The lieutenant graduated from the Saint Louis University School of Nursing in 2010, but in 2008 decided she didn't want to wait until her nursing degree was complete to join. She enlisted in the Air Force and was assigned to the 131st Bomb Wing in August of that year.
The Missouri Air National Guard was a great way for her to serve and still accomplish her personal educational goals, according to the lieutenant.

"Lieutenant Opfer was chosen above other nurse candidates because of her great work ethic, attitude and excellent civilian credentials," said Master Sergeant Jennifer Kuhl, designated officer recruiter.

"As a fairly new commander to the 131st BW MDG, Lieutenant Opfer stood out immediately," said Col. Joanie Peterson, 131st Bomb Wing MDG commander. "I was instantly impressed with her eagerness to take on projects for group morale.

"The results of her efforts were impressive and her creativeness and energy told me right away she was a person who took initiative and whose dedication to the unit was heart-felt, and not obligatory," the colonel added.

Lt. Col. Susan Walker, 131st BW Medical Group's chief nurse and one of the lieutenant's mentors, said Lieutenant Opfer is relentless about taking care of people, knows her job, and will do anything she can to help.

Lieutenant Opfer is also fulfilling a family legacy of military service and said her family's heritage played a part in her interest from an early age, and was always intrigued by military medicine.

"I've always had an interest in joining the military, because I wanted to part of something bigger than myself," Lieutenant Opfer said.

Lieutenant Opfer's great Uncle, retired Brig. Gen. Harding Zumwalt, enjoyed a career as a pilot during World War II and was the commander of the 131st Tactical Fighter Wing in St. Louis in the 1970s. His father, retired Capt. Fredrick Zumwalt, was with the 128th Field Artillery Unit of the Missouri National Guard and served in World War I.