Captain Glen Goncharow, DO’12, has had a high profile job, both literally and figuratively. As the flight surgeon for the United States Air Force Demonstration Squadron, more commonly known as the Thunderbirds, Goncharow spent many of his work days flying with one of the most elite air squads in the world.
Goncharow received his undergraduate degree in political science from Emory University in 2007. In 2008, he received a direct commission as a second lieutenant through the Health Professions Scholarship Program prior to his matriculation into LMU-DCOM. After receiving his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree in 2012, Goncharow completed his intern year of general surgery residency at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, where he received the Intern of the Year Award in general surgery. He then began to pursue his career as a flight surgeon.
In 2013, Goncharow attended the USAF Flight Surgeon course at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. In addition to training in aerospace medicine, Goncharow received intense military training specific to the aircraft in which he would be flying and the situations he might encounter.
“Since I was attached to the F-15E, I had to go to the centrifuge where I learned what 9Gs feel like,” Goncharow said. “I also received hanging harness and emergency parachute training to learn how to handle aircraft ejections. I attended water survival school, where I learned what to do if I eject over water. I received survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SERE) training to gain the skills to survive in any environment and learn how to conduct myself if captured by the enemy. I also attended TOP Knife II, a specialized course for flight surgeons in fighter aircraft.”
After completing the flight surgeon course at Wright-Patterson, Goncharow served as the aerospace and operational medicine flight commander as well as the squadron medical expert to the 333rd Fighter Squadron, based in North Carolina. He then deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Inherent Resolve/Operation Enduring Freedom with the 336th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, also based in North Carolina. Goncharow flew more than 175 combat hours over Syria and Iraq, and was awarded an Air Medal and Air Force Commendation Medal for his service while deployed.
After his tour of duty overseas, Goncharow returned to the States and began the radiology residency program at San Antonio Military Medical Center, but soon realized that was not the medicine he wanted to practice.
“It was suggested to me by a mentor that I would be a good fit for the USAF Thunderbirds, so I applied,” Goncharow said. “The application process includes six letters of recommendation, a personal statement and all officer evaluation performance reports. If selected for an interview, you travel with the team to a show site and interview with wing and squadron leadership as well as the current officers on the team. The team’s recommendation is then sent on to the General of the Air Combat Command.”
As flight surgeon for the Thunderbirds, Goncharow provided primary medical care for a 130-person squadron and their families, in addition to ensuring the health and fitness of the eight Thunderbird demonstration pilots. “Additionally, I fly as an active aircrew member and oversee base emergency response and medical safety for approximately 11,000 active-duty military members and 2,000 government employees,” Goncharow said. “We spend around 220 days a year on the road, travelling all over the country and around the world representing the nearly 700,000 active duty, guard, reserve and civilian members of the Air Force.
“To become the flight surgeon for the team, you need to have fighter aircraft experience as well as a firm grasp on aeromedical issues. In most other squadrons, there is a paramedic (or the equivalent) and a nurse. I am the only medical personnel in the Thunderbirds, so knowing the rules and regulations for each member’s job is absolutely paramount.”
Goncharow realizes his is an once-in-a-lifetime experience. “It is incredibly humbling to wear the Thunderbird patch and perform the important mission of representing, recruiting and retaining the best our nation has to offer,” Goncharow said. “There have only been 12 Flight Surgeons to wear the patch since 1953.”
“I have had so many incredible opportunities, from flying 10 hours back from combat in a fighter jet and being reunited with my family, to engaging in basic fighter maneuvers to setting up air evacuations for injured members, to walking in to the Thunderbird hangar on a daily basis. All of these are etched in my mind forever, and I am so grateful I have these experiences. But it is the people I work with that it is the most memorable part of my service. Deploying in defense of our country is the proudest part of my military career thus far. Watching the whole team work together to accomplish the mission is truly awe-inspiring. This includes the families back home that supported one another and sacrificed so much.”
Like many of his fellow alumni, Goncharow says the family atmosphere at LMU-DCOM drew him to the school. “Out of all the medical schools at which I interviewed, there was a more genuine sense of family, humility and focus on helping students become the best physicians possible at LMU-DCOM,” Goncharow said. “The facilities are state-of-the-art, and everyone I met was approachable and had a personal investment in us. Throughout my time there, every member of the staff and faculty displayed those same traits that drew me to the school. I also found similar traits in the students. My peers were always willing to help one another and push each other to become the physicians our patients deserve. It was not uncommon for our professors to stay late or see the study rooms packed full of medical students helping each other.”
“Military medicine is unique and unlike anything you will find on the civilian side,” Goncharow said. “How many docs get to fly in fighter jets as part of their job? I get to take care of my heroes, and being able to care for your friends is very special.”
Now that his assignment with the Thunderbirds is coming to a close, he will be moving to Ohio for an emergency medicine residency and plans to go work with special forces after residency. His ultimate goal is to pursue operational medicine with another fighter squadron, a special operations unit or NASA.