An enlisted physical therapy assistant assigned to the 56th Medical Group became the first Airman to complete Basic Military Training and direct transfer to her first duty station, Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., bypassing technical training.
Prior to joining the Air Force, Airman 1st Class Emily Perina, 56th Healthcare Operations Squadron physical therapist assistant, completed an associate degree in PTA, held an active PTA license in Florida and had four years of work experience in outpatient/sports medicine — everything required to satisfy tech training requirements. As a result, the Air Force waived her technical training and saved more than $29,000.
“The importance behind A1C Perina skipping technical school and reporting straight to her duty station is simple,” said Tech. Sgt. Geoffrey Rigby, 56th HCOS surgical services flight chief. “Her PTA license is a higher qualification than one would earn from graduating tech school. This is a license that only 12.6 percent of the physical medicine career field holds.”
“I found out I was skipping tech school from my recruiter,” said Perina. “He showed me an email saying I’m making Air Force history.”
Perina learned she was skipping tech school through an email her recruiter showed her. She said she felt a rush of emotions overcome her: surprise, shock, and pride in knowing she graduated BMT and is making history at the same time.
“I feel like there’s lots of importance from this opportunity,” said Perina. “I see it as a possible program for those who are already licensed PTAs to come into the Air Force. I feel as though other programs like the one I went through could possibly be set up for other career fields, overall saving the Air Force money.”
While Perina acknowledges that she may have missed experiences other Airmen receive in tech school, she said she’s excited to contribute to the mission.
“It’s just one of those things,” said Perina. “You have to get used to being dropped into normal life.”
Perina found a couple of Air Education and Training Command Form 341s, which are used in BMT to track discrepancies and excellence, in her pocket after arriving at Luke. She forgot they were in there because she’s so used to having them on her, she joked.
Perina grew up in Florida and said she found her love for physical therapy while in high school interning at a hospital to become a nurse. She changed to physical therapy because she wanted to work with patients one-on-one.
“My first patient was unable to walk,” said Perina. “I worked with him for about eight weeks and at the end of it he was able to walk with a cane. It was a very fulfilling feeling and being able to work with patients one-on-one and develop that relationship. That’s why I wanted to do it. I love helping people and I love fitness, so it was the perfect opportunity.”
Perina said she joined the Air Force because she needed a change of scenery and sought opportunities to further her education and travel. One of her patients, a Navy recruiter, talked to her and motivated her to join the military.
“I’ve been told the Air Force is the way to go,” said Perina. “That’s when I saw a recruiter and never looked back. I knew I was making the right decision when I walked into that office.”
Perina plans to use her four years of PTA experience to help Luke Airmen maintain physical health. She said there are always new things to learn and she will continue to renew her Florida PTA license every two years.
“She is already a subject matter expert in many areas and we look forward to her insight from her past experience in the civilian sector,” said Rigby. “New and different viewpoints are always encouraged to help progress changes and increase the quality of patient care.”
He said Perina’s civilian experience will advance the Luke’s PTA program and its ability to support Airmen.
“What sets her apart from other PTAs is definitely her high level of knowledge,” said Rigby. “I am not ashamed to say that I, with 10 years experience, have been learning new things from her lately. I have never had a three-level (job skill level) Airman with this amount of experience and intellect. The Air force is very fortunate to have her on board performing as a seasoned PTA.”