SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Father may know best, but when Army Reserve Lt. Col. Andrew "Andy" Nicholes recently returned to military service as an emergency medicine physician, he followed the direction of his son.
Army 2nd Lt. Marc A. Nicholes, 26, an Army ROTC grad and a second-year student at the University of the Incarnate Word School of Osteopathic Medicine here, administered the oath of office to swear-in his father during a recent commissioning ceremony.
Andy, 48, has practiced emergency medicine for 17 years, with the past three being at First Texas Hospital's First Choice Emergency Room in Cypress, Texas. He first commissioned into the Army Reserve following 9/11 and served for six years as an emergency physician, including a combat tour in Iraq.
"It was cool seeing my dad being proud of putting the uniform back on again, and get back out there to serve the Soldiers that need medical care," said Marc, who recalls being a young child when his father last put on the uniform. "Being able to give him the oath is an honor I don't think a lot of sons get to have with their dads just because of the way it normally works, you know."
And vice versa, says Andy, who explained how he has been inspired to return to the Reserve in part by a family tradition of service, and mainly by his son's growth.
"I have been watching my son start his Army medical career and have been so impressed by him," said Andy. "I can't even put words to how proud I am."
For Andy, the idea of him following his son's lead and donning a military uniform again was closer to a dream than reality when the process began two years ago -- so much so when he first mentioned it during a visit by recruiters, he said even he didn't take it seriously.
"The recruiters, Sgt. 1st Class (Irvin) Merino and Capt. (David) Bowen, (both of the Army Medical Recruiting Station Houston), came to the house talking to my son, and I kind of half-heartedly asked if they would take a crusty old ER doc that can't hear?" said Andy. "Next thing you know I am getting waivers for hearing loss and age."
With no dependent children at home (including Marc, there's daughter, Jessica Nicholes, 24, and Nina Ridgeway, 24, step-daughter with current wife, Lorraine), Andy said he began to ask himself, "Why not?!"
"I mean if I can work as an ER doc in the civilian world I should be able to do that in the Army," explained Andy. "Two years later, I had the honor of my son giving me the oath and my wife pinning my rank on. I guess you could say we are a military family. I look forward to the journey."
Merino, whose father is also an Army veteran, first guided Marc from the Guard and into the Army's Health Professions Scholarship Program. He then helped Andy overcome age, health and rank restrictions to resume his Reserve career.
Marc graduated Army ROTC at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical School in Prescott, Arizona, and entered the Texas National Guard before completing premed courses at the University of Texas, San Antonio, which led to his acceptance into medical school. He is completing medical school with the help of the Army's Health Professional Scholarship Program, or HPSP, which pays 100 percent of medical school tuition along with a monthly stipend.
The program's benefits, according to Marc, extend well beyond the financial help it provides for him and his family -- wife Kelly, and 4-month-old daughter.
"HPSP, in general, helps a ton by being able to come out of medical school debt free," Marc said. "A lot of my classmates and other people around the U.S. come out of school with this huge debt burden and it kind of can even influence what you want to do in medicine in terms of how much that sort of doctor makes (in salary)."
It's a dilemma Marc said he believes he, too, would be facing had it not been for meeting his recruiter, Merino. He said it was evident that Merino "likes what he does, because he gets to recruit the next generation of medical professionals."
Accordingly, Merino, a 10-year veteran combat medic, said he wholeheartedly believes in what he's selling.
"The opportunities that Army Medicine can provide are only limited to your own limits," said Merino. "Army Medicine continues to be on the forefront of medicine … If you dream of accomplishing anything while working in an asymmetrical environment, we have a position for you!"
Personally, Merino said it's always special when he helps bring a medical officer into the ranks, but he considers it among the utmost honor to be "part of another family's commitment to our great country."
Andy and Marc, both of College Station, Texas, expressed pride in their family's military service. Marc cites as role models his grandmother, a former Army nurse, his grandfather, a Marine and Vietnam veteran, and his step mother, Lorraine, a veteran of combat in Kuwait and Iraq who retired after serving more than 20 years as an Army medic, respiratory therapist and finally as a physician's assistant.
Unquestionably, Andy's July 20 commissioning, held here at the U.S. Army Medicine Department Museum on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, places the Nicholeses on different paths with the same goal -- aiding sick and injured Soldiers.
After completing his second year in HPSP, Marc looks forward to medical specialty training and then embarking on an active-duty career. In Andy's second military career turn, he wants to make a difference and be an example that other physicians can follow.
"My hope is my service allows one of the younger military docs to have one less deployment and more time with their family," said Andy, a former Honolulu resident who has returned several times the past year to augment staff in The Queen's Medical Center ER, where he worked full-time before relocating to Texas in 2014.
"The Army needs good experienced docs to take care of its Soldiers," continued Andy. "… American Soldiers are risking their lives for our freedom. I just want to do my part to make sure they come home."