INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --
A young, African girl takes a jog on a path to her home in the Matetsi Safari area. Her senses are on alert and goose bumps raise on her arms as she hears the animals of the surrounding jungle send out warning calls. As an impala in the distance gives off a distinct sound, she stops momentarily to survey the area for predators as she feels something is watching her, sees none and continues. When she arrived home and left soon after by car she spotted the cause of her goose bumps--two lionesses hot on her trail just moments before.
This is just a small glimpse into the life of Dr., Capt. Elaina Wild, former 39th Medical Support Squadron family practice care provider. Though she wasn't a U.S. citizen at the time, and didn't join the U.S. Air Force for another 8 years, Wild's personal core values already matched with those of the future group she would be part of.
"I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, then named Rhodesia, in the middle of a Guerrilla war," Wild said. "Living in the African bush is where my love for animals started. I volunteered at a wildlife orphanage when I was 14, assisting with the raising of big cats and endangered species such as rhinos and painted wolves. My family loved it. We were bush people. I was very fortunate as a child to grow up here and experience parts of the continent even Africans rarely see."
Wild explained her love for medicine started with caring for exotic animals living in her local community.
"I've had multiple snake bites and have been charged by more elephants than I would have liked," Wild said. "These experiences taught me the fragility of life and to rejoice and to appreciate how wonderful and beautiful it can be."
Wild's sense of service was inspired early on with neighborhood mishaps in the bush.
"I got my start in human medicine by performing medical trauma treatment for local lion and crocodile attacks on the farms [nearby]," Wild shared.
Wild left her homeland in 2000 when she was 24, to study medicine in America. She was especially thrilled to have been chosen for a full-ride scholarship for pre-medical school, she shared.
"When I arrived to the U.S., my scholarship was revoked because of my appearance," Wild said. "Even though my family had been in Africa since the 16th century, I was not considered to be what was perceived as African."
The 5'9'' blonde-haired blue-eyed girl explained she did not fit the stereotypical mold of an African studying medicine, but early hardships of discrimination did not stop her from becoming a medical doctor and earning her U.S. citizenship as well. Looking back, Wild expressed her reverence for her ability to serve in the world's greatest Air Force.
"I know that we all have our daily struggles and there are a lot of difficulties. But, I can tell you that I would never have the opportunity to do this without the privilege of wearing this uniform. So if it was one thing I wanted the world to know is how grateful I am to do this."
Wild expressed not only what she's grateful for but who as well.
"I am deeply inspired by my grandmother who was a trailblazer in our local community as a successful business woman in a predominantly male-run society," Wild explained. "She continues to motivate me to never stop striving for personal growth, and to never fear adversity or retribution if your actions are born from a pure and brave heart, with the publication of her controversial autobiography at age 87."
Wild's medical technician, Tech. Sgt. Tracy Metcalf-Kocacay, explained what it's like to work beside her on a daily basis in a four-word response to Wild's thanks to her for a day of hard work.
"You led the way."
While leading, Wild keeps in mind her ultimate goal beyond her service to the nation she's grown to love.
"The most important part of my journey is my destination," Wild explained. "Someday I will return home with the knowledge and experience the Air Force has provided to help my people."