Dr. Ilcus
U.S. Air Force Dr. (Maj.) Lidia Ilcus, a flight doctor with the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron
joined the Air Force shortly after the events of 9/11 "to make a difference."
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jocelyn Rich.

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM (ACCNS) - On Sept. 11, 2001, Dr. Lidia Ilcus was driving to her office at 6 a.m., where she was scheduled to see several patients and lead clinicals as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Houston. She'd planned to return home around 7 p.m.

When Doctor Ilcus arrived at work, a nurse approached her with some unexpected news.

Like most people in the country that morning, the two of them watched the news in disbelief as the first World Trade Center tower fell, and then the second. The doctor looked to her nurse, put her arm around her and said, "This is war."

But what Doctor Ilcus did next is what many people did not do. She decided to join the U.S. Air Force and become a flight doctor.

"I'm the kind of person that when you get something in the mail from the United Way or some organization like it -- I won't send money I'll join," she said. "I think the way you affect change is to get actively involved."

At an early age, Doctor Ilcus learned how important it was to be an American. Her mother fled Romania during World War II at age seven and learned to be a dental hygienist. Her father grew up in war-torn Romania, became a physician and fought for years with immigration officials to leave the communist country and join his wife and daughter in the United States.

"I respect the fact that my parents have been through so much to be here," Doctor Ilcus said.

Now an Air Force major, Doctor Ilcus, 37, has always demonstrated a passion for her service and for her profession. She served a two-year tour in Abkhazia, Georgia, with Doctors Without Borders, a worldwide medical relief organization.

While there, she was held hostage for several hours when she attempted to flee the compound after receiving a bomb threat.

Major Ilcus said she joined the Air Force because, like others, 9/11 deeply affected her.

"I just didn't want anyone threatening my niece's way of life," she said

Now she is a flight doctor forward deployed to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron. She ensures medical readiness of all aircrew assigned to the squadron.

But there are significant differences between Doctor Ilcus' old career and her new one. Although her long work days have remained the same, she took a significant pay cut when she joined the Air Force.

"I joined the Air Force to make a difference, not to make money," she said.

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