Today’s Hoos Making a Difference Honorable Colonel Bill Nelson, MD, USAF, Really Made a Difference: Jerry Ratcliffe

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Colonel William Nelson (left) accepts the Heroes of Military Medicine Award. (Photo: UVA Medical Alumni Association)

When USAF Colonel William “Bill” Nelson steps onto the field at Scott Stadium sometime this afternoon to be recognized by the UVA Football Alumni Club, his thoughts may drift back to his days as a young student athletic coach under the guidance of the late Dr. Frank McCoy and coach Former longtime joe jake.

Nelson, now a decorated officer nearing the end of his distinguished 30-year career and office at the Pentagon, will receive the football club’s “Hoos Making a Difference” award, which is given every home game to a former Cavalier who has made an impact on society outside of sports.

Nelson (1979 class) spent his career as a flight surgeon in the USAF, logged over 1,100 flight hours, treated countless pilots and traveled regularly to active war zones. In 2018, Nelson was awarded the “Hero of Military Medicine Award,” which honors outstanding contributions by those who have distinguished themselves through excellence and dedicated dedication to advancing the military and advancing the lives and health of the nation’s wounded, sick, and injured service members, veterans and civilians.

Nelson said he was surprised by the honor, which allowed him to remember his days as a student at UVA, working with McCue, Gieck, and the athletic department.

“When I finished medical school, I was hoping to join the university’s faculty, but they wanted me to train elsewhere before potential enrollment, and to expand my education,” Nelson said Friday.

He volunteered in the Air Force, and did not intend to become a career. After ending his fellowships with Mack and Dr. Jim Andrews, pioneers in the field of sports medicine, Nelson continued his career in the Air Force, which kept offering him interesting positions with greater responsibility.

This weekend is special for Nelson, not only because of the recognition from the Virginia Alumni Football Club, but it’s also the USAF’s 75th birthday. He said he would rethink those families, particularly those that lost their members, throughout his career.

Nelson said he was fortunate that in his training days at UVA, Gieck allowed his coaches to travel with different teams and Nelson benefited, working with soccer, soccer, baseball and lacrosse on road trips, getting to know many coaches and other sports divisions and members of Tille Wright and his companions, who took care of Scott Stadium and other UVA facilities, right down to the then athletic director, the late Jane Corrigan.

“Mr. Corrigan, Bob Goodman, James O. West, Terry Holland, Bruce Arena, Jim Adams, George Edwards — just amazing people I’ve been exposed to and letting me watch in action,” said Nelson.

Nelson, who was then chief of the Division of International and Integrated Operational Medicine, Human Performance Wing 711, when he was awarded the “2018 Military Medicine Champions Award,” in recognition of his influential leadership and absolute commitment to military medicine.

“Flight surgeons are responsible for the health, safety, and performance of service members operating aircraft or performing missions from aircraft,” said Lt. Gen. Mark Ediger, US Air Force Surgeon General, who nominated Nelson for the award. Nelson was a flight surgeon for special operations, which meant that the mission took him to some difficult places (Afghanistan, Iraq), long distances from proper medical care. With years of experience, including involvement in combat operations, Nelson has become recognized by pilots and paramedics alike.

“Simply put, he is a flight surgeon a flight surgeon.”

Join the Virginia Alumni Football Club this afternoon in saluting the former Cavalier’s service.

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