Battle tested

  • Published
  • By Officer Trainee Hannah Malone
  • Officer Training School

The United States Air Force Officer Training School is the premier leader-development institution within the Profession of Arms.

Every year, hundreds of prior service individuals and civilians apply through various means of application, with an acceptance rate below 20 percent.

Applicants overcome numerous barriers during their journey to OTS. It can take several years and multiple OTS boards before an individual is selected for the program. In class 24-07, one Officer Trainee battled more than most when fighting for his commission. 

“I learned resilience in a very difficult way; staring into a hospital mirror, looking at IVs sticking out of my body and watching my hair fall from my head to the floor in chunks,’ said Officer Trainee Michael Chacon. “I was asking myself if I would make it through the week with no real control of the answer.”

In 2011, Michael Chacon was an Air National Guardsman, serving during his first year of college while studying accounting and finance. He continued his enlisted service working as a mission intelligence officer on the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper aircrafts during Operation Enduring Freedom and continued his service throughout his college education.

During his senior year, at the age of 22 and the rank of Senior Airman, Chacon developed cold-like systems which rapidly developed into fatigue, night sweats and jaundice. Doctors performed several labs resulting in news Chacon was not prepared to receive.

“I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia on January 26, 2016, by bone marrow biopsy confirmation. I had cancer,” Chacon said. “Throughout my time in the hospital I had a lot of uncertainties. Would I respond to the medication? Would the cancer recur? Could my body recover from the high dose chemotherapy? I took things one day at a time.”

He spent 112 days in the hospital over the next five months and received four courses of chemotherapy, 22 blood transfusions and 25 units of platelets. During all of the treatments, he remained results-focused. Chacon disenrolled from his elective courses but continued taking his core credits to stay on track to graduate. He was able to participate in group projects remotely and worked with his instructors to arrange taking tests online.

“It was not the easiest, but I knew that it would be worth it,” he said. “In May of 2016, I walked across my graduation stage and in June 2016 I finished all four courses of the chemotherapy and continued to have clean bone marrow scans.”

After beating cancer, Chacon’s leadership stepped in and fought for his ability to stay in the service. His doctors, commanders and supervisors wrote letters and advocated for his return to wearing the uniform. They were successful and Chacon continued to serve for 12 years, until an intelligence officer position became available at his unit. He applied for the position and was accepted to attend OTS.

His leadership perspective has been molded by the experiences that challenged him as a young Airman. Chacon aspires to be a servant leader, leading by example and motivating effective teams.

“Now when I am stressed and challenged, I have my past to put things into perspective, and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Chacon said. “I can use that to encourage others, teach new ways of looking at a problem, and accomplish the mission.”