Diving Deep with Special Forces

June 23, 2016
As a battalion surgeon with the U.S. Army Special Forces, Ian May ’03 serves with—and provides medical care for—America’s most elite soldiers.

Ian May has always taken the road less traveled.  As an undergraduate, he accomplished more in four years than might seem humanly possible: study abroad on four continents, concentrations in Latin American studies and sub-Saharan studies, and fluency in Spanish, all wrapped up in a relentless drive to make a difference in the world.

More than a decade later, May continues to push the envelope, now as part of the Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) that quietly carries out missions around the world.  In addition to earning a medical degree and completing his residency in emergency medicine at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington, May has undergone rigorous military training that includes Flight Surgeon School, Airborne School, and Dive Medical Officer School.

It’s an unusual path to follow but perfectly logical for May, a double major in international studies and Spanish who, after graduation, interned with the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of State and then joined the Peace Corps. Returning from a two-and-a-half year stint in Costa Rica, where he focused on rural community development, May joined the Army with the intention of becoming a doctor. He worked at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in HIV and Hepatitis C research before starting medical school at the University of Michigan.

At the senior awards luncheon in 2003, students asked retiring professor of history and political science Daniel Premo what piece of advice he had for them as they made their way into the world. May vividly remembers that moment. “Wisely, he said ‘I cannot offer any advice, you have to make your own way.’” He has done exactly that.

May credits Washington College for providing the strong foundation of education and experiential learning for his career. “WC had the best of many worlds. Specifically it was a small school with great student-professor ratios and it also offered a plethora of study-abroad experiences that let you set out your own path. I had all the advantages of a large university without being stuck in a lecture hall with 400 other students,” May says. “The study abroad opportunities I had, traveling to Cuba, Ecuador, Spain, and South Africa, as well as the focus on writing and critical thinking, set up a base for me to continue my education and interact with the larger world.” 

Offering his own words of wisdom for today’s students, May echoes his former professor. “I would say the same, but that you have to make your own way relentlessly.”

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Washington College Magazine.

Last modified on Sep. 28th, 2017 at 3:23pm by Meghan Livie.