Colonel (Ret.) James Ruffer was getting ready to attend medical school when the Vietnam War began. He went to a Marine Corps recruiter with the intent of becoming an officer and, shortly after commissioning, attended flight school. He was immediately thrown into the “fire” in Vietnam, providing close air support for his fellow Marines on the ground. Ruffer served five years as an active duty Marine.
After earning his medical degree, he ended up joining the Navy as a flight surgeon. Ruffer served with the Navy for six years before he left to become a civilian doctor. After a few months, he missed the military life and called a recruiter to ask if the Air Force had any need for doctors.
While in the Air Force, he played a vital role in Operation ACID GAMBIT, which took place Dec. 20, 1989. The mission was to rescue a U.S. civilian who was being held in the Carcel Modelo Prison in Panama. While treating the civilian for more than nine months, Ruffer worked with Delta Force intelligence officers discussing the prison’s floor plan to include where the guard shacks were, how thick the cells were, if the prisoner would be strong enough to get out, and if he’d be willing to risk escape. The operation was ultimately a success and Ruffer was later presented a Bronze Star with Valor for his heroism.