VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — Vance Air Force Base hosted Friday a ceremony seldom, if ever before, practiced there — the commissioning of a new naval officer.

Col. Corey Simmons, commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance, administered the oath of office for Enid native Ensign Samuel Perez, who was prevented from having his oath administered at the U.S. Naval Academy because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Perez, a 2016 graduate of Enid High School, said the commissioning was the culmination of a long path toward military service, beginning with participation in Civil Air Patrol.

"I was interested in Civil Air Patrol because they provided a good structure and good leadership models," Perez said. "They instilled leadership and integrity into my life."

When he got to Enid High, Perez continued building on those lessons through Air Force JROTC, orchestra, cross country, track and swimming, and through concurrent classes with the Oklahoma School of Science and Math at Autry Technology Center. The Upward Bound program also was instrumental, Perez said, in helping him raise his test scores — he finished the program with a 29 on his ACT.

All Perez' hard work earned him appointments to both the U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy. The choice of Navy over Air Force came down to the diversity of options for graduates from Annapolis, from submarines and surface warfare ships to Marine Corps assignments and naval aviation.

"Just having all those options, and they're so diverse, was so interesting to me," Perez said. "It was very exciting."

Despite the hardships of plebe year and the rigors of academics at the Naval Academy, Perez said his time there "was a blast."

"As you progress through the years there, you learn more and more about leadership and responsibility, which helps out a lot when you get into the fleet, where you're responsible for 12 or 20 people," Perez said. "I learned a lot in my four years there."

Perez completed a degree in aerospace engineering, and when it came to select from among his diverse options for military service, he chose naval aviation — a choice he credits, in part, to growing up around Vance Air Force Base, and because of his high school time in CAP and JROTC.

On service assignment night, when Annapolis midshipmen find out where they will be serving, Perez said he was "pretty nervous, but it worked out and it was one of the best days of my Naval Academy career."

Usually a midshipman's time at the Academy ends with a commissioning ceremony, that is both college graduation and taking the oath of office in either the Navy or Marine Corps. The ceremony ends with midshipmen changing their rank insignia as they become newly minted Navy ensigns and Marine Corps second lieutenants.

But, those plans were cancelled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Midshipmen were able to return to Annapolis in small waves to graduate, and for the ceremonial tossing of their covers (hats) into the air, but they couldn't be sworn into office until May 22 — their official commissioning date.

When Enid mayor George Pankonin heard Perez wouldn't be able to take the oath of office in Annapolis, he arranged for Friday's ceremony in the headquarters building of the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance.

"I think it's very fortunate that I was able to live near base, and this community cares about the service, and I am able to have my family there to watch and have this ceremony happen," Perez said. "I am very grateful Vance Air Force Base was willing to do this, and to Mayor Pankonin for helping set this up."

Perez' mother, Claudia Perez de Marshall, said she is very proud of his accomplishment and his service.

"It's so overwhelming for me to see him going through these changes, from a young man to a man, and to know he is now going to be independent. I am very proud of him," she said. "I am very grateful to Vance Air Force Base and the city of Enid for recognizing him."

Simmons said he was glad to be able to step in and commission Perez.

“It was an honor to swear Ensign Perez into the U.S. Navy by administering the oath of office," Simmons said. "Though we are in different branches, he is now my brother in arms, and I wish him nothing but success during his naval career.”

Perez is scheduled to report to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. in October, then on to Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Texas, where he will begin flight training in the T-6 Texan II.

Looking back on his time in Enid, and his path to commission and flight school, Perez said he wanted other youth in Enid to know their futures are not limited.

"It is possible to come from here and go to any academy or college, pursue any goal they want to," Perez said, "as long as they work hard for it."

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at
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