Major Eric Sigmon ’96, a brigade surgeon at Fort Bragg, shows off his vintage NCSSM pennant.
When he entered North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in 1994, becoming a career Army officer and physician wasn’t exactly how Eric Sigmon ’96 saw his future. But indeed, he attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, U.S. Army Ranger School, and the Uniformed Services University’s Medical School and now serves as a brigade surgeon stationed at Fort Bragg, NC. Looking back, Sigmon can see a few common threads. Or at least one common thread: jumping out of planes.
“It was still the tail end of the Gulf War,” Sigmon remembers about entering NCSSM. “I had been in Boy Scouts and I liked doing stuff outside. Chuck Horrell (also Class of ‘96) and I did the outdoors club thing. In those days, if you could convince a teacher to go with you, you could do anything.” For “special projects week,” what is now called Mini-Term, Sigmon and a small group went skydiving one winter at a site north of Durham. “We had the best turnout at the special projects talks,” he laughs, “because one of our guys spent the extra money to get a video taken of him jumping.”
A recruiter from West Point convinced Sigmon that students there could be intellectually curious and well rounded. So he entered the academy and graduated with a major in physics. From West Point, he then trained in Fort Benning, GA, learning how to jump from a plane while wearing and carrying 100-plus pounds. He served as an infantry office for five years, and was stationed in Germany just after the September 11 attacks. Sigmon was deployed to combat twice, once for six months to Kosovo and later to Iraq for 16 months.
“It’s a strange and surreal experience,” Sigmon says of serving combat duty. “It certainly shapes the way one sees the world. It turns out you’re actually surrounded by a lot of good people and just a few bad ones.”
By then, Sigmon was married. His wife, who majored in physics at the U.S. Naval Academy, was stationed on the West Coast. So Sigmon left the service to follow his wife for two years before deciding to enter medical school in 2007. He served a residency in pediatrics for three years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. He still hopes to complete a fellowship in pediatric cardiology, but in 2014 the Army sent him where they needed him: Fort Bragg and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
“When President Obama needs 4,000 people right now, people who can jump out of airplanes and start building new bases, he calls us,” Sigmon explains. His primary duty now is a combination of clinical care and ensuring that all of his soldiers are ready to deploy. He’ll wrap up his time in July, when he’ll return to civilian status for his pediatric fellowship. Then he’ll owe the army eight more years, for his eight years of medical education, so chances are he’ll end up working at an army hospital to complete his career. “The military has been extremely good to me,” he says.
Recently he jumped out of a plane again, marking his 18th jump with the army, in addition to two jumps as an NCSSM student. “My knees are stronger when I get to the door now,” he jokes. “Each time you jump it gets a little more routine. Last week I had a great exit from the plane, great opening of my parachute, but then you’re sharing the sky with 40 other people so you have to watch out for them.”
He remembers Science and Math for far more than his parachuting adventures, he says.
“NCSSM had a profound impact on my life. Just getting into that environment, getting exposed to so many different people, a lot of late-night discussions… it helps kids explore the world through their peers.”