OKLAHOMA CITY – A 10-plus-year career in the U.S. Air Force led Cherokee Nation citizen Carissa Jones on a path to health care, where she currently works as a registered nurse.

“When I was in the military, I was a pharmacy technician,” said Jones, of Oklahoma City. “My volunteers used to always tell me I would become a really good nurse from how I talked to people and handled situations. So that made me think about it. Plus my mom is a nurse. She was a great inspiration.”

Jones, who grew up in Tahlequah, retired as an Air Force staff sergeant in 2005 after nearly 11 years of active duty.

“The military gave me everything I was looking for and made me a lot of friends all over,” she said. “I joined when I was 17 right after high school. I just wanted to do something different than just go to school. I wanted independence.”

Jones had also considered joining the U.S. Army.

“Actually it was the Army who called me first,” Jones said. “Then the Air Force called me and I was like going back and forth.”

In the end, entering the Air Force “was a great decision for me,” Jones said. 

“There were so many opportunities. Just the ability to get to know people from all over the world and all over the United States was awesome,” Jones said. “You learn so much, especially if you go in young. It really taught me to be a better adult, be on time for stuff and be considerate, have the integrity, things I don’t think I would have learned going straight to college.”

Now 45, Jones works at Kickapoo Tribal Health Center in McLoud as a certified diabetes care specialist and educator.

“Working here at the Kickapoo clinic, I get to serve our other Native American communities and our elders,” she said. “That’s always been important to me. We get to do a lot of things for our community. With it being Native American, it just really means a lot to me.”

Also important, she added, is her Cherokee heritage.

“I probably tell everybody I’m Cherokee. It’s my culture and I’ve just always been proud to tell people,” Jones said. 

Jones graduated from Northeastern State University with a degree in nursing. She is married with two daughters, ages 16 and 21.