Former Soviet officer joins Air Force

  • Published
  • By Carl Bergquist
  • Air University Public Affairs
When stories about job changes come up in conversation, it is hard to top 2nd Lt. Chris Sverkounov.

The recent Air and Space Basic Course student here went from being a lieutenant in the Soviet army to a commission in the U.S. Air Force.

"I'm extremely excited about being an officer again," said Sverkounov. "I plan to make it my career."

In the early 1990s, when Sverkounov was allowed to leave Russia at the end of the Cold War, he headed straight for the United States. Shortly after arriving, he talked with a recruiter and tried to sign up as an officer in the Air Force, but officers must be U.S. citizens.

Over the next nine years, Sverkounov worked in real estate and became involved in the motion picture industry through San Francisco's chapter of the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees union.

A Moscow native, Sverkounov enjoyed San Francisco. He said his show business job had him working as a motion picture gaffer and grip, and doing electrical, welding, camera crew and sound work. He said he truly enjoyed the job but his heart was still with the military. Upon receiving his U.S. citizenship, Sverkounov joined the Air Force.

"Officer Training School was great as I made many friends, learned a lot ... I really enjoyed it," Sverkounov said.

Because his Soviet degree in electrical engineering was not accredited in the United States, Sverkounov, 35, could not take advantage of his technical expertise. Following OTS, he was assigned to the 48th Services Squadron at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. He returned there when he finished the Air and Space Basic Course Dec. 20.

"ASBC (was) terrific," he said. "While I (was) somewhat older than my fellow students, I didn't have any problems with the course. You do see things a little differently than the younger officers, but I came through with 100-percent scores."

"When former adversaries can come to the United States, become citizens and defend this nation, you know in your heart this is what freedom really means. This is the true measure of a great nation," said Lt. Col. Richard Anderson, ASBC commandant.

In Russia, Sverkounov entered a Soviet military academy at age 16 and graduated at 21.

He was commissioned as a Soviet army lieutenant in 1989.

Sverkounov said there is virtually no comparison between the Soviet academy and U.S. Air Force training. The biggest difference he said he has noticed in the two services are base accommodations.

"On Soviet installations, there are very few life accommodations," he said. "The base exchanges and commissaries are poor by comparison, and there is much more concentration on military exercises and physical fitness, as the Soviet military is very competitive."

The lieutenant had the opportunity to talk with Air Force Secretary Dr. James G. Roche and Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper during their recent visit here.

"Secretary Roche is a really nice guy and took time to talk about my experiences and life," he said. "He said it was good to see how the world had changed its thinking and wished me the best with my career."

Sverkounov said he would be happy wherever he is assigned and wants the Air Force to evaluate his abilities and place him where he can be most useful to the service. He said he feels the secret to succeeding in the Air Force is being "reliable, having common sense and keeping your sense of humor." Additionally, he said, the Air Force is "just great" in terms of how people are treated and how things are run.

"Lieutenant Sverkounov has had the unique opportunity to personally experience one of this country's greatest ideals, that we are a land of opportunity for everyone," said Anderson.

"The United States is an unbelievable country," said Sverkounov. "I've traveled to many countries in my life and nowhere else have I seen opportunities like we have here." (Courtesy of Air Education and Training Command News Service)