True Stories from the Field – Air Force Nurse Corps
I joined the Air Force Reserves at the age of 41 in the Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Travis Air Force Base in California. I was adventurous and patriotic, so I decided to join to serve my country, travel, provide direct patient care and to provide support to the younger members of my team. I was working full-time as an Assistant Hospital Administrator at a large medical center in Sacramento, CA and responsible for all of the nursing services and some other departments. Because of my education (Master's in Nursing Administration) and experience, I was commissioned as a Captain (skipped the 2nd and 1st Lieutenant levels).
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At the beginning of boot camp, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to do some of the physical activities e.g. obstacle course, water survival, etc. After a while I realized that not only could I, but the instructors really treated us with kid gloves; they didn't want to injure medical personnel! The instructors were very respectful of us as we were mainly experienced doctors and nurses. They never yelled like you see/hear about enlisted people's boot camp. The instructors laughed at many of us trying to march, some people just couldn't get it. We had to do survival training and our last "test" was a 3-night stay in the wilderness; the last day we broke up into small groups and using a compass and map had to find our way out. Everyone made it!
After 7 years I was promoted to Major and after another 7 years to Lieutenant Colonel. I never felt any bias toward women or particular challenges to being a female in the military for two reasons: military people LOVE medical personnel as their lives may depend upon us, so I always felt appreciated. The second reason I'd give is that the Air Force is a very professional and well-educated branch of the service.
I was a flight nurse for 12 years and traveled to many countries: Kuwait, Qatar, Sicily, England, Bahrain, Germany, and the United States. As the Chief Nurse I was stationed at the Command Center in Doja, Qatar; I flew to Iraq, Djibouti, and Kuwait. I received two Meritorious Service Medals, one for each deployment. The second medal was for my "demonstrated exemplary leadership and courage during diversionary tactics while receiving enemy fire upon take-off in a combat zone." This was when our plane was shot on take-off from Mosul, Iraq. We heard the hit and felt the plane make diverting moves. The other flight nurse with me was a young nurse with 4 children at home. She began to sob and wasn't able to continue her duties. She told me it was her daughter's birthday that day and she was afraid she would die. I was able to console her and carry on our duties. It reinforced to me once more that there was a place for us older nurses in the military!
My flight nurse role was always stressful. As Chief Nurse I was responsible for the Aeromedical Evacuation crewmembers and that was a lot of responsibility. Every time I sent a crew out I didn't relax until they got "home". I remember a crewmember needed one more flight to get an air medal. It wasn't his turn to fly, but he wanted to be added onto the crew. I refused and told him his mother would rather he come home alive than to have a medal if he was killed. Some young people felt invincible but being more experienced I knew the chances we took every time we flew.
No one in the world can do some of the missions our military can. One time I flew to Okinawa to pick up a baby who was born with a hernia in its diaphragm. He needed surgery to live. We had a team of newborn medical personnel (four doctors, two nurses, two biomedical techs, two respiratory therapists and two other personnel) from Texas that we flew over to Okinawa. We had to have two teams because of the length of the trip. The baby had to be put on a machine like a heart-lung bypass machine. The mission was flawless, and the baby's life was saved. He was the son of an enlisted person, not a general's grandson. The doctor told me it was a $500,000 flight and no one but our Air Force could have done it. It was truly incredible!
Our service members have such integrity and great ethics; the people I served with are the best of the best. They don't get rich in the military but it's truly a calling and a great sense of duty to our country. I just wish everyone could experience our military, they would look at life in a very different way.
After being activated twice and deploying to foreign countries, I felt selfish to my family to continue to fly and risk being deployed again. Besides that, I was getting older: 50 years old when I deployed the first time and 52 the second time! Although I absolutely loved what I did, it wasn't fair to my husband being left at home alone and it wasn't fair to my (civilian) employer.
I left the flying squadron and went to a non-flying squadron as their Chief Nurse. After 3 years of an office job that felt the same as my civilian job, I had been promoted to the Chief Nursing job on the civilian side and couldn't do a good job at both, as I was doing 2 weekends a month as a Reservist. For these reasons, I ended my military duty in 2008 after 16 years.
My service has affected my life in so many positive ways. I think my family was proud of what I did, I know my husband was. I made lifetime friends from my service and it made me think on a more global perspective, giving me a bigger picture of world events. I learned a lot and feel like I became a better person because of my experiences. I wouldn't have changed it for the world!
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