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NEWS | Jan. 30, 2015

ARMEDCOM Soldiers reflect on being an Army nurse

By tory by Staff Sgt. Neil W. McCabe Army Reserve Medical Command

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. - Army nurses assigned to the Army Reserve Medical Command Headquarters and Headquarters Company in Pinellas Park, Florida reflected on the 114th Anniversary of the Army Nurse Corps celebrated Feb. 2.

“The Army Nurse Corps is a very strong corps of folks who will continue to be good patient care, good warrior stewards, stewards of the wounded warriors, and develop into good leaders,” said Brig. Gen. Mary E. Link, an Army nurse and the deputy commanding general of the Army Reserve Medical Command. “Nursing just exudes that -- to be able to celebrate the birthday every year is just a milestone of those successes.”

Congress established the Army Nurse Corps Feb. 2, 1901 as on the lessons learned from the Spanish-American War, a four-month conflict with Spain that ended with the United States in control of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. During the war, Congress contracted 1,200 nurses to support troops in combat at a rate of $30 per month.

After the war, the War Department recognized that it needed a sustainable mechanism for training and mobilizing Army nurses for future conflicts and the Army Nurse Corps was formally integrated into the Army’s Medical Department.

The nurses of the Army Nurse Corps have been a part of every war and significant conflict since 1901, but the most extreme example was the corps’ participation in the Second World War.

On the morning of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, there were 82 Army nurses assigned to nearby Tripler Army Hospital and fewer than 1,000 nurses across the Army.

By the end of World War II, there were more than 59,000 Army nurses.

Today, the Army Nurse Corps of commissioned officer nurses stands at just more than 4,000—but, the Army Nurse Team, which includes enlisted Soldiers and civilian employees, stands at roughly 40,000 strong.

Link said she began her Army Nurse career on active-duty before making the transition to the Army Reserve and drilling as an Army Reserve Troop Program Unit Soldier.

Maj. Gen. Margaret C. Wilmoth, the deputy surgeon general for mobilization and reserve affairs in the office of the Army Surgeon General, said nursing in the Army Reserve is great way to serve your country and grow as a professional and a leader.

"The key value I find in Army Reserve nursing that I never found in civilian nursing is the ability to intentionally develop yourself as a leader," she said “Army nursing has allowed me to develop as a leader, and develop leadership skills in a very intentional way that differs from the civilian sector.” 

Wilmoth said another dimension to being an Army Reserve nurse is that because you are living and working as a “Citizen-Soldier” and then bringing those lessons learned to the active-duty side.

“There's a beauty in getting outside your own little silo no matter what your silo is and interacting with individuals in other walks of life, other disciplines,” she said. “I'd say there's a lot of cross-pollination that takes place between the active Army and the Army Reserve Soldiers when we are mobilized.”

Col. Regina M. Powell, the deputy chief surgeon of the Army Reserve Medical Command, said she always sets aside time to think about the Army Nurse Corps birthday every year.

“I really believe in this year’s theme for the 114th birthday: We really do have the courage to care, the courage to connect and the courage to change,” she said.

Powell said as a graduate of Tuskegee Institute, she was very aware of the Tuskegee Airman and the school’s association with the Air Force. “But, I always wanted to be a Soldier in the Army.”

The colonel said she has been an Army Reserve nurse for 21 years, and the first 12 of those years were as a drilling Army Reserve Soldier, while now she serves as a full-time Active Guard Reserve Soldier. 

The colonel said she joined the Army Reserve when she was working as the evening nurse supervisor at the Veterans Administration hospital in Atlanta. There were other nurses there in the Army Reserve who encouraged her to consider it. 

Powell said she made her final decision one night after a conversation with the hospital’s chief of nurses, who was also an Army Reserve colonel in the 3297th U.S. Army Hospital. “She said that the Army Reserve needed more leaders like me—and it was the best thing I’ve done in my life.”

Capt. Phan K. Ouellette, the headquarters and headquarters company commander, Army Reserve Medical Command, and an Army nurse working as an AGR Soldier in the command’s Surgeon Section, said her becoming an Army nurse is a funny story.

“It started when I was a kid,” the Vietnam native said. “I used to love to play war and I always wanted to be a Soldier, but the boys told me: ‘You can’t be a Soldier, you have to be a nurse.’ But, I told them: ‘I don’t want to be a nurse; I want to be a Soldier.’”

Ouellette said in 1993 she enlisted in the Army and became a Soldier. But, after her enlistment, she went back to school and became a nurse, and was commissioned as an Army nurse in 2004. 

“I combined the two things I liked,” she said. “As an Army nurse, you get to help people and serve your country, which is awesome.”

Link said she remembers the challenges of being a Troop Program Unit Army Reserve nurse: you balance your civilian position with your Army Reserve time.

There was even a point after she returned from the First Gulf War when she considered to stop drilling and transferring to the roll of an inactive Army Reserve officer. “But it was one annual training event that I attended that turned me around and motivated me again to continue on and push harder.”

The general said she was a major then and her small nurse detachment was able to join the 86th Combat Support Hospital during their training exercise at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, Louisiana. 

Link said the deputy commander and chief nurse of the 86th CSH, pronounced “cash”, both worked with her to integrate her and her nurses into the running of the hospital in departments and roles that were new to them. 

“It was awesome. It was great. It was what I wanted to do, to continue to do,” said Link, the Ravenna, Nebraska, native. “It was all that background that you don't see: the patient flow, the PLX, the patient care and how we move people out, and the evacuation process. It was all of it.”