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My journey as a military nurse

  • Published
  • By Col. Beth Dion
  • 60th Inpatient Operations Squadron

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – What does it mean to be a military nurse? When I first came into the military I did not know that meant.

I don’t come from a family with a strong military history or an area of the country that has a large military presence. When I commissioned into the military, I saw nursing as a job. 

I began my career as a military nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. I had two simple goals: learn as much as possible and don’t make a mistake that could have dire consequences. Pretty common goals for a new nurse. 

I remember my rookie year vividly. Looking back now, it is amazing I survived. Basic nursing skills such as procedures, prioritization and critical thinking were learned on the fly. There is a steady state of controlled chaos on every nursing unit, but I discovered I loved that chaos. It is surprising how much medical care a 1-pound baby needs in a 12-hour shift.   

Even seven years later, I still didn’t understand the significance of being a military nurse. Then 9/11 happened.  Everyone knows where they were, I was in the NICU at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. I remember my flight commander pulling us all together and telling us, with tears in her eyes and a shaky voice, that the world had just changed and we are probably going to war; be ready. That was the first day I felt I understood what it was to be a military nurse. 

Now, fast forward several years and I am deploying to the Intensive Care Unit at Balad Air Base, Iraq. This was an experience that defined me as a nurse and Airman. It was an honor to take care of wounded service members. These patients came in with devastating wounds and their first question would often be, “When will I get back to my unit.” Everyone was giving 100 % and then some. It didn’t matter if we were chasing our tails to save someone or holding a hand so they didn’t feel alone. I left there with no questions on what it meant to be part of the U.S. military. 

Over the past 25 years, the military and nursing have taught me many lessons and molded my belief system. Serving in the military as a nurse has taught me to be humble. Another lesson I learned was to appreciate what you have and the people in your life. They may not be perfect, but they will be perfect for you. Lastly, find your path. There is no one path in this world. There isn’t even just one path to chief or general. Remember, it is the experiences that make us strong.