LANDSTUHL REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, Germany - As a Wounded Warrior in transition, Jennifer Trenkelbach saw a long-term opportunity and seized it.

As a result, the Army specialist is one of 12 volunteers to graduate from what is believed to be the first American Red Cross Nurse Assistant Training Program offered at a Military Treatment Facility.

While assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit in Kaiserslautern, Germany, Trenkelbach's mission is to heal from a foot injury while a determination is made whether she will be able to remain in the Army or transition to civilian life. Trenkelbach hopes to remain in the military, but her newfound nursing skills will provide the opportunity to explore other career opportunities in the event she transitions to civilian life.

"I've always wanted to get into nursing, and it also gives me a chance to volunteer," Trenkelbach said during the final week of the four-week course consisting of 168 hours of classroom and hands-on experience. The course was developed and taught by Red Cross officials, nurses and education specialists at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

And much like her career as a Soldier, Trenkelbach said she likes the aspect of working her way up from the ground floor as a nursing assistant. Colonel Roy Harris appreciates her work ethic and the valuable role that Trenkelbach and her fellow volunteers will assume at LRMC and other military treatment facilities and civilian hospitals. Harris began his medical career as a civilian orderly and is now Chief, Clinical Nursing, at LRMC.

"A certified nursing assistant is an integral person in providing total patient care," Harris said, noting the role CNAs provide in patient care includes feeding, bathing, taking vital signs and transporting patients throughout the hospital.

The CNA program is ideal, Harris said, because it helps encourage nursing assistants to become nurses and it helps provide more time for nurses to focus on their primary responsibilities.

"I hope they become volunteers here at LRMC and build on what they have learned," said Harris. So does 1st Lt. Melanie Silva, an Army nurse who helped provide training to the corps of volunteer students.

"Having an extra set of hands available as we coordinate the flow of the floor is a huge help," said Silva.

That was the end state that Susanne Harlandt had in mind when she conceived the innovative training program as station chief for the American Red Cross at LRMC -- fill an ongoing need for certified nursing assistants and help family members at the same time.

"We see this as a win-win-win situation for all concerned," Harlandt said. "The family members gain new skills, the hospital gains new skilled volunteers, and the American Red Cross gains an ability to promote its mission of Red Cross nursing." She plans to offer the CNA course twice each year.

Historically, Red Cross nurses have provided assistance during times of disaster and conflict, beginning with the 1888 yellow fever epidemic and the 1889 Johnstown flood. Red Cross nursing has also had a major role in the historical evolution of nursing and nursing leadership in the United States. Red Cross nurses, including Jane Delano, Clara Noyes, Julia Stimson and others have played strategic roles in the development of American nursing.

Today more than 30,000 nurses are involved in paid and volunteer capacities at all levels and in all service areas throughout the American Red Cross. To continue the growth of this mission, the Red Cross unveiled the CNA program to train participants in basic nursing assistant skills with the hope that the students would develop a keen interest in nursing and continue on to become nurses.

The American Red Cross Nurse Assistant Training Program, consistent with federal requirements, was designed with input from educators, caregivers and long-term care industry representatives from across the United States. The course content provides consistent guidelines enabling students to provide quality care for people in the health care system. Students are required be active in the learning process, which emphasizes experiential learning through didactic, laboratory and clinical means.

Students at LRMC were ideal candidates for the program, said Lt. Col. Patricia Born, educational director at LRMC. The volunteers were typically older, brought more life experience and were motivated to learn.

This course has typically been offered through civilian Red Cross chapters in the U.S. The typical curriculum focuses primarily on long-term care; however, at LRMC many of the patients include Wounded Warriors injured in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom who are often at LRMC for only a few days before continuing to the U.S. for extended care. Since their needs and type of care are different from patients in long-term care, the course material was supplemented with specific training to meet those unique needs.

The course was taught by 14 staff LRMC nurses and included 168 hours of instruction followed by 40 hours of clinicals, where each student was able to gain hands-on experience in several areas of the hospital - to include the Medical-Surgical Wards, Pediatric Clinic and Emergency Department.

Once finished, the students received a certificate of completion and a card indicating they can perform duties as a Certified Nurse Assistant. Many of them have already been placed into an area of the hospital as a Red Cross Volunteer. When the students ultimately return to the U.S. and confirm their training complies with their State Nursing Boards, they will be able to volunteer or gain employment as a CNA in a civilian medical facility of their choice. The LRMC curriculum was developed so that volunteers would meet the minimum standards of all 50 states.

Katherine Bega was previously a licensed CNA in the U.S., but her license expired, so the Red Cross program fit perfectly into her plan to become recertified and begin work as a volunteer at LRMC.

For Chris Steed, the CNA program was also attractive as a family member living overseas. "I felt it was a good opportunity to expand my horizons. I'm interested in nursing and this is a good stepping stone," said Steed.