FORT BRAGG, N.C. - In 2006, Rachel Montgomery was a young woman with a bachelor's degree in anthropology and a desire to study medicine.
At the time, Montgomery's brother was stationed at Fort Bragg, so he introduced her to Eva Perez, the wife of his then first sergeant and an employee in the administrative suite at Womack Army Medical Center.
Montgomery spent two weeks as an American Red Cross volunteer, under the guidance of physician, Sammy Choi.
"I had an interest in medicine and knew I wanted to be in healthcare," she said. "I knew I wanted to spend time in the Army."
Today, Montgomery is a second lieutenant serving at WAMC.
She received a bachelor's degree in nursing from Villanova University, through the 14-month Bachelor of Science in Nursing Express program that grants degrees to those who had previously attained a bachelor's degree. Montgomery learned of BSNExpress from her father, John Aldins, also a graduate of VU.
By email, Aldins wrote that he thought his daughter would be a good fit for the program because she would be a good Soldier and an even better nurse.
Of the young men and women in uniform, Aldin wrote, "Our nation is truly blessed and in good hands."
Montgomery said she signed a three-year contract and began work in October in the pediatrics ward.
"I love working with kids. I joined the Army because I wanted to take care of Soldiers. I'm from a Family of Soldiers, so it's kind of natural," said Montgomery, whose husband, brother and sister-in-law are all pilots. They each hold the rank of chief warrant officer 2 and now have to salute her, though she has been in service the least time.
Montgomery is a clinical nurse, but said she hopes the Army will recognize the importance of training pediatric nurses.
"Pediatrics is so important, especially overseas," Montgomery said. "The people who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ones who have pediatric experience are so valuable because of those missions of winning hearts and minds. The best way to do that is by taking care of people's kids. When you take care of their kids, they love you forever. They believe in what you're doing; they believe in your mission. They feel a sense of gratitude for what you've done. So, the people who know how to work with children, they're making a difference and hopefully, the Army starts recognizing that."
Montgomery said she feels pediatrics is her calling.
"The mission of nursing was right for me. It's about patient advocacy; forming therapeutic relationships with patients so you can be their support system when they don't have one."
Montgomery said she remembers her first day at WAMC. She went to the administrative suite for processing and looked for Perez, the woman who had been instrumental in getting her volunteer status in 2006.
"I walked down there just to poke my head and say, 'hi," said Montgomery. "She looked at me and said, 'oh my God, I can't believe it. You look so good in uniform.'"
Kaye McDonald works as a preceptor, or supervisor at WAMC and says she values Montgomery's contributions to the ward.
"She is an asset to our unit. She's very knowledgeable. She's like a breath of fresh air. She's very thorough," McDonald said.
In a few weeks, Montgomery's husband, Grant, will transfer from Fort Riley, Kan., to Fort Bragg. Grant returned from Iraq in December.
"We're making a lot of sacrifices to be sure that we're doing the right thing for our careers, but I think ultimately, it's worth it," said Montgomery.
But Montgomery says she gets great satisfaction from her mission.
"It's really cool to take care of Soldiers' kids because when Soldiers feel like everything is good at home, they can do their jobs one hundred times better," she said.