FORT BENNING, GA – Once a Soldier, always a Soldier. Civilian Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Ida Richards works at the Consolidated Troop Medical Clinic (CTMC). The New Orleans native wasn’t always a nurse. In her prior Military career, Richards was a 92A, Automated Logistical Specialist.
The southern transplant found herself stationed at Fort Drum, and loving the wintry wonderland. “For me to go there and experience being able to wear all the coats and boots. Somebody else probably hated it. But all the snow, it was beautiful to me. And you are just a couple of hours from New York City and Canada.”
Apparently Richards couldn’t get enough of New York and went to nursing school in the state after getting out of the Military. She graduated from Jefferson Lewis BOCES – Practical Nursing Program in 2007. Having been away from home since she was 18-years-old, Richards moved her husband and five children down to Columbus, in order to live near her recently widowed mom.
The LPN started working at Martin Army Community Hospital in 2012. Richards was the Care Coordinator at North Columbus Medical Home (NCMH), for seven years. During her tenure at NCMH, she treated everyone from 2-week-old babies to elderly retirees. “You had to be very versatile in knowing everything,” explained Richards. “When you work in family medicine, you could have a well-child visit, then you could have a pap smear, then you could have a school physical, then someone coming in with diabetes.”
She said her Soldier clientele at the CTMC does make her days much more predictable. “I know what to expect. Even if someone walks in with a last-minute appointment, it’s not going to be too over the top.”
Regardless of whether she is treating babies or retirees or Soldiers, Richards said the absolute best part of being a nurse is having the knowledge and skills to provide care. “When I was a child, I always wanted to be a doctor because I wanted to help my grandmother. Just the idea of being able to help someone, it makes my day.
“My motivation is feeling like I’m doing my part. I’m prior Military but I feel like I’m still doing my part.”
Public Health Nurse Maj. Ariel Shagory is doing her part to combat the pandemic. The Active Duty Registered Nurse (RN) spends the majority of her day in the Department of Preventive Medicine COVID-19 contact tracing. “It’s a lot of detective work on the phone and on the computer,” explained Shagory. “Like with their medical record. See where they got tested. What type of test they did and what unit they are with.
“If they are a trainee, they don’t have a phone in training. I can only go through their command. That’s where a lot of the COVID notification comes in.”
Even if the people she contacts are reluctant to divulge information at first, Shagory wins them over with her tone. “I sound like a mouse, just kind of my unthreatening nature. I’m medical and not any sort of command authority. It usually turns around.”
“My aunt was a nurse. Her aunt was a nurse. And we are all named Ariel. So I guess it’s kind of in the name.” Shagory fulfilled her destiny by graduating from Regis University in Denver, Colo. in 2008. She started at Martin Army Community Hospital in 2016, as the Officer in Charge (OIC) of same day surgery.
Talk about fate and being in the right place at the right time. Shagory had just transitioned to public health nursing in 2019. These days, when she is not contact tracing, she is administering COVID vaccines to the Fort Benning community. “I’m all about prevention. I like public health because it’s a good balance between administrative and clinical. I know it sounds so cheesy. But the best thing about being a nurse is making a difference.”
“It’s just a huge honor to be able to come back and for me to assist the Army at its most critical and stressful time,” said retired Registered Nurse (RN) Lt. Col. Tammie Oemke. She was just one of the many selfless men and women who answered the Army’s call for volunteers to combat the pandemic. Oemke left her family in Marietta and her civilian job as lead neurosurgical nurse at Children’s Healthcare Atlanta (CHOA), to once again report for duty at Fort Benning in May.
Oemke retired from active duty in 2016 after more than two decades of service, including four tours supporting the Global War on Terrorism. “My favorite duty assignment was with the 936th FST. It’s a forward surgical team out of Paducah, Ky.,” explained Oemke. “I deployed in 2011 with them to Afghanistan. Then I deployed again, went to Africa with them in 2014. And then I retired out of that unit in 2015, I went to Afghanistan with them again for a year.
“There were 12 of us, it was a small forward trauma team. We spent the last five years doing life, limb, eyesight… basic trauma surgery. Everybody knew everybody, our families were tight.”
Even though she had already spent so much time separated from her husband and children during her Military career, when the Army asked if she would be interested in coming back, Oemke didn’t hesitate. “I deployed so many other times for Operation Enduring Freedom. It just didn’t feel right not stepping up to help when the Army was so overwhelmed. Being here, even if it’s just as backfill to be able to keep Soldiers going, it’s made this year worthwhile.”
Oemke is able to commute home on the weekends, when she is not on call. She is trying to spend as much time as possible with her 7th grade daughter and her son who is a senior in high school before he goes off to the Citadel next year. She is so used to caring for children with brain tumors at CHOA Scottish Rite, she said it’s a nice return to her active duty roots to reignite her passion for orthopedics with adults. “I hadn’t done acl (anterior cruciate ligament) reconstruction and traumas from Soldiers jumping in awhile, since I deployed. It reminded me of what I did when I first started. It’s kind of nice to get back doing that again.”
Oemke said whether it’s orthopedic, gynecologic, ear nose and throat or neurosurgery, the OR has always been home. “This is where I want to be. I just love it. Every case is different. I feel like I’m constantly learning. You get to focus on one patient.”