By Bryan Gatchell, Fort Polk Guardian staff writerFebruary 5, 2010
FORT POLK, La. -- The nursing staff at Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital celebrated the 109th anniversary of the Army Nurse Corps Feb. 2. They transformed the BJACH dining facility into a banquet hall, tables draped in maroon and decorated with historical photos and balloons, cake and punch set out for a post-ceremony reception.
Until the turn of the 20th century, nurses were never a full part of the military. During conflicts, the government would make provisions for war, such as during the Civil War when the Secretary of War appointed Dorothea Lynde Dix to superintend women nurses for the Union Army. After the Civil War, the Army nurse program became dormant until the Spanish-American War, when skilled nursing was needed again. The Army hired the nurses on contract, and seeing how well the contract nurses worked for the military - and with 1,500 nurses employed by 1901 - the Army created the Army Nurse Corps Feb. 2.
The ceremony at BJACH included a brief history of the ANC; a speech by retired Lt. Col. Pamela Havens who served as Inspector General to the European Regional Medical Command in Heidelberg, Germany; a skit satirizing the Tuesday morning meeting between the head nurses and non-commissioned officers in charge; and an acknowledgement of mobilized and fallen nurses - with a special acknowledgement of the three Army nurses and one civilian nurse who died in the Fort Hood shooting Nov. 5, 2009. After the ceremony, the most junior member of the BJACH nursing staff, 2nd Lt. Joshua McCarty, and the most senior member, Col. Jennifer Ector, cut the cake with a cavalry sword.
One of the themes of the afternoon commemoration was the unbroken chain of values within the Army Nurse Corps since its inception. Col. Kelly Murray, BJACH hospital commander, spoke of these qualities.
"Since the establishment of the Army Nurse Corps in 1901, nurses have demonstrated the professionalism, education, experience, knowledge, and most definitely courage to get the job done," said Murray.
The Army Nurse Corps has changed significantly since its establishment. The ANC was the only way for women to join an official military rank structure. It was also exclusive to women until 1955 when ANC admitted certified registered nurse anesthetists. Now men perform different duties throughout the ANC.
"Everyone here today may not know the complete history of the Army Nurse Corps, but we are proof that it is rich, colorful and diverse, and we should be proud of all those that came before us and paved the way for our growth today," said Cpt. Nicole Nelson, a nurse at BJACH, while recounting the history of the ANC.
Nelson continued by explaining the motives of nurses for joining the ANC.
"If we are asked why we joined the Army Nurse Corps, we joined to take care of Soldiers, to serve the country, and to do what we have wanted to do our entire lives, to have the privilege and honor of taking care of others," she said.
Of the nurses present at the ceremony, that reasoning was not foremost in their minds when they joined.
"The reason I joined was not because I wanted to serve the country or take care of Soldiers," said Ector. "I was looking to leave a place where I needed not to be."
Similarly, Maj. Marie Banks, one of the performers in the Tuesday meeting sketch, joined the ANC to leave Alabama. Havens admitted during her speech that she initially meant her stint in nursing to be temporary and only a means to make a little extra money.
"I came in because I was going to get my kids a vacation to Disneyworld and then we were going to go home to Montana," said Havens.
Despite these shorter-term advantages, they stuck with the Army Nurse Corps. Havens made her career out of the ANC, Banks has been in for 20 years and Ector for 27. Banks and Ector offer their duration of service as evidence of the job satisfaction gained from the ANC.
"If you hate your job, it's not going to be forever," said Ector. "In two or three years, you're going someplace else, and hopefully you're going to get a job or position that you really like."
"I'm in my 20th year now and I wish I had started sooner," said Lt. Col. Mark Reynolds. "I've been able to do things in my wildest imagination I never thought I would."
One of the greater challenges of the Army Nurse Corps for Havens was the constant changing of positions.
"You're an expert at the top of your game, and then you go to a new duty station and you have to be a novice again," said Havens. "You go through your career going from novice to expert many times."
One of the coping mechanisms the ANC uses to counteract this consistent disadvantage for nurses is mentoring.
"Everyday somebody has taught me something new," said Ector. "If I mentor my nurses now, and they get to be my rank, they'll know some of the things they need to do for some of their nurses."
"As a doctor, I would not be anything without the nurses that taught me," said Murray. "I have one mentor in the military - she just retired - and it wasn't a fellow doctor, it was an Army Nurse Corps officer."
The Army Nurse Corps also offers educational opportunities. The active-duty Army Nurse Corps is comprised entirely of officers because it requires a bachelor of science in nursing to join. The ANC offers post-graduate education.
"They paid for my nursing school, my masters degree, and now I'm a nurse practitioner," said Banks. "I have a pension, I have a career and I could get out of the Army and work anywhere."
Havens also pointed out the value of leadership in the Army Nurse Corps throughout its history.
As she spoke, she passed around a photograph of a group of nurses smiling, wrapped in sleeping bags because of the cold on a ship during deployment.
"Who said something to motivate them, to want them to jump on that ship, to stay up all night and listen to people crying in pain until their feet hurt and their backs ached'" she asked her audience.
Havens recalled her own experience as related to that leadership:
"I had great leaders," said Havens. "It wasn't the leaders at the top, it was my charge nurses and section chiefs that said things to me that made the difference. The mentoring that went on in my life was the thing that grew with me and came with me today."