FORT LEE, Va., Feb. 3, 2011 -- On Wednesday, the Army Nurse Corps celebrated its 110th anniversary. Throughout the military medical community, the occasion was marked with cake cuttings and special ceremonies. For the nurses at Kenner Army Health Clinic, here, it was a time to reflect on the heroic tradition of American men and women tending to sick and wounded warriors since 1775.
The Army Nurse Corps was established on Feb. 2, 1901, when the Army Reorganization Act became law, noted Tereasa Wade, public affairs officer at Kenner.
"Today nearly 40,000 individuals serve the Army Nurse Corps as nurse practitioners, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, medics and nursing assistants as Active, Army Reserve and National Guard officers, non-commissioned officers, enlisted personnel and civilians," said Wade.
The anniversary's theme, "Touching Lives for 110 Years," resonates with Maj. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, deputy surgeon general and chief of the Army Nurse Corps. "It is the essence of what Army nurses do and have done each and every day," she said.
In addition to the lives of Soldiers, retirees and their dependents, Army nurses often find their own lives transformed by their military and medical service. Nurses stationed at KAHC are good examples of the variety of ways people enter the Army Nurse Corps and the varied services they provide during their careers.
David Bolesh enlisted in the Army in 1970 and became an X-ray technician. In 1973 he earned a scholarship through the Army Student Nurse Program, and two years later he earned his bachelor's degree in nursing, was commissioned, and began treating Soldiers who had been wounded in Vietnam. Before he retired as a colonel after 33 years of service, Bolesh had been officer in charge of the medical support team for President George H.W. Bush whenever the senior President Bush was in Kennebunkport, Maine.
During his career, Bolesh also held a variety of positions including staff nurse, nurse supervisor, nurse practitioner, evacuation hospital chief nurse, Reserve Officer Training Corps region chief nurse, and director of an LPN course. Now working as a Department of the Army civilian, he is manager of patient safety and infection control at KAHC.
"Being an Army nurse has given me the opportunity to serve my country in a way that has a direct impact on Soldiers' and their families' health care and to be successful doing that," said Bolesh.
Lt. Col. Patricia Coburn, chief of both the Primary Care Division and Active Duty Clinic at KAHC, enlisted 24 years ago and used the ROTC Green to Gold Program to earn her nursing degree.
During her 18 years as an Army nurse and her deployment to Iraq, Coburn has found that "the diversity of the work that Army nurses do sets us apart from our civilian counterparts." She noted that a military nurse will work with all age groups of people and in many types of nursing from primary care to intensive care as well as hold administrative and management positions.
Lt. Col. Michelle Munroe, deputy commander for nursing at KAHC, earned a direct commission through the Army Nurse Candidate Program. A nurse practitioner and midwife, Munroe deployed to Iraq as a member of the Deployed Combat Casualty Research Team in 2008.
In Munroe's eyes, being an Army nurse offers far more opportunities than civilian nursing. During her more than 18 years in the Army, she's discovered, "There are multiple career options the Army Nurse Corps has to offer. You are limited only by your imagination."
A veteran of three deployments, Lt. Col. Barbara Mahoney, chief of the Troop Medical Clinic at KAHC, is a family nurse practitioner. She deployed during Desert Storm and has served two tours in Iraq in recent years.
"In the Army," said Mahoney, "you're not just a nurse. You're a leader. The Army grooms you as a leader." Such preparation for leading people and managing facilities doesn't happen as a matter of course for civilian nurses as it does in the Army. Mahoney said she also values the independence military nurses enjoy.
Maj. Mary Ann Crispin, now a Reservist and civilian employee at KAHC where she is disease management coordinator in the Internal Medicine Clinic, completed more than 10 years on Active Duty in late 2010. Crispin joined the Army at age 34 after earning one undergraduate degree in exercise and fitness, working in YMCAs, earning a nursing degree and working with acute spinal cord trauma patients as a civilian.
After working in an Army burn unit, Crispin was assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit here and then headed the immunization clinic at Fort Sill, Okla. As she led the team of nurses charged with immunizing 30,000 new Soldiers, said Crispin, "I learned how to streamline processes," a skill that benefits her in her present position.
"I wouldn't be the person I am today if I didn't have the military education I've gotten," said Crispin. "The Army pushed me to grow in all ways."
The ANC has seen many changes in its first 110 years. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake sent Army nurses on their first of many civil relief missions, said Wade. When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, the Army had 4,093 nurses. By 1918, 21,460 Army nurses were serving in base, evacuation and mobile surgical hospitals around the globe as well as on hospital trains in France and transport ships carrying the wounded across the Atlantic Ocean, she said.
This began nurses' involvement in en route care of wounded Soldiers. WWI advanced nursing practice in many ways, including Army nurses serving as nurse anesthetists for the first time, said Wade.
By 1945, 57,000 Army nurses were on active duty and continuing their tradition of advancing nursing practice worldwide. They were involved in developing the concept of postoperative recovery wards in Europe and in providing airborne en route care from combat zones in fixed wing aircraft, said Wade.
During America's wars in Korea and Vietnam, Army nurses advanced their practice through trauma care specialization, including triage and resuscitative services. Wade said they also supported helicopter ambulance transportation from battle locations.
"The six Active Duty ANC nurses here at Kenner," said Wade, "continue to follow the Army Nurse Corps' 110-year-old traditions of excellence in medical care, leadership and innovation to improve the lives of their customers."
"Our many retired, former and Reserve ANC nurses certainly uphold these traditions as well," she said.