THEBEPHATSHWA AIR BASE, Botswana -- If there is one Army value which Maj. Melinda Rayter of Hobert, Ind., embodies most, it is selfless service. Rayter, a certified registered nurse anesthetist with the 909th Forward Surgical Team out of Fort Sheridan, Ill., serves her country both in and out of uniform.
Rayter joined the military 13 years ago as a certified registered nurse anesthetist in the Army Reserves.
"I joined for service to country only, nothing else," she said.
Rayter has been a nurse for 30 years and worked in the emergency department and intensive care unit before going back to school to become a CRNA 12 years ago.
"I love my job. I absolutely love it," said Rayter.
Army Maj. Richard M. Slusher of Durham, N.C., a doctor of osteopathic medicine with the 909th, worked with Rayter during his residency from 2000 to 2004.
"If I needed an anesthesia provider with me… as an attending orthopedic surgeon, I would pick her," Slusher said. "She's very professional… just a really nice person."
Rayter is passionate not only about her job but also about soldiers. She became a member of the American Legion, Post 100 out of Lake Station, Ind., after a friend asked her to join at an American Legion function about a year and a half ago.
"A friend of mine called me and said, 'Hey, why don't you come down to the Legion? They want people there in uniform,'" said Rayter. "They brought home a soldier that was injured in battle... They wanted as many uniforms as possible to greet him, and I was at the drill hall down the street… From there I got really interested in what they were doing and their charitable works, so I just joined that day."
Rayter said she most enjoys participating in the functions the Legion sponsors for the troops.
"It's very gratifying and satisfying because the American Legion does a lot for… any veteran," she said.
The American Legion provides support through activities such as sending care packages to deployed service members, giving assistance to homeless veterans and offering the families of deployed troops a support network.
"Once their husband or wife is deployed… they really can't talk to their neighbors because their neighbors don't get it," Rayter said. "After a while the neighbors get uncomfortable. And if they can come to a group like this [the American Legion], they're around people who get it, which really decreases their stress level."
Rayter is in Botswana helping support Southern Accord 12, an annual combined, joint exercise, which brings together the U.S. armed forces with the Botswana Defense Force to conduct humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations, peacekeeping operations and aeromedical evacuations. The mutually beneficial exercise focuses on the strong partnership between the two nations to enhance military capabilities and interoperability.
"Anytime you're exposed to any situation, it's easier to take that information back to that other entity and say this is what a soldier really needs," Rayter said.
She hopes that by participating in SA12, she can better inform the group on what service members operating in a similar environment might require.
Rayter is also the director of the American Legion Riders for Post 100. The American Legion Riders are a group of motorcyclists who often pair up with the Indiana Patriot Guard Riders to provide escort for welcome home events and funeral processionals for returning service members.
"Whenever you do for someone else or you're part of a community, it's very satisfying," Rayter said. "It brings a component to your life that's really hard to put into words. It's the right thing to do. By giving to another person, you actually receive more in your soul and your spirit."
Rayter said her activities with the American Legion, Indiana Patriot Guard Riders, and the Army Reserves combine well to make her more well-rounded.
"It makes me a better person, and it makes me a better soldier," Rayter said. "I can care a little bit more compassionately. It adds a whole new dimension to how I would be with a severely injured or traumatized soldier on the field because I know that when they go home this is what's going to happen to them. And at home it's easier for me to interface with a family there that might need something or a soldier that might need something because I know what they've been through here."
According to the Army values, selfless service is putting the welfare of the nation, the Army and your subordinates before your own. Rayter personifies this through all facets of her life -- her civilian career, her military career and her civilian organization activities. She said she tries to give back to her community wholeheartedly, consistently thinking of others through everything she does.
"It gives you a greater appreciation of where we've been, where we are and where we're going," Rayter said.