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Military nurses have always been a blessing

By Ron Montonye - Pierce County Veterans Service Officer | Dec 5, 2020

In this time of pandemic COVID-19 crisis, I believe we are more appreciative and thankful for the sacrifices being made by all those fighting this disease in the medical fields, especially those in the nursing profession. This includes those nurses in the military as well.

Throughout our history, military nurses have always been a blessing to those serving in our armed forces. Florence Nightingale formed the first nucleus of a recognized Nursing Service for the British Army during the Crimean War in 1854. In 1898, after the Spanish-American War, the United States added 1,500 nurses to their military personnel. A year later, in 1899, the Surgeon General recognized the importance of these nurses and established a “reserve group” with specific criterial to prepare for future wars.

By the time the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, nearly 600 nurses were in active duty between two divisions. By the end of the war, more than 22,000 nurses had served, including several hundred who paid the ultimate price of their lives.

Six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, there were only 12,000 active duty nurses in the Army Nurse Corps. By the end of World War II, nearly 74,000 women served as nurses across all areas of military campaigns. Many nurses ended up in direct combat zones or behind enemy lines carrying for the ill and injured. Dozens of nurses were captured by the Japanese to become prisoners of war.

Military nurses are similar to floor nurses in that they spend most of their time providing direct patient care. Patient assessments, medication distribution, interventions, and documentation are part of their daily work. These nurses are needed at all military basis, active war zones, clinics, and front lines.

For nursing officers to serve in the military, it normally requires a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. With this degree, they normally begin their military career as a Second Lieutenant (2LT) in the Army and Air Force, or as an Ensign in the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard.

Military nurses can often experience challenges when delivering care to patients when they do not have the appropriate supplies, medicines, and equipment that is normally available in American hospitals. According to information I found on a website, a study was conducted in Camp Bastian Hospital in Afghanistan, where 18 nurses were interviewed. These nurses in Afghanistan, between 2001 and 2014, often experienced the same psychological stressors as those of front line combat soldiers. These stressors included: lacking family support, suffering from mental health issues, experiencing separation anxiety, missing their family and friends, feeling unprepared and not being able to take care of seriously injured patients, and nurses found it emotionally difficult taking care of terminally ill patients. These stressors sound very familiar to what many of our nurses are feeling today in this battle against COVID-19.

The same heroic duty and sacrifice of military nurses during World War I and World War II continued through the following wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. That devotion to duty continues with the men and women serving as military nurses today. Like all veterans, their contribution to our freedom and democracy is one that cannot adequately be expressed in our words and actions, but we can try. May this appreciation and gratitude be expressed not only to our military nurses, but as well to all those in the private medical field who are fighting this present battle against the pandemic disease that afflicts us today.

I would like to close with the words of the Nurse’s Prayer written by Rita Riche. May it always be a prayer of all nurses, both military and private, as they devote themselves to their calling.

“Almighty God, Divine Healer of all, grant me, your handmaiden, strength and courage in my calling. Give to my heart, compassion and understanding. Give to my hands, skill and tenderness. Give to my mind, knowledge and wisdom, especially, Dear Lord, help me always remember the true purpose of my vocation, that of selfless service and dedication to the weak and despairing in body and spirit. Amen”

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