Saluting Military Nurses

This post is excerpted from an article by Kathleen Stierwalt, FNP-C, MSN, BSN, RN, which was originally published in the Journal of Christian Nursing.

On January 2, 2007, I reported to Wright Patterson Air Force Base for deployment to Western Asia in support of the war efforts of Iraqi Freedom. As a nurse, this was a new experience, as was saying good-bye to my family for a 2.5-month-long tour of duty.

This deployment scene was different that of earlier wars. More women were being deployed. Looking at my husband, our teenage daughter, and our grandchildren, it was very hard to leave. I was reminded of Isaiah 6:8: "Then I heard the voice of the LORD saying, ‘Whom shall I send? ’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me! ’"

I’m one of countless military nurses with children and grandchildren. We’re not traditional service women; many of us joined the military later in life. Many of our children have served. Some of us have faces lined with crow's feet, but we still want to represent our country by taking care of wounded soldiers.

My faith and prayers gave me strength and sanity to cope with what was happening thousands of miles away at home while completing my mission of compassionately caring for the injured. I realized my faith must not rest on human wisdom, but on the power of God and his true wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:4–10).

Deployed to Kuwait
As nurses with the 445th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, we deployed to staff the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Squadron at Ali Al Salem, Air Force Base in Kuwait. This was an airport medical layover station for wounded soldiers awaiting flights to their next destination.

Once in Kuwait, we received our room and work assignments. We had 3 days to learn our roles and duties before the outgoing staff departed for home. Everyone in the military has additional duties: These might include being the Infectious Disease Monitor or serving as a coach for sporting events. The work at times was very difficult due to the types of injuries we saw and the young ages of the soldiers. Many of the wounded looked like our own sons and daughters.

Since keeping troop morale high was important, I volunteered to be the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Chairman. I have been called a cheerleader back home, even though this role escaped me in high school and college. Try organizing parties and social functions to boost troop morale in a foreign country you've never visited and where you don’t speak the language. Add to that a war zone. That was real cheerleading! We witnessed surrealistic situations—patients and staff singing karaoke, then 2 hours later carrying an injured soldier on a stretcher to an airplane. As we watched the aircraft doors close and the plane take off, we would say a private prayer for a safe return home.

In Kuwait, we functioned as staff nurses, tracking patients for flights on and off the aircraft, along with the soldier's medications and meals, and all belongings, including his or her flak vest and Kevlar (helmet) and weapon. Not only did we monitor and keep patients comfortable, we evaluated all medical aspects of flight. As with all nursing, critical thinking was crucial to good patient outcomes.

Moments of Faith
Nursing in war is disturbing. Some patients had lost a limb; some had lost their ability to cope. All deserved the love and the kindness of good nurses and the caring God has instilled in us. Nurses working in wartime must be especially sensitive to their patients' experiences as well as compassionate in the care we provide. Sometimes the wounds are not visible but emotional, and nursing can help address issues or provide referral.

I experienced many moments of faith. I was allowed to attend Catholic Mass every Sunday; if I was scheduled to work, I was allowed to leave for a short period to attend. The military chaplains care for persons of all faiths and visited patients regularly. They reminded us of God's words of protection, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust... For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands..." (Psalm 91).

I’m proud to have been a nurse in the United States Air Force Reserve and a member of the number one trusted profession in the United States—nursing. I believe everyone should serve their country in some fashion. One does not have to join the military to serve or hold or fire a weapon in military service, but we can support freedom. Freedom comes at great cost. Our spiritual freedom cost Christ his life. We must give back what we have received.

Divine Intervention
Now I’m a grandmother home from war. I was changed by the experiences I witnessed, and my faith grew stronger. Being a part of the Air Force is like having a second family; we support each other. What some might view as destiny or fate, I call divine intervention. While overseas, I talked to God frequently throughout the day, along with praying the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13). While in Kuwait, praying this prayer gave me great comfort. Despite being in different time zones than my husband and children, thousands of miles from each other we prayed this prayer together.

The setbacks in my personal life because of my time in Kuwait, including a year’s work on my master's degree in nursing, were all part of God's plan. His plan for me was to take care of the wounded in another part of the world. I’m forever thankful that God gave my family and me the strength to survive the experience. I would not have planned to go to help with the war, but God, whose thoughts are not my thoughts, had plans higher than my plans.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:9–11).

Read the full article, “Nurses Go to War: A Grandmother's Tour of Duty,” in the Journal of Christian Nursing, issue 27.4.


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