Last week we celebrated Memorial Day, a holiday set aside to honor the men and women who died while serving in the military. This week it’s fitting to honor the people who are serving us today, whether that’s on the front lines in the military or in medical facilities, or performing curbside pickups. One example of such a person is veteran hospital corpsman for the U.S. Navy, my sister-in-law, Nurse Shirley.
Shirley knew from the 7th grade that she wanted to join the military. During a recent interview, she told me she and her father, whom she longed to please, watched war movies and the show M*A*S*H. As Shirley carefully studied Hawkeye and the other medics, she thought, I want; I can; I will. That winning motto would serve her well throughout her career and is still serving her today as a nurse educator.
Shirley, whose 15-year enlistment included serving in the 145th MASH unit in Port Clinton, Ohio, pointed out that although the M*A*S*H storyline isn’t realistic, the helicopters arriving, the triage, and the supply room are. As a sergeant for the unit, she provided trainings and classes, gave duty schedules for the emergency room, and needed to be ready for the unexpected. Maybe just as importantly, she needed to relieve stress and keep her sense of humor. Sometimes that included laughing at herself.
Hospital Corpsman 3rd class Petty Officer Shirley tells the tale of being on duty at Maryland’s Naval Air Station, ready with medical supplies and the ambulance in case of injuries, while the Marines practiced firing 12-gauge shotguns. When the gunnery sergeant told her she’d be training as well, she explained she’d never fired a 12-gauge. “I’ll stand behind you,” he said. After showing her how to cushion the butt of the rifle into the soft part of her shoulder, she fired. Instant pain! It felt like her right shoulder had whipped around and jammed into the left.
When the gunnery sergeant, who was still standing behind Shirley, told her to fire now from the hip, she thought, I don’t think so. She held the rifle off to the side. She fired! The rifle butt nearly slammed into the sergeant, coming inches from hitting him between his legs. His final words, spoken teasingly in a higher pitch than normal, were, “I think we’re done for the day.”
As a newly appointed officer of the MASH unit, Shirley was part of a night recon team performing field training exercises. She, her staff sergeant, and several others traveled in a huge Humvee. Once they arrived at the field, she donned all her gear and jumped out of the impressive truck, thinking she was all it. Too bad that first step landed in a gigantic gopher hole. She fell in to her knee and had to ask for help to get out.
Later that day, her staff sergeant instructed, “You have to walk more quietly. Heel to toe, heel to toe.”
Lieutenant Shirley glanced down at her size 11s. “Do you realize how much space is between my heel and toe?” She and the group shared a laugh, and her comrades awarded her with her nickname—Saskwatch.
The army gave Shirley structure and comradeship. “When you train with a group of people in what could be a life and death situation,” she explained, “you become close. I would take a bullet to save a comrade, and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind they’d do the same for me.”
Of her many accolades, Nurse Shirley is most proud of her commission in the army nurse corps because it was not just something she earned, but it involved a team effort which included her highly respected company commander. Shirley attributes her success in the military and later, in her career as a nurse and nurse educator, to having great mentors.
“Attack life with great passion and pay it forward,” she advises. “Look for opportunities to challenge your mentees so they can be the leaders of tomorrow.” I’ve known Nurse Shirley for 20 years, and I can attest to the fact that she gives her all.
I’d like to thank those who served in the past and those who think I want, I can, I will, and who serve us today.