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NEWS | March 18, 2014

Commentary: Why we do what we do

By Lt. Col. Michelle R. Mulberry 775th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. - I am currently deployed as a flight nurse at Joint Base Andrews, Md., along with many Guard and Reserve members.  We have three operating locations within the United States.

Often, when we tell people at home we are deploying state side, we get a negative response similar to "Oh, hmm, well that isn't so bad — at least you aren't far."

The reality of it is that we are far from our families, far from our friends and far from our jobs. Our spouses are still single parents who manage all affairs at home, our co-workers are left to pick up extra shifts, which is time away from their families and our friends pick up the pieces for us by helping our spouses with kids, pets and any other things our families need.

Yet every time duty calls, the Guard and Reserve stand up and proudly take on the mission, and we do it with great pride.

I have deployed five times in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.   The overwhelming sense of pride gotten from taking care of our nation's heroes is difficult to put into words.

I have transported many wounded and ill service men and women over the years and each of them has a story to tell, all of them inspiring in their own unique way.  The ones who never cease to amaze me are those who share a non-verbal body language.

They look at one another with a sadness in their eyes that says, "Why couldn't that be me instead of him/her?"

Recently, I assisted the ground crew at Andrews with recovering an Aeromedical Evacuation (AE) mission from Germany.   As we drove onto the flight line, I noticed a young man wearing shorts and a T-shirt walking up to the plane.  He had two prosthetic legs and a smile on his face as he approached the aircraft.

I joined the many folks on the plane and noticed this young man staring at a patient on the flight who was coming home. He too was an amputee.   I asked the young man if he knew the injured Marine lying there on a litter.

His response was very powerful. It was (paraphrasing) "no ma'am, I just heard he was on this flight and was awake and I wanted to tell him that just two years ago I was in that very same place.  I want him to know that as awful as it seems now, things will get better.  I want to tell him to keep his chin up. He looks like he is sleeping, though, and I know how important that is, so I won't disturb him."

The entire time he stated this he was looking at the young Marine lying on the litter.   I responded by telling him, "You should go speak to him, even if he is asleep, he will hear you."   I then saw the young man's eyes open.  I asked the nurse if it was okay to speak to his patient, to which he replied, "Absolutely!"

A smile came across the young man's face as he approached the litter.   He pointed down at his two prosthetic legs and said exactly what he needed to say.  The Marine on the litter smiled and responded, then closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep.

The young man walked back to me with a smile on his face.   I thanked him for his service, to which he replied, "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for folks like you."

I've come a long way since I joined the North Dakota Army National Guard at 17, a selfish teenager looking to pay for college and a car.

Recognizing my love of patient care, I became a paramedic and a nurse on the civilian side and eventually commissioned as a flight nurse with the Wyoming Air National Guard.

From my more mature perspective, it's heart breaking to see these young men and women sacrifice so much, but it warms my heart to know I can be a small part of getting them back to their family.  And that is why I/we do what we do!

I truly believe that we have the best job in the military.  The Guard members and Reservists who continue to put their lives on hold to bring our wounded and ill closer to home are truly an inspiration and should be recognized for the amazing work they do.