Service Reflections: Retired Navy nurse recalls being commissioned at age 42

Service Reflections: Retired Navy nurse recalls being commissioned at age 42

Navy Together We Served

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Editor’s note: The following Service Reflections is one of many recorded on TogetherWeServed.com, a secure online community with a membership of over 2 million active-duty and veteran members. This story may contain language which may not be suitable for young children.

CDR Joan D. Cooper
Status: U.S. Navy Retired
Service Years: 1989-2009

WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?

I had been an "Associate Degree" RN since 1971 and was finishing my Bachelor's degree in 1989 when the Navy sent me literature about the shortage of nurses in the Navy. My husband and my father had both been in the Navy and I had heard of their exploits, adventures and travel around the world. My husband, Bill and I discussed the idea of my entering the reserves and accepting a commission and we agreed that it would indeed be an adventure since I was 42 at the time. Bill was very supportive, so after thinking it over I called the recruiter, asked if my age precluded my entering the service and was told that as long as I wasn't 47 and could pass the physical requirements I was okay. I made the commitment and I've never regretted that decision.

BRIEFLY, WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?

I was commissioned as an Ensign in September of 1989. (not sure if I was the oldest Ensign in the Navy at 42)
February 1990: My first AT was Direct Commission Officer (DCO) school (also known as "Knife and Fork school) in Pensacola, Florida.
December 1990: Recalled for Active Duty in support of Desert Storm from Denver, CO I went to Ft Dix, New Jersey for further training before going to Bahrain where we built a 500 bed hospital in tents.
October 1991: Promoted to LTJG. Assigned as Assistant Training Officer Naval Reserve Readiness Center Fleet Hospital 22 Det D Denver, Colorado.
August 1992: AT Fleet Hospital Operations and Training Command at Camp Pendleton
February 1993: AT Naval Hospital San Diego, CA. October 1993 Promoted to LT.
May 1994: AT Naval Hospital Bremerton, WA
February 1995: AT Naval Medical Center Oakland, CA
August 1996: AT VA Hospital Denver, CO
May 1997: AT Fleet Hospital Operations and Training Command at Camp Pendleton
July 1998: AT Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Training Center, Twenty Nine Palms, CA.
March 1999: AT Management Development, Bethesda, MD. October 1999 Promoted to LCDR assigned as Admin Officer FH22 Det D.
June 2000: AT Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Training Center, Twenty Nine Palms, CA.
February 2001: Moved to Des Moines, Iowa. Attached to NOSC Des Moines and assigned as Training Officer.
March 2001: AT Recorder for CDR/CAPT selection board, Millington, TN
September 2002: AT Navy Leadership school, Coronado, CA
July 2003: AT BRMEDCLINIC, Atsugi, Japan
September 2004: AT Fleet Hospital Operations and Training Command at Camp Pendleton. October 2004: Selected as OIC (Officer in Charge) Navy Reserve Medical Unit Det H Des Moines Iowa.
May 2005: AT NAVHOSP Corpus Christi, TX
June 2006: AT Joint Thunder, Rapid City, SD.
October 2006: Promoted to CDR. Remained as OIC Des Moines.
May 2007: AT CARAT Zamboanga, Mindanao, Republic of the Philippines. (see photo)
January 2008: AT TOPSTAR (readiness skill verification program) Lackland AFB, San Antonio, TX
September 2008: Recalled for Active Duty to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany for (1) year. Assigned as night supervisor for med/surg ward.
September 2009: Returned to NOSC Des Moines on active duty.
October 2009: Retired off active duty.

DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?

Called to active duty with FH22/6 to Bahrain for Operation Desert Storm in late December 1990.

We arrived in Bahrain (combat zone) on Hawaiian Airlines with a BIG flower on the tail. Not exactly my idea of flying into a combat zone. The first night our berthing was on board a ship, the "Cunard Princess" since our GP tents weren't ready in the town of Awali yet.

When we arrived in Awali there was lots of activity building our hospital and we were all anxious to do something. The next morning at muster they asked for volunteers. That day I learned what NAVY stood for. (Never Again Volunteer Yourself) I ended up in the city dump looking under decaying sheep carcasses for tent parts that had accidentally been discarded.

It took us and the "SEABEE's" 6 days to build the 500 bed hospital and on the 7th day, we didn't rest, we staffed up the hospital and went to work. If it was cloudy at night we learned to expect SCUD attacks. One night a SCUD hit so close to the hospital that we heard, saw and felt the concussion. One of the patients on my ward helped me put my helmet together and I helped him put his gas mask together. Usually, I went back to sleep after getting my gas mask on and the other nurse in our little area of the GP tent would wake me up when it was all clear. But that night, none of us went back to sleep and the line to the bathroom was LONGGGGGGG.

During our short stay in Bahrain our hospital took care of over 400 in-patients and thousands of out-patients in support of Desert Storm.

I returned to Denver in late March 1991.

WHICH, OF THE VESSELS OR DUTY STATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?

It's hard for me to nail that down as each assignment offered it's own unique memory.

Obviously, Desert Storm was very memorable for me as I was a new Ensign going to a "war zone". I was proud to go serve my country and help, as a nurse, those who were fighting for us. "Camping" took on a whole new meaning for me IE: 90 second NAVY shower, great NAVY chow (and I mean that) and dust, dirt and sand in EVERYTHING! There were 7 of us who were Ensigns assigned to our Fleet Hospital. They will remain friends, in my mind, forever.

The experience of going to the Philippines in 2007 for CARAT was eye opening to the "third world" experience. The people were very happy to see us and were eager to share what they had with us. It made me glad that I was able to help them. It was a dangerous place to be for us "politically", but I will never forget those people and my interaction with them.

Landstuhll Regional Medical Center, Germany. I feel so honored to have been selected to go and serve our wounded warriors at Landstuhl. I could not have asked for a more fulfilling assignment. My patients called me "Commander Granny". One of the Ensigns I had gone to Desert Storm with 19 years earlier was my room mate at LRMC. We will remain lifelong friends. We are both now retired Commanders with great memories. That's you Diane!

FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?

How can I pick just one? There are so many. I guess the one that stands out most is being transported from Zamboanga to Basilan by Filipino Marines with "gunboats" armed to the teeth escorting us. Kind of makes you wonder what the heck you got yourself into.

OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?

I suppose that would be the "Navy Achievement Medal". I had no idea I was getting it and was greatly surprised because it came early in my career. Must have done something right. Got one of these from the Army too!

WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?

Navy Captain Sara Karstetter. She interviewed me prior to me receiving my commission. She mentored me as a new Ensign with patience, knowledge and leadership. I feel that I had a successful career in the Navy Reserve because of her placing me on the right track from the start. She is a leader, if she would have said,"Lets Go" I'd have gone right with her anywhere!

CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?

It was at Fort Dix, NJ prior to our departure to Bahrain in Desert Storm. After our first night there, our morning began by someone making very loud banging noises and yelling, "Reveille, Reveille". Several of the newest among us were very puzzled by this. At breakfast one of the nurse's stated that she hoped that who ever it was that was looking for "Beverly" found her and that she hoped "Beverly" wouldn't stay out all night again.

WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?

I began my nursing career as an RN in 1971 and retired as an RN after returning from active duty in Landstuhl, Germany in 2009. That's 38 years folks and that's long enough.

WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?

I belong to the American Legion and Veteran's of Foreign Wars. I enjoy the camaraderie of being with others who have served. I just left the position of "Commander" of American Legion Post 69 in Osceola, Iowa and look forward to becoming involved in either of these organizations as soon as my husband and I decide where we want to settle. We're full time RVing for the time being.

HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?

I got in the military rather late and so have benefited both from many years in the civilian and military cultures. Before the military veterans were people with thoughts and experiences that were sometimes difficult to understand. I found that you can never fully understand the indescribable bond that you have with every other veteran until you have served. It is then that the others, the civilians are different. Whether that is good or bad is subjective. I'll leave it at that.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?

I would advise that they, those still serving understand that this time in their life will be the most significant that they will ever experience. The time away from loved ones can be overwhelming, but realize that you are part of a special family that will be with you forever. My husband's Navy friends have been and are my Navy friends and vice versa. You may not stay in the service and you may have another career, but you will ALWAYS be part of the military family.

IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?

I hope that through this resource, NTWS, I'll be able to find, converse and reminisce about the experiences my Navy friends and I have had. It seems like a wonderful resource. Thank you OSCS (Mike) Withers for finding Bill and getting us involved.

Togetherweserved.com

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