Reflecting on the history of nurses

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Julia Stoshak
  • 366th Surgical Operations Squadron
After serving 18 years on active duty in the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps, I'm finally getting a chance to deploy. 

To say I'm excited is an understatement.

I even have a really cool mission -- to work with and teach Afghan nurses. 

Amidst all the excitement and preparation for my deployment, I've spent considerable time reflecting on those who have gone before me.

Long ago, there were those who attended the sick and wounded during and after battles. In ancient times, the job fell to slaves and prostitutes, or camp followers. 

Fast forward to the mid-1600s, and we find nuns from religious orders responding to the need. At this point, nursing became a calling and gained some respectability. 

Two centuries later, we have Florence Nightingale who, rebelling against the wishes of her family (who eventually gave in), became a nurse and eventually the founder of modern nursing.

In 1854, she organized 38 nurses and headed to Constantinople to serve in the Crimean War. Her efforts to improve sanitation and better conditions in the field hospitals are renowned in the world of public health.

Since that time, nurses have served in or in close proximity to every major battle in which people have killed and mangled each other.

Thousands of women served on both sides as nurses during the Civil War. Twenty-three thousand trained nurses served during World War I. They served without military rank until June 4, 1920, when relative rank and officer status were granted to members of the Army Nurse Corps through an amendment of the National Defense Act. 

During World War II, nurses were in North Africa where the "chain of evacuation" was tested and flight nursing first became a reality. Nurses arrived at Normandy four days after D-Day, served in Liege near Bastogne, Sicily, and on the beaches at Anzio. They were there on Bataan when General Wainwright surrendered and not all were evacuated.

The list of "policing actions," wars and battles, unfortunately, continues to today. 

Both men and women, of all races have served in the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy. We have a proud heritage, one of service and valor. We pray for peace as we prepare for war and stand ready to serve where and when needed, be it at home, on a humanitarian mission or on a foreign battlefield.