The Lived Experience of Chief Nurses in Military Operations Other Than War -- M. Turner

Essential Themes
- Knowing
-- Uncertainty

Despite having learned many things before and during the deployments, the chief nurses encountered many uncertainties. Questions about the magnitude of the mission, the types of casualties and the capability of the staff were asked frequently. Many of the teams were deployed for an indefinite period of time and for some the duration changed after arrival. Because of the political influences directing the missions it was often unclear exactly what the scope of the mission included. Information arrived from multiple sources and the situations changed rapidly as activities in the region changed. Rumor control was an ongoing challenge.


So we were trying to figure out... I think one of the things that I got the most upset about... Number one, about how young nurses were going to handle all the casualties; I had been working in an ASF in Vietnam so I was used to casualties. We were told that biological warfare agents might be used and I had no experience with that. I called the Colonel at command and said "Have you got anything on Anthrax. I mean I don't know anything about it." And nobody seemed to know what we were going to do. So, then we talked about it and decided that we would take one of the old bunkers that was on the base if we had anybody who came in with a biological problem, like Anthrax or whatever, but we would just make a kind of a black dungeon area and then I wondered who was going to go over there and man it, that was the other big question, I mean, these are things going through you mind. You know, what ifs? I think I was very frightened ; if we had to deal with biological warfare what were we going to do?, that got to be a real tough issue. And nobody had really had any experience with it either.


A pediatric nurse.....She was very good and she worked out well but she was a little concerned and said, "You know, I'm used to little people and these are adults."


Little things, you know. Nurse-wise, they were tremendous and all the other nurses they sent were excellent. Some of them were real scared because I had to put them in the burn unit and that is a disconnect, in a way, because most of the air force or army burn patients go to Brook Army burn center so we never take care of them. So the idea that we were going to be a burn unit for casualties coming from the gulf and yet none of my people were trained for that or even the facility, we had to do a lot of fixing up of the facility. We put money up front trying to get that place ready for a burn center. And it was a real problem. And then we got the burn expert in and he talked to our people and tried to just give them some real basic principles, how they were going to handle them for the first few days until they could air evac out. We were still hoping that a lot of them would go to the burn center back home.


We thought we were going for 3 months originally but that's not how it worked out. So it was a very busy... Very, very, very busy time getting everybody ready to go. ....When we were down there...... We actually were not under the control of our command. When you deploy, you are in the theater of operation and whoever's that command is......they were the ones who decided we would stay 180 days.


It could have very easily been a week [in the bunker]. We had no idea how long or for that matter what was going on around us.


And we had to screen every migrant that came in to the country. Now, this wasn't on our tasking order either. So it was like things changed on a daily basis about what was required of us and we had to, figure out with our staff how we were going to manage all of our taskings. This was sort of a fun kind of thing because everybody's attitude was real... really sort of positive about going to the new camp. The happy team, we called it the happy team, they were just glad to be there, because instead of being at the old camp where everybody was so crowded, there was going to be some breathing room. ... that was our happy team.


I think more than anything else, we lacked structure and direction from the higher echelon. I mean, "What are we doing now? And what's the truth?" The truth changed from day to day depending on what was going on in politics.


The thing... The one issue that was real critical to our deployment is when we first got there and so much information ... So many things were happening. And what was truth in the morning was not necessarily the whole truth at night time because of the situation changing. ....the camp was going up so fast and our area was going up so fast. What we ended up doing was having a morning and an evening stand up for the entire camp to come together and say, "Folks this is what we know at this time." You know, just so they could understand or realize that we were trying to give them as much information as we could, as quickly as possible. And there were times when we didn't know anymore than they did. And you know, at those times, that if there is not information passed, then rumors will be developed. And that was one of the things that we recommended... The executive team recommended to the boss was "Please we've got to do this. We've got to have stand up" And it's not to see how many people have their shoes shined or whatever, it's to get this information out as soon as we can. And then we'd ask, "What rumors have you heard today?" So... it's critical. Critical because they do come up with the most bizarre rumors and information that they think is the God's honest truth and it's not. So... That's critical for any deployment.


We would go and get weekly intelligence briefings and they would come to us and keep us updated so we knew when things were heating up and you knew when you could afford to relax and you knew when you had to be at heightened awareness. So that always helped.


And then the commander in turn would give us the latest information that he had gotten from, ... When he would go to the meetings across base because he went... almost every day to some kind of a meeting over there. So they would kind of let us know what was happening....... For the American contingent at least.... things that applied to us.