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

Fundamental Structure of the Experience
- Leaving
-- Looking back

Many of the deployments ended as suddenly as they began. Some teams went home early and some had to stay beyond their planned departure date. Closing down the operation was a final task for those whose mission was ending, others just tidied up and turned the camp over to a new team. Leaving together was also important; for the chief nurses it was unacceptable to leave anyone behind and too daunting to stay behind themselves and build relationships with a new team. Saying good bye was difficult even though they were looking forward to getting home. Looking back on the whole experience right through to the homecoming events evoked a lot of emotion. Reflections on lessons learned ranged from the very practical to the philosophical. Every single chief nurse was willing to go back, just maybe not tomorrow.


Well you went out and you were a kid but you left there... Even if you left there... The first group left after the first 30 days... You grew up.


We... We really grew, as I said, grew as a team so much so that we finally, uh... Things... Troops were pulling back out, there were... Gosh I would say the presence was about 8,000 U.S. troops there when I finally left, about the end of March. All during that time, as I mentioned, the reserves would come in on 30 day increments. And we would see them come and we would see them go and we would see them bitch and whine and moan because the green tents weren't quite what they expected and, you know, those kinds of things and it... And we had a turnover of... It was finally our turn to go and the crews that came in reserve to relieve us, the commander of that, felt like they really weren't prepared yet to take it all over. And they were as prepared as they were ever going to be. And so we were going to miss our one chance to... To get on a flight. If we didn't catch a flight, we were going to be stuck there another week. And I can remember just sending him a message that said "You're at the helm, we're out of here." And insisting that we came and... You know, that group came together and we left as a group. I wasn't going to leave anybody behind, nobody was going to stay and fill a slot. If we all couldn't go, no one was going to go. And we ended up all leaving and ended up coming home to a luke warm reception and that was the end of that.


That is about when they announced suddenly that we were all going to go home. They had the plane there and quick everybody had... We came over like we went home. They said we weren't leaving for like another three to four days and all of a sudden somebody had a plane available, they called, and within two hours everybody had to be out of there. So after the scramble, running around and trying to find everybody, because some people were in the village and I was going around in the car, yelling to "Get back. We have to catch a plane," and then we had to go around afterwards and I had to send many things back on an air evac. plane and stuff because they left it behind. I mean they were in such a scramble to get out of the houses. Some people had clothes in the washing machine that were wet, they packed them in their suitcase. It's funny but it wasn't funny--it was horrible. It was real chaos. I mean it was almost worse to go home that fast. You know, if they would have... A lot said if we had a day we would have gotten ready. But, you know, here's the plane, shut it up, and they said "Oh Oh, you're going in 2 hours." And then, you know, the biggest problem was finding all my people.


The people at home couldn't possibly understand what we had gone through. So I could come back and tell my husband or my friends or my family but it wouldn't have the same meaning to them that it had to me. So there was some bittersweet when we left.


I was assigned. We could've... I could have gone home if I had wanted to but I decided that I wanted to do that. I really thought that I was there and I thought that I was going to see this to the end. In fact, I could have stayed and... Until it closed. But the whole group was leaving and I didn't want to do that.The Col asked me if I would stay and I told her, I said, "Well I will stay if somebody else stays." But nobody else would stay so I decided I was leaving. Then it was a whole new group of people.