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Military nursing is a calling to a unique mission field, providing an opportunity for Christian nurses to represent the love of God while ministering to people of diverse ages, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and faith traditions around the world. Frequently, this mission field is the battlefield when people are vulnerable, when nations war against nations and ideology against ideology, in wars governed by international conventions. While Christians may disagree on the justness of an international war, the military nurse is not called to nurse a war, but to nurse those who are caught in the carnage that results.

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Florence Nightingale gave birth to modern nursing in the battlefields of the Crimean War. Her holistic view of people and of the nurse's role in ministering to the physical, spiritual, social and environmental needs of those experiencing disease or injury has been the basis for nursing education ever since. She viewed nursing as a call from God. Nursing is also a vocation in the spiritual sense. Few enter the profession for wealth or prestige.


The Christian military nurse has an example in Jesus, who did not avoid evil or dangerous situations, but confronted them and cared equally for those afflicted by suffering and those inflicting suffering. Nursing education and experience prepares nurses to care for the physical and emotional needs of victims. The Bible prepares military nurses to provide spiritual care in the combat zone.


Each combat zone is different, based on the political motivation and goal for going to war, the environment where the war is fought and the military strategies used. War is an individual experience for each nurse, influenced by personal motivation and goals. My view of combat nursing is based on twenty-three months as a member of the Army Nurse Corps during the Vietnam War. The goal of the nurses (mostly women) who volunteered to serve in Vietnam was using their knowledge and their skills to alleviate the pain and suffering caused by the war.


The unique challenges and stress for the nurse in Vietnam resulted from the lack of conventional battle lines. Surgical and field hospitals were right in the midst of the battles, surrounded by the enemy, as well as civilians who may or may not have been the enemy. This required constant vigilance to protect ourselves and our patients. With the first large-scale use of helicopter ambulances, patients arrived directly from the battlefield with little warning. They were triaged, stabilized and evacuated to more secure facilities, such as the Navy hospital ships or to Japan.


While our nursing education and experience were great resources, nothing could have prepared us for the long hours of ministering to the maimed, the suffering and the dying during a "mass casualty." Nurses did not have enough time, energy and knowledge to treat the physical needs, let alone the emotional and spiritual needs of our patients: our soldiers, civilian men, women, children and enemy soldiers. Lulls between battles were spent dealing with the emotional and the spiritual wars, including memories, frustrations and guilt over not knowing or doing enough, compounded by the temptation to mollify the pain of these battles with unhealthy habits and risk-taking behaviors. The lingering health consequences of these unresolved conflicts have provided a clinical laboratory for the study of "post-traumatic stress disorder" (PTSD). Essentially, combat nursing is spiritual warfare as one tries to reconcile belief in an omnipotent, loving God with the realities of a combat zone.


The apostle Paul outlines how the Christian should prepare for spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:13-18. Prior preparation is key to success in any endeavor. The analogy in Ephesians of preparing for spiritual warfare is appropriate in our everyday nursing ministry. It is crucial for the nurse going into a combat situation, where spiritual armor will be put to supreme tests.


I am grateful for a strong Christian background, which included Bible study and fellowship. During nursing school, Nurses Christian Fellowship(R) helped prepare me for military experience. Enlisting in the Army Student Nurse Program during nursing school required that I be commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps. I had to leave the security of family and friends. An unlikely verse provided assurance that I was called to this mission field. Exodus 23:20 states, "I am going to send an angel in front of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared." Armed with this verse, I found confidence to face unknown challenges and to find God's meaning and purpose in each experience, even in a combat zone.


Unlike civilian nursing, an Army nurse is a military officer, on duty twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. As with civilian nursing, this requires shift and weekend work, interfering with regular group Bible study and corporate worship intended to strengthen spiritual armor. Personal study and regular prayer become a challenge. While I frequently wished that I had been more disciplined, Scriptures I had memorized and the habit of praying whenever and wherever possible became invaluable during the stress of combat nursing.


We are called to be faithful in whatever work the Lord calls us to-wherever that may be. In each situation, God is faithful to prepare the place. In the end, we have one responsibility. "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15).


Principles of a Just War


* A just war can only be waged as a last resort.


* A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority.


* A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered.


* A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success.


* The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace.


* The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered.


* The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants.


* Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians.


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