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After high school graduation, I spent the summer working at a personal care home and realized that my future would be nursing instead of teaching English. I was funding my education and decided to sit out a semester rather than to submit to debt. Eventually I returned to college and continued to be willing to serve anywhere, including the armed forces. Military scholarships looked attractive. A Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) instructor recommended enrollment in a semester course to help answer my questions, without obligation. With faith that God had a plan, I decided not to join the Army Nurse Corps and transferred to another college.

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The idea of military nursing passed until a crisp autumn day during my sophomore year. At a college career fair, I talked with a Navy recruiter who expressed interest in my grade point average and my experience as a nursing assistant. Later that afternoon I stopped at my parents' home. I mentioned the recruiter's interest to my mother. She objected to military enlistment and commented on her fears about basic training and my inability to swim. Skeptically I applied for a competitive commissioning program, for which only fifty nursing students were accepted yearly. I did not expect to be selected but began to put God to test. When the response was positive, I accepted the Navy's offer, believing that it was the right choice.


Three months before graduation, a letter arrived directing me to resign my commission due to a change in my medical history, noted during a repeat physical examination. I was speechless. There had been no warning. I requested and received a waiver that granted commission into the Navy Nurse Corps.


At the onset of my nursing career, I was already engaged in warfare. The battle, however, was different from World War II or Vietnam. The battleground was in my heart and mind. Battles included choices between right and wrong, and good or better. I believed God had called me to nursing but repeatedly asked if that included an eight-year military contract. I was concerned that I may have relied too heavily on circumstances for direction. The choice of marriage entered the picture. In hindsight, I see that God did not grant a Navy commission and then leave me on my own.


Centuries ago, the apostle Paul, in Ephesians 6:10-20 described warfare beyond flesh and blood. All nurses, not just military nurses, are at war. War stages in any theater-it can occur at the nurses' station, in the break room, in the emergency department, in a classroom or office, during a home health visit or at an outpatient center. Some nurses fail to recognize this unconventional war. However, ignorance does not exempt us from responsibility. We are accountable for our service-service that involves preparation, protection, strategy and sacrifice.


Combat Ready

Paul focused on the believer's armor rather than on the enemy. Basic training teaches weapon familiarization. The nurse's gear issue includes standards of care and practice guidelines. Each piece of armor is appropriate according to its purpose. For example, the shield of faith is essential to combat fear. During my military nursing career, faith conquered fear, and the prayers of others sustained me. Evidence is my passing the swim test, learning venipuncture, moving overseas, surviving obstetrical nursing and many other challenges.


The shield of faith protects against the enemy's fiery darts. Nurses repeatedly prepare for an attack of fire. We prepare for a potential code red (fire alert) by assigning tasks, such as shutting off the oxygen valve. Nurses onboard ships wear cotton uniforms to avoid static electricity; history teaches that fire can start small and spread quickly. A smart enemy will throw more than one dart to maximize damage. A nurse on guard will proactively prepare for darts the enemy may throw and thoughtfully engage the shield of faith. Joining shields with others presents a unified front and increases protection, in contrast to fighting alone and scattered.


Appropriate footwear provides another aspect of our armor. Combat boots, steel-toed shoes and running shoes serve different purposes. A bystander may observe footwear and guess where a nurse practices. Feet covered with the gospel of peace may create temporary dissonance, but we approach war with the hope of peace. A Christian nurse does not create peace but brings the peace of Christ. We seek peaceful approaches in conflict resolution, leadership principles and management styles. The nursing shortage, mandatory overtime, unethical practices, wasted resources and other conflicts challenge nurses to seek peaceful solutions.


In the physical war zone, weapons break or malfunction and need to be replaced. Although our spiritual armor is flawless, human warriors face weariness, injury, confusion, separation and mistakes. We must take care of ourselves and each other to effectively fight against disease, suffering and poor choices.


The war within me continues as the war without wanes. Each tour of duty presents new conflicts, challenges and choices. I seek to balance the role of officer and staff nurse. I see new nurses struggling through orientation and more experienced nurses growing weary. I look for role models of servant leadership. I wonder how to teach skills to a para-professional. What is the right response to destructive gossip or an angry physician answering a 2 a.m. page? Maintaining weight and fitness standards without becoming obsessed by physical appearance is another battle.


While I cannot change the circumstance of the war without, I am commissioned by the Lord to put on the whole armor of God-salvation, truth, righteousness, faith and peace. Selecting one piece of armor over another is not an option. My mission is to wear the whole uniform and intentionally fight the war within and without.