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FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Army Nurses from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), 531st Hospital Center and Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, gathered at BACH before clinic hours Jan. 30, to celebrate the 119th Anniversary of the Army Nurse Corps.
While nurses have supported the nation’s Soldiers since the American Revolution, it was not until Feb. 2, 1901 that congress formally established the U. S. Army Nurse Corps. Nurses were appointed in the Regular Army for three years at a time, and their appointments could be renewed based on satisfactory service.
“The law directed the surgeon general to maintain a list of qualified nurses who were willing to serve in an emergency,” former Army Nurse Corps Historian, Lt. Col. Nancy Cantrell explained, in The History of the Army Nurse Corps. It served as a reserve source of nurses who could be activated in response to the regular Army’s needs.
Cantrell said that prior to World War I, 403 nurses were serving on active duty. By war’s end approximately 22,000 served. After the war, Army Nurse Corps numbers fell to about 600 by 1935. When the nation entered World War II the Army Nurse Corps ranks grew to nearly 60,000 women. It was the largest group of nurses ever to serve in the Army Nurse Corps and they were led by BACH’s namesake, Col. Florence Blanchfield. She served as the assistant superintendent from 1939, acting superintendent in 1942 and superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps from 1943 to 1947. She was an advocate for Soldiers and helped shape the Army Nurse Corps of today.
“It’s important for us to pause and remember our history and where we came from,” said Col. Amanda Forristal, BACH’s Deputy Commander for Nursing. Blanchfield toured battlefield conditions on all fronts and made changes to nursing practices that would better serve Soldiers. She established anesthesia, psychiatric, operating room and community health courses for nurses to improve their capabilities.
Forristal shared how Blanchfield worked with Congresswoman Frances Payne Bolton to strengthen the Army Nurse Corps. They developed the Army-Navy Nurses Act of 1947 and Public Law 36, which established the Regular Army Nurse Corps with permanent commissioned rank and benefits equal to male officers.
“She was the first woman to receive a Regular Army commission and was given the serial number N-1,” said Forristal.
Today approximately 11,000 men and women serve in the Army Nurse Corps, ready to lead, ready to care, since 1901. Army nurses serve in a variety of nursing specialties including critical care, community health, and advanced practice nursing roles such as nurse anesthetist and nurse practitioners.
“The thing that I love the most is the camaraderie and the fact that there’s always so many different facets of nursing that you can get into,” said Maj. Tonita Smith, a public health nurse who specializes in monitoring the spread of diseases, hazards and public awareness for good health. “We have such a robust orientation for new nurses in the Army that allows you to shadow all specialties.”
Keeping with military tradition the ceremony concluded with a cake cutting by the most senior Army Nurse Corps officer in the room, retiree, Jim Nix, Forristal, and the hospital’s most junior Army Nurse Corps officer, 1st Lt. Kathryn Fullman.
“I’d been a civilian nurse for six years before joining the Army and I decided to serve my country and try something new,” said Fullman, who joined the Army Nurse Corps in November 2018. “I think it’s very similar to civilian nursing. There have been a lot of opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have had.”
To learn more about career opportunities in the Army Nurse Corps visit www.goarmy.com
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