Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center
Retired Army Nurse Recognizes Women Veterans
Admitting she wasn’t “holy enough” to be a nun or a teacher, 33-year Army Veteran Rosemarie Edinger (Col. U.S. Army Retired), said she was later surprised to learn that by accepting money for nursing school from the Army, meant she would wear a uniform and someday, might even have to go to war. “When we got our 48-hour notice to deploy to the Middle East for war in Iraq, I packed my pillow,” she said, igniting a room full of laughter among those attending the annual Women Veterans Recognition at Spokane’s Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in March. “All of our nursing corps and support teams all showed up at muster in different uniforms,” she smiled, knowing how ridiculous that is within military standards. For those old enough to remember, Edinger and her quick-talking “matter of fact” personality could easily land her in a remake of the iconic military hospital program M*A*S*H (as today’s version of TV Nurse ‘Margaret Houlihan’) because of the ease in which she uses humor to mask the pain, horror, and depression… of war.
“I grew up poor. Went to a Catholic elementary school, Catholic high school, and even my first college. At first I hated the Army. I’m a ‘Yankee’ from the north and my first assignment was to Louisiana where it was way too hot with way too many bugs. But the Army began to suit me well, because I liked uniforms, had always worn them in school, and nobody knew if you were from this side of town, or the other side of town.” Edinger’s candid message had Veterans, VA staff, volunteers, and guests wiping away tears of laughter one minute, only to find themselves teary-eyed and emotional the next.
Dozens attended the annual event to recognize and honor Women Veterans and on this day, Edinger’s fiery personality resonated well, because a career of nursing experience (and stories) reminded everyone of the challenges of balancing their personal and home life, with their work or military life. “I had a tough time taking orders when I found myself commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant in the Army in 1976. Then I met a career soldier and we eventually had a family together. It was tough trying to be everything to everyone. Thank God my own Mother came to help me out after my first child was born, because with my husband away on duty, one of us (Rosemarie and her newborn son) might not have made it out alive.”
As an Army officer and nurse, Edinger says she avoided the discussion of her own postpartum depression and instead focused her attention on her job and the mission that soon led to war. “We landed in Saudi Arabia and it was 140-degrees. We had to sew up the front of the male boxer shorts we decided to wear because it was just too hot for pants. It was horrible, I hated the heat and with nothing but sun and sand, the whole (Middle East) theatre seemed like nothing but a giant ash tray to me.” After that laughter subsided, she began to describe how weeks later, the realities of war landed in her lap, inside the Army’s 10th Combat Support Hospital which convoyed into the war zone with the 24th Infantry Division in 2003. “Many of our first casualties were children from a village caught in the crossfire. I watched a nurse treating a young child with severe injuries ask the patient, to ‘roll towards Mommy’ and I began to think about my own kids. But you just have to try harder and accept that being a nurse is going to be the most professionally challenging time of your life, but produces the most personal growth too.”
The hardest part then she said, was having to ask her husband (back home with the boys) to stop sending her cassette tapes of recordings of him and their son’s voices. “They meant well, but it was just too hard on me. I missed them so much and feared the boys would forget about me,” as she described the guilt many military Mom’s feel while deployed. But she didn’t buckle. Edinger would persevere by earning the Army’s most prestigious symbol of health care excellence, the Expert Field Medical Badge.
After the war, working as a critical care nurse stateside, she would need that experience to help her deal with plane loads of severely wounded being flown by the Air Force back to the U.S. three times each week to military hospitals including Walter Reed Medical Center, Bethesda Naval Hospital, and San Antonio’s world class burn unit at Brooke Army Medical Center. She paused. The painful visions and memories of the wounded instantly came flooding back as she stood silent at the podium in front of dozens attending the annual VA event. She described taking her family to meet some of her most severely-wounded patients at Walter Reed Medical Center.
After introducing her husband and sons to triple amputee Combat Veteran Joey Bozik and seeing the impact the exchange had on them, her oldest son told Rosemarie he was so inspired, he wanted to join the Army. “I couldn’t go with my husband and his girlfriend to send him off to the Army, knowing he would someday likely go to war. It was just too painful as a parent to think it might be the last time you see your child the same or alive ever again.” Wiping away tears, she said, “I don’t really think people understand the sacrifices our war Veterans have made and what we and their families all see them facing and trying to deal with. War is Hell. Many are left with deformities, terrible scars, PTSD, survivor’s guilt, suicidal thoughts, and depression.” “Reintegration takes work,” she said, reminding VA staff that Veterans are all unique and most sacrificed something in order to serve. “We will be better off as people and caregivers, if we can understand our role now is to, listen, be patient, and help them.”
Edinger touts the need for a strong military and VA health care system to take care of the Veterans protecting America’s freedoms, traditions, and culture. “We need the next generations to serve and there are really great reasons to serve in the military and the VA,” she explained. She referred to our nation’s history, medical research, health care advances to save the critically wounded, and the “tremendous strides the VA has made in trying to coordinate everyone’s individual care… especially women!” In less than an hour of a career that continues today as a Military & Women’s Health Program Manager in the private sector, Rosemarie Edinger, MSN, RN, built a lifetime of admiration and respect from the audience of total strangers who could empathize as a Veteran, a nurse, or both. They asked for pictures with her, congratulated her, and honored her.
She took it a step further, by assisting Women’s Recognition event coordinator Carrie Daniel in recognizing each of the Vietnam War Era Women Veterans with a 50th Anniversary Vietnam War Commemoration lapel pin. The local Marine Corps League and Auxiliary honored her and all the Women Veterans with a red rose. “We must let our stories form a fabric that must continue in this great country of ours. We can all be champions for someone else. Smile, take care of each other and most of all, be proud of what you do – because you can be proud of it. Health care is not just a job.”