“Thousands of women have served in the Nurse Corps of the U.S. Army. Many of them worked in War zones, where their extraordinary courage, resourcefulness, and toughness first astonished and then won the respect of male officers. Their skill and dedication helped to save tens of thousands of lives and made the Nurse Corps an essential part of the American military establishment.” Studies in Health, Illness, and Caregiving, Joan E. Lynaugh, Series Editor of Mary Sarnecky’s book, “A History of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps”.
In 1899, the Surgeon General set criteria for a Reserve Force of nurses. The Spanish-American war proved that without a reserve force, there would be a nursing shortage during wartime. On February 2, 1901, the Nurse Corps (female) became a permanent corps of the Medical Department under the Army Reorganization Act (31 Stat. 753) passed by the Congress.
After the start of WWI, the Army’s Department of Medical Relief worked with the American Red Cross to establish base hospitals in Europe, initially designated to serve the BEF (British Expeditionary Forces). Due to increased needs of military nurses in the war effort, the Army Nurse Corps increased from approximately 4,100 to 21,460 between 1917 and 1918. They served at base and evacuation hospitals in Europe as well as transport ships, hospital trains in France and mobile surgical hospitals stateside.
The war provided an impetus for more professional requirements, and the Army School of Nursing was opened on 25 May, 1918, setting professional standards and which later helped to provide a viable reserve force for WWII. The authorized strength of the Army Nurse Corps decreased to nearly 1,500 during the Interwar Period after WWI. By 1945, the number of Army nurses reached over 57,000.
Army nurses worked tirelessly during WWII, often enduring the same hardships as combat troops. Two-hundred and fifteen nurses died while bravely serving. Sixty-seven army nurses were held as Japanese prisoners of war for thirty-seven months in the Philippines after the fall of Corregidor in 1942, during which they continued to care for the wounded. Nurses played an integral role in medical advancements; access to care closer to the front lines, advanced surgical procedures and post-surgical nursing, the administration of blood products and improvements in evacuation procedures led to greatly improved survival rates. Fixed wing air evacuations moved the wounded to definitive care more quickly, and flight nursing was born. The first class of Army flight nurses to graduate was in February, 1943.
In June of 1950, North Korean Communists crossed the 38th parallel, and President Truman ordered troops into South Korea for what has been known as the “Forgotten War” of Korea. The first U.S. Army combat forces arrived from Japan on July 6, 1950, the day after Task Force Smith engaged in the Battle of Osan, the first U.S. ground action of the war. Fifty-seven nurses arrived with them and helped establish a hospital for the wounded. Army nurses worked throughout the Korean Peninsula in the forward deployed MASH’s, or Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals. Advances in pre-hospital care, surgical interventions closer to the front, and the first dedicated use of helicopters by U.S. forces to move critically ill patients, significantly improved survival rates.
On 9 August, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed H.R. 2559, the bill that authorized reserve commissions to male nurses.
Army nurses were deployed during the Vietnam War (1960-1975), beginning in 1965 with the rapid build-up of American forces. Trauma care specialization and an evolution of casualty care was a result of the Army Nurse Corps experience in Vietnam. Dustoff helicopter ambulances increased the mobility of patient evacuation to field hospitals nearby and the chain of evacuation was improved dramatically, moving trauma victims to CONUS hospital care within hours.
Operation Desert Shield/Storm (1990-1991) heralded a new era in trauma care. Approximately 2,200 Army nurses served in forty-four hospitals, some part of joint operations with host nations. Wounds were now more prevalent to the extremities and new types of traumatic injuries resulted in the need for more advanced protective gear. Army Nurses quickly adapted to the changing battle environment by deploying DEPMEDS, (Deployable Medical Systems), and enhancing trauma training for critical care nurses deployed to theater in subsequent campaigns. Since Desert Storm, army nurses have deployed to theaters in Haiti, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and for disaster relief and Humanitarian efforts worldwide.
The current OPTEMPO requires a flexible and technologically advanced AMEDD and Army Nurse Corps. For the first time, an Army Nurse had been confirmed as the Army Surgeon General; LTG Patricia D. Horoho assumed command on 7 December, 2011. Army nurses continue to serve with dignity and courage in a multitude of roles, continually striving for excellence. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said in the sixth century B.C., “Nothing endures but change” and that “It is in changing that we find purpose”. The Army Nurse Corps optimizes performance and talent management, continuing its transformation as a leading military heath care force in the 21st century, a time of great change and opportunity.