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Ashe County Veterans History Project: Deeanna Burleson
In 1990 I moved from Mississippi to Midlothian, VA ,located south of Richmond. I transferred to a civilian position at the McGuire VA Medical Center in the surgical ICU and to an Air Force Reserve position at the 459th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron as a aeromedical evacuation nurse on the 141 Starlifter. Over the next few years I was deployed several times to support Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. During all of this I attempted to balance my civilian position at the VA Medical Center and being a single mom (once again). When I entered a Master’s program at the Virginia Commonwealth University, I transferred to the West Virginia Air National Guard in Martinsburg, WV, because the mission on a C-130 was shorter than the 141. I did this so that I could successfully meet (if at all possible) all of the roles I was attempting to undertake. I later returned to the 459th once I completed my Master’s program.
One of most favorite missions over the years was when I was part of the crew that brought back a mom and her two children. Her military husband was not able to travel with her on her return to the U.S. from Germany. She had an almost 2 year old and then a premature baby that traveled even before her due date. The baby was fine and did not need any special support, but I found myself caring for the 2-year old for most of the 7-hour trip back to the States. It was a good thing that we did not have a heavy load.
As I look back on my US Air Force career as a Nurse, I shake my head in disbelief at the experiences I was able to discover. I was very fortunate to serve my country and play some role in making our country stronger and better. The downside was the time I spent away from my children, which was the sacrifice. Their sacrifice was more than mine. Although no matter where I was in the world my thoughts and heart were always with them, and the plan was to take them to those far away places. I wanted this experience for them, their future.
I finished nursing school at UNC Charlotte in May of 1982; and on April 9, 1983, I entered the Charlotte Air National Guard as a flight nurse on the C-130. I had applied to enter the Air Force as an Active Duty but was “rejected” because I was a single mom. Rejection, I have found out, is often not a real rejection or failure but just a nudge to a different door. For me it was the reserve forces. After attending flight nurse school in San Antonio, TX, (my first airplane flight) I supported the Charlotte Air National Guard flying training missions, training in the event we were needed to be deployed to support our country. During this time, I flew to Germany to support a NATO training mission called Exercise Reforger. This is the first time I had been out of the country.
In 1985, I remarried and moved to Jackson, MS, transferring to the MS Air National Guard as a clinic nurse and eventually was tapped to be the Chief Nurse of the MS Air National Guard Clinic. In this role I found myself for the first time traveling to California, renting a car and driving myself north of San Francisco. Now that was an eerie feeling to be driving, alone on such an unknown highway so far away from home with only maps and no electronic GPS as we have today. During this time as a civilian nurse, I worked as the Director of Education for a small Women’s Hospital, an emergency department nurse and a Veterans Administration surgical ICU nurse.
After my active duty support of the National Bio-surveillance Integration System (NBIS), I accepted a position at the Pentagon in Virginia to support the Joint Chief of Staff Surgeon. This was such an honor and a wonderful experience. I supported and led various projects, such as, resolving payment issues to foreign governments that supported us in Iraqi-related conflicts and conducting site visits for President Obama’s desire to close Guantanamo Bay and move the Iraqi detainees to US Federal prisons.
During this time one of my favorite experiences was when I provided a tour of the Pentagon for a colleague’s father, a War World II Veteran. What a treat that was for me, his son and for him. He had so much to share. We need to always listen to the stories our Veterans have to share with us.
Over the next several years I had many opportunities, in many roles. As I found myself on other roads in my journey through life, I continued to serve the US Air Force in ways I never dreamed would be possible. The highlights of those experiences included a 90-day assignment to support a research study and a surveillance activity during the time of GW Bush’s second inauguration. This experience led to being offered an active duty assignment at US Northcom to coordinate and represent the military in a National Bio-surveillance initiative mandated by Congress to the Department of Homeland Security to integrate biological data across federal agencies to create an early warning disease outbreak detection capability. During this time, I was pulled into operation support by US Northcom to support damage and destruction during Hurricane Katrina. It was during this time, on the evening of September 23, 2005, that I met President GW Bush. I was very surprised at the person I found him to be. He went from operation desk to operation desk, at least 50 desks, and met, shook hands and had a conversation specific to the person and role they were holding. He discussed books he had read to the weather man. Discussed with me my role at the Surgeon’s desk and my last name, since there is a Burleson, TX. My opinion of him totally changed, and it was a lesson in that people are not always what they seem to be on the TV and in the voice of public opinion.
On April 10, 2010, after 26 years of service, I retired. It was time; but I miss the work, the people and feeling like I was doing something for a great country. I am sure you can see why I look back and shake my head as to how I, a young girl from rural NC, found herself in all these different experiences. My only regret was time I lost with my daughters, my brother and other family members.