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Published in CenterView on March 12, 2012
Boackle at Kandahar Airport
Boackle at Kandahar Airport

Alumni event provides ideal setting for SON's military tribute

By Matt Westerfield

Associating health care with warfare might sound like an oxymoron, but in many ways the nursing profession was born in the midst of armed conflict. Since the American Revolution - if not earlier - nursing has developed hand-in-hand with military service.

"A lot of people think they are very separate, but they're really not because the person we think of as the founder of modern nursing was Florence Nightingale," said Paul Boackle, AirCare flight nurse and member of the Mississippi Air National Guard based in Jackson. 

An English nurse born to a wealthy family, Nightingale volunteered to care for wounded soldiers during the Crimean War in 1854 and laid the foundations for modern nursing philosophy.

That heritage of caring for others while serving one's country was honored at the School of Nursing's annual Alumni Dinner March 1. Boackle, who presided over the ceremony as Nursing Alumni Chapter president, also donated an American flag to the school.

The flag, which he brought back from his latest deployment, was flown during a day filled with patient-transport missions in Afghanistan last summer.

Boackle returned home last fall after a four-month deployment to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, with the 651st Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. He joined the guard in 2003 after graduating from the School of Nursing in 2001. 

Combining military leadership skills with the responsibilities of critical-care transport is a good marriage, he says.

"I always knew I wanted to fly," he said. "What I do for the Medical Center, I have a different scope of practice, but it's complementary. One job helps me to be good at the other, and vice versa."

During his four months serving as a flight nurse in the deadliest region of war-torn Afghanistan, Boackle helped provide emergency care for U.S. and coalition troops, Afghan civilians and even "bomb dogs" who hunt for improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

After returning home, Boackle said there's always a period of readjustment, but it's been eased considerably by the support he receives from his wife, Shayne - an educator for imaging services at UMMC - as well as his Medical Center coworkers. 

Those include a mentor in flight nurse Bo Sullivan, a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard; a partner in Jeremy Benson, AirCare paramedic and Jackson base manager; and supportive leaders in Donna Norris, director of AirCare, and Jonathan Wilson, clinical director of emergency services, both of whom Boackle says work hard to make every accommodation when deployments come up. Another colleague, Adult E.D. nurse Kevin Beasley, returned last March after serving a 14-month deployment in Afghanistan as an emergency trauma nurse with the U.S. Navy.

Dr. Kim Hoover, who accepted the flag from Afghanistan and had it framed, calls Boackle the epitome of selfless service. 

"When asked about his tours of duty, he describes what others around him do while diminishing his own role and contribution," Hoover said. "He is clearly dedicated to saving lives and caring for others, regardless of whether this is as a flight nurse for UMHC or in a field hospital in Afghanistan."

Boackle trains with his Guard unit one weekend per month, plus training flights, but doesn't know when he might be mobilized again. 

"We're always ready, but I don't think everyone is ever really prepared. You never know what you're going to see or experience," he said. "No two patients are ever the same." 

The School of Nursing's military tribute also featured memories from retired alumni, including Julia McCormac (Class of 1965), who was a member of the Air Force Nursing Corps; Jan Evers (Class of 1960), who delivered her first child at Fort Polk, La., where her husband, Dr. Carl Evers, was stationed with a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital;  and Brig. Gen. Becky Wade (Class of 1967), who was commissioned as a captain in 1976 with the Army National Guard. 

Wade recalled being under constant readiness during the time she was stationed at Camp Shelby. 

"Our goal was to keep our soldiers medically qualified for deployment. Living in the field was a real learning experience," Wade said.

"I never went to a war zone, but I feel the work we did was important. We were always ready to go."

"The School of Nursing is always proud of the accomplishments of the alumni and enjoy celebrating their successes," Hoover said. "We are particularly proud of and grateful to our alumni and faculty who serve in the military.

"These nurses, serving beside their colleagues, sacrifice so that we can enjoy peace of mind and safety."

As luck would have it, Boackle was stationed at Camp Bastion Joint Air Base while in Afghanistan, the same base at which his cousin, Marine Capt. Preston Walker, was stationed.

"The guys who are the real heroes are the guys walking the perimeter of the base I was staying on, guys like my cousin," Boackle said. "It was an honor to serve with them."