Growing up in Jamaica, my mother was my first teacher and role model. Mother Nel, as she was known in our community, taught me to care for others. When I was 10, I would take care of injured fingers, clean wounds, and remove splinters. I would also take care of dogs and cats by dressing and bandaging small wounds. When it was something I could not take care of, I would take them to the veterinarian clinic. At age 14, I became a member of the Jamaican Red Cross (JRC). As a member of the JRC, I worked at Jubilee Hospital assisting with caring for sick children. As a member of St. Patrick Catholic church, I volunteered time to feed and bath seniors who were unable to care for themselves. I especially admired my older sister who was a nurse licensed in Texas.
As much as I enjoyed caring for seniors, my friends and animals, I did not like school. After completing Seward All Age School, I started working with my parents as a shopkeeper. I enjoyed writing and would create poems, maintain a journal, and had a pen pal in Africa.
At 23, I immigrated to the U.S. with the dream of becoming a nurse, even though I had little knowledge of how to go about achieving my dream. I successfully earned my GED and quickly followed it up with an eight weeks certified nursing assistants (CNA) course. Upon completion of the CNA course, I was placed as a live-in nurse’s aide to a senior I remember only as Nanny. She lived in a beautiful home on the beach and I greatly enjoyed caring for her. Nanny’s family was generous and assisted in my enrollment at a local community college.
When Nanny passed away, I decided to join the Army for the opportunity to complete my nursing education. The Army recruiter offered me the chance to complete my education, travel, and have financial stability. It was an attractive offer and, with my mother’s blessings, I enlisted.
Training and First Duty Station
I went to Basic Training at Ft Jackson, SC and from there I went to Fort Lee, VA for Advanced Individual Training. My first assignment was at Fort Bragg, NC, with the 249th Quartermaster Supply Company. When I first arrived at the company Specialist Edward Smoker was assigned to take me to eat. As we sat and ate I would feel butterflies every time I looked into his blue eyes. I was at Ft. Bragg about a year and a half when Edward proposed. We got married on a hilltop in Tennessee. Shortly after though, I was given orders reassigning me to Korea. Edward put himself on orders as well so that we would not be separated. All the while I had been continuing my education; however, this reassignment meant I had to withdraw from classes at Fayetteville Technical Community College. Before leaving Fort Bragg Edward and I took our honeymoon in Jamaica so that he could meet my family.
Korea and Hunter Army Airfield, GA
We left Fort Bragg for Korea and shortly after arriving we discovered that I was pregnant with our first child. That cut my tour short, and after six months I was reassigned to Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, GA. Four months after arriving at Hunter Army Airfield, I gave birth to a beautiful baby. With Edward still deployed to Korea I found myself having to balance work in the Army, raising our baby girl, and attending night classes at Armstrong Atlantic State University (AASU). Thankfully it was not long before Edward was reassigned to Hunter Army Airfield. With Edward’s reassignment from Korea to Hunter Army Airfield, I was able to begin pursuing my nursing degree again. I remember participating in field exercises all day, then being shuttled off to classes in a military vehicle; sometimes smelling awful and always being tired from training all day. My only break in classes during this time was when I went to the Army’s Professional Leadership Development Course for Noncommissioned Officers (PLDC). Shortly after graduating the program, I found out that I was pregnant with our second child.
Texas and Beyond
A few months after receiving my nursing license, I decided to commission into the Army Nurse Corp and in 2003 my family and I moved to Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. Less than a year after being commissioned I was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq with the 31st Combat Support Hospital (CSH) in support of the Global War on Terrorism. My experience in the war zone as a new nurse is best left for another post; however, I do not believe there is a nursing school that could have adequately prepared me to operate in a war zone.
I returned to my family in Ft. Sam Houston with a greater commitment to helping those in need. As part of my renewed commitment, I began to volunteer time at local centers. It was not long after returning from Iraq that I attended the Army Perioperative Course. Upon completing the course, I continued to work at Brooke Army Medical Center where I was also promoted to Captain.
Ft. Lewis, WA and Tikrit, Iraq
I was placed on orders to go to Ft. Lewis, Washington as the Officer-In-Charge of the Operating Room Section for the 47th Combat Support Hospital (CSH); which deployed to Tikrit, Iraq in January 2009. After returning from the deployment, I decided to resign from the Army. I made this choice because I needed a break from constant field exercises and deployments. I had missed some landmark moments in my children’s growth and wanted to integrate back into my family. Additionally, the continuous separation from my husband caused us to start drifting apart, and I felt a break would allow all of us the time to heal and grow back together. It was during this healing period that I truly took the time to reflect on the past 12 years of my life, both personally and professionally. I considered the work I had done spanning my career, the awards, decorations, evaluations, and certificates. I found that even though I had solely focused on nursing at the beginning of my career, an intense interest in education had begun to blossom within me.
During the break from the military, I assisted my husband in creating and giving structure to homeschooling our children. In this endeavor, I created policies, procedures, a mission/vision statement, and a school motto for our homeschool, which we dubbed Lighthouse All Age School (LASS). Our home became a schoolhouse. After a six months break, I commissioned into the Air Force. While with the Air Force, I pursued and graduated from Capella with a master’s degree specializing in nursing education. Due to challenges that I experienced with the Air Force, professionally, personally, and family; I separated from military service once and for all. That was February 2014 and in March of that same year, my mother passed away. I love my mother very much, and her passing was very painful.
Home at Last
Our family settled in Oklahoma, where my husband was born and raised. Since settling here, my husband and I have begun to look forward toward our senior years together. It has been a true blessing for us to continue to nurture our children’s growth as they move on to build their own future.
I started pursuing a Ph.D. in nursing education in fall of 2015 with Capella University. The Ph.D. journey has been a transformational experience, providing me the opportunity to develop a holistic view of the nursing profession and nursing education. My plans after graduation are to distribute the findings of my research through presentations to nursing communities, as well as to continue contributing to nursing in whatever capacity I am able; such as helping nurses grow through my website. I also desire to author a book or two, especially one on my experience in the Air Force. I believe sharing such an experience will contribute to the nursing community and may serve as a beacon to other nurses on their journey.
Allow me to close by saying thank you, God, for your blessings upon me and my family, and for allowing me the opportunity to complete the journey of not only becoming a nurse but achieving a Ph.D. in nursing education. To Edward, my husband, best friend, and the other half of my soul; thank you for your instrumental support and unconditional love. Both have stood the test of time. And to my children Amber, Edward Jr., and Kaylen, who continue to provide inspiration and moments of laughter that fuel my energy and motivation. I am very proud of all three of you for making education your priority. Finally, a special dedication to my parents, Nelson and Isadore Hayle, deceased, who were always proud of me.