There are many memories from my military career that will last a lifetime, such as scrubbing a toilet (or head, as it’s referred to in the Navy) with a toothbrush, and standing at attention for countless hours in the rain. I will carry some of those memories to my deathbed.

But believe it or not, those subservient and meaningless tasks have paved my way to success–both as a nurse and on a more personal level. I would never have known what it is to be a leader if I had not experienced the role of being a follower. The military philosophy is that these types of tasks help recruits build character and develop a disciplined life. In actuality, my superiors were instilling in me the values of pride in one’s work, respect for authority and time management.

Of course, it would be easier to perform a task with the proper tools, such as cleaning toilets with a toilet brush. However, completing the job as ordered, under less than optimal conditions, instills humility as well as a greater appreciation for cleanliness. It is also far better to learn how to follow orders on the floor of a barracks toilet than when soldiers’ lives are at stake.

I have been very fortunate to have had great role models and mentors in the military. I became who I am today–a proud Hispanic American nurse patriot and leader–because of the time, energy and devotion that these people have invested in me. With their help, I was able to break free from the social and economic stereotypes of my Hispanic ethnicity and achieve my dreams of success.
One of my most life-changing experiences with mentorship in the military occurred during my first duty station as an enlisted Navy seaman at Camp Smith, Hawaii, where I served from 1975 to 1979. My first supervisor in the Navy recommended that I go to college. He also offered me the opportunity to explore the field of health care by learning about the Camp Smith clinic.

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I followed through with both suggestions. I learned about sick call, pharmacy, lab and supply, and on my off-duty days, I attended Leeward Community College. Little did this mentor know that he would be the first person to start opening doors of opportunity for a young Hispanic woman from an impoverished background–doors that would lead to a 27-year career in the health care profession.

Much later, when my career as a young lieutenant was starting to take off, I was asked to report to the chief nurse’s office. This encounter, too, helped shape my life as a future leader. He told me that as an officer, people would have to respect the bars on my shoulders, but respect as a person was something I would have to earn. Another valuable lesson he taught me was that any respect I hoped to receive would be the result of my respecting those under my guidance and command.

One of the most significant awards I have received during my military career was a Meritorious Service Award for my role in an Army Reserve active duty training mission called “Golden Medic 2001.” I am especially proud of this award because I was nominated not by my superior officers but by a junior officer serving under me, Amanda Parham-Roshell, 1LT, AN. I had personally trained and mentored this young lieutenant, just as others had once done for me.

In nominating me for the award, she wrote: “LTC Hazlett went above and beyond the call of duty because she single-handedly taught each junior officer the ins and outs of operating a field hospital. Without her knowledge, experience and great leadership skills, our mission would have failed. Because our mission was a success, LTC Hazlett earned respect from all those under her command.”
In other words, the chief nurse had been absolutely right. A good leader will value every opportunity to influence a young person to aspire to greater heights. As a leader, one of the most important parts of my mission is to develop our future leaders.

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Poverty and Pride

Today I am a wife, mother, nurse, PhD candidate and a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army Reserves. But if it hadn’t been for the military, I would have proceeded down quite a different road. I have come a long way from my roots in South Texas.

I grew up without knowing my parents. My brother and I were reared by our maternal grandparents after our mother’s death when I was three years old. My father killed her in a jealous rage and was imprisoned. My grandparents were illiterate and not fluent in the English language, but my grandfather gave us loving care. Our household was run on pride, responsibility and the love of a man who accepted a parenting role at the time when most men his age were poised to live out the remainder of their days in leisure.

I became a teenage wife and mother in a small town where prejudice was quite active, and I lived literally on the wrong side of the tracks. It would have been easy for me to have become a statistic. The military provided the means for me to pursue an alternate path and take control of my life. Serving in the military has supplied me with the characteristics needed to succeed as a dependable worker and as a leader. I have had to work very hard, but the result is a life founded on loyalty, duty, respect, service, honor, integrity and personal courage.

My military career started as a Navy seaman recruit in 1975. I transferred to the Army in 1983 after completing a BSN degree from the University of Texas at Austin. I received my master’s in nursing from Texas Woman’s University in 1988 and I’m currently working on my doctorate. In addition, I have completed all the military schools in a career progression: Officer Basic School, Officer Advance School, Combined Arms and Services Staff School, and Command and General Staff College.

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I have gained much from the educational benefits the military has to offer. By covering the cost of my tuition, the military has enabled me to continually advance my education in a way that would have been impossible on my own. Even now, after all my educational benefits have been exhausted, the state of Texas is paying for my doctoral studies under the Hazelwood Act, which was established to assist Texas veterans.

Today I am proud to say that I have been mobilized as an Army nurse for the second time in my career. In 1991 I answered Operation Desert Storm’s call, and I am now responding to our present situation in the Persian Gulf: Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. I am stationed at a medical facility in Landstuhl, Germany. During the war in Iraq, we were the primary medical center for treating soldiers coming from the front lines. We were very busy. It has been a very different experience for me. These soldiers are outstanding, very dedicated to our country. They are real heroes!

Helping Those Who Come After

As a Hispanic, I want to be a leader and role model for the next generation of my people. I have read all the dreadful statistics about the problems affecting our Hispanic youth: teenage pregnancy, high rate of school dropouts, high unemployment, etc. Hispanic Magazine recently published a series of articles about our “crisis in education.”1 We desperately need to make strides with this generation. We must be active and diligent in voicing our concerns.

Hispanics are the most rapidly growing segment of the U.S. population. In my state of Texas, we are the largest minority ethnic group.2, 3 Unfortunately, we are also number one in health disparities. We have very high rates of illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. We have pronounced problems with obesity, linked to our high consumption of dietary fat and fewer daily servings of fruits and vegetables.4, 5, 6 There has also been a rapid increase in the number of HIV infections.7 Our Hispanic families are more likely to live in poverty than the majority population.8, 9

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As a Hispanic nurse, I’m an advocate for recruiting more Hispanic students into the profession. Spanish-speaking nurses can provide linguistically and culturally competent care and also serve as role models and mentors for our young people. However, I encourage Hispanic youth to seek success in other careers as well. I do think nursing is a great profession that enables you to really make a difference, but my focus is on promoting success.

While the military lifestyle is not for everyone, I am living proof that serving in the armed forces can help minority nurses open doors to education, career advancement and personal fulfillment that might otherwise have remained closed to them. My own success story could have easily gone in the other direction without the mentors and leadership opportunities afforded to me by the military. I could have contributed to the disparaging statistics that are being quoted about our Hispanic population. Consequently, I am a strong advocate for educating our people, because I know firsthand the difference it can make.

References

1.  Rodriguez Valladares, M. 2003. “From the Beginning. . .There Needs to Be Light!” Hispanic Magazine: 20-25.
2. U.S. Census Bureau. “Texas QuickFacts,” http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/48000.html.
3.  Scharrer, Gary. 2001. “Hispanics Account for 60% of State’s Growth.”  El Paso Times, electronic version.
4.  Elder, John, Woodruff, Susan I., Candelaria, J., Golbeck, A., Alvarez, J.L., Criqui, Michael H., Norquist, Craig D., Rupp, Joan W. 1998.  “Socioeconomic Indicators Related to Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in Hispanics.” American Journal of Health Behavior, May/June 1998, Vol. 22, No. 3, 172-185.
5.  Mays, Vickie M., Yancey, Antronette K., Cochran, Susan D., Weber, Mark, Fielding, Jonathan E. 2002. “Heterogeneity of Health Disparities Among African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American Women: Unrecognized Influences of Sexual Orientation.” American Journal of Public Health, April 2002, Vol. 92, No. 4, 632-639.
6.  Apodaca, J., Woodruff, Susan I., Candelaria, J., Elder, John, Zlot, Amy. 1997. “Hispanic Health Program Participant and Nonparticipant Characteristics.” American Journal of Health Behavior, Sept./Oct. 1997, Vol. 21, No. 21, 356-364.
7.  Greeley, Alexandra. 1995. “Concern About AIDS in Minority Communities.” FDA Consumer, Vol. 29, Nos. 10, 11.
8.  U.S. Census Bureau. “U.S. Hispanic Population: 2000,” http://www.census.gov/
9.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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