Nursing in Desert Storm

Attending classes at Riverside School of Professional Nursing (RSPN) was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had since beginning my career.  I came to RSPN as an advanced placement student and later attended classes in the evening/weekend program.  Things were going really well as I worked toward my goal to become a professional nurse and I felt as though nothing could stand in my way.  The instructors and staff are true professionals with an inherent ability to convey the concepts needed to produce excellence in nursing.

Then, on August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein sent his infamous Republican Guard into Kuwait in what later was termed a “…brutal act of aggression” in a speech made by President George Bush.  With the Iraqi invasion came my deployment to Saudi Arabia and a temporary postponement of my education at RSPN.  Because I am an Army Combat Medic, the reality of providing quality care in any environment was challenging and profound.

As I write this article, I am assigned to one of the Army’s Logistical Support Vessels and am responsible for the health and safety of her 32-man crew.  While the ship is seaworthy enough, the potential for injury lurks at every turn.  Precautions are taken to reduce these risks; however, at sea and in combat, the situation can radically change in seconds – and usually does! 

Providing care for the crew includes everything from immunizations to emergency life support.  Fortunately, the ship is equipped well enough to handle most any situation until the next echelon of care can be reached.  If close enough to a port, MEDEVAC services can be utilized when needed.  When we are at sea, beyond such help, it is up to me!  When I need advice for care, or an order for medication, a communication link is established to the nearest medical facility.

After 44 days at sea, we finally arrived in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia near Dharhan.  From there we began our part of the operations necessary for the liberation of Kuwait.  We would frequently find ourselves incredibly close to enemy Iraqi forces, but our biggest threat was the deadly mines placed in the Persian Gulf.  That kind of stressful situation for prolonged periods makes for trying times, but the crew coped well and God was with us.  Working with those who seemed to need a friend during these difficult times not only helped them to express their feelings, but helped me as well.

Using the skills I’ve been taught is paramount to a solid commitment to the concept of  “patient care” – even if the patient is an enemy prisoner of war.  After all, they are human too and deserve the same standard of care.  The POW’s are scared and often are in pain.  Moreover, their basic human needs, as defined by Maslow, are further denigrated by the malnourished state that is commonplace among them.  And there is a language barrier to consider as well.  Generally, a creative way of communicating thoughts or ideas can be found with just a little effort.

During my tenure at Riverside School of Professional Nursing, I have been introduced to a whole new way of thinking about patient care.  Previously, my approach to patient care was very different.  My training dictated that concern should be for the mechanical processes required to sustain life and everything else came later.  While the mechanics for life are fundamentally important, I now view patients more holistically.  Opportunities to apply concepts learned in school have enhanced my appreciation for their value.

With war comes an incredible amount of stress.  A nurse in this situation cannot simply go home and “unwind” after a particularly hard day. Here, every day is hard, and you don’t ever really let down.  You cope.  We are taught to separate work from home and to maintain a therapeutic relationship with our patients. 

When you live and work with your patients, you must learn to be a care provider and team member at the same time.  Maintaining a professional therapeutic relationship in this situation requires patience and the willingness to frequently review your own beliefs and attitudes.  During times of frustration, I would say to myself, “Patient first.”  It didn’t always work, but more often than not, it helped.

My decision to become a nurse is a personal goal that has benefited many.  Serving our country by using the skills I’ve learned to insure the way of life we enjoy was necessary.  With the coming of peace, I will return to my loving family and to Riverside School of Professional Nursing.

W. Bryan Sims, Student Nurse

Operation Desert Storm

Aboard a U.S. Army Logistical Support Vessel


Editor’s note:  Bryan Sims returned home safely from the war in the Middle East, and  continued his studies at Riverside School of Professional Nursing.

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