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Know a Nurse, Know a hero

Civilian flight nurse Rick Connolly 2007. (Photo courtesy Rick Connolly)

Courtesy Story

U.S. Army Warrior Care and Transition

Know a Nurse, Know a hero
By MaryTherese Griffin, Warrior Care and Transition

ARLINGTON, Va. – Florence Nightingale was a very real person. The English Nurse founded what is known as professional nursing back in 1853. Even 165 years later when we celebrate nursing on her birthday May 6th, she is referred to as a hero because of her work during the Crimean wars. When we are sick and someone, anyone, cares for us we often use the Florence Nightingale analogy…we think of that caregiver as a hero. Anyone who receives help from a professional nurse often refers to them as a hero. Well, nurse heroes have heroes too.

Former paramedic turned Civilian Flight Nurse, then turned Army Reserve Officer Rick Connolly is a prime example. The Warrior Care and Transition Action Officer took a path and found a hero.

“I have the utmost respect for my previous paramedic partner John P. Gritz. Col. (Ret) Gritz is a 20+ year active duty Special Forces veteran who served in Vietnam. After retiring from the Army, he still wanted to serve and became a paramedic at an age when most wouldn’t even consider it as a profession. He also started nursing school, but had to retire due to medical complications stemming from his years as a Special Forces Soldier. Col. Gritz was a leader within our Emergency Medical Services community and was very well respected and liked.”

Early on in his home state of Minnesota, Connolly considered nursing as a career change during his years as a paramedic. “In the latter half of the 1990’s into the early 2000’s, there was a nursing shortage. Many of my paramedic co-workers – both men and women – were going to nursing school for better employment opportunities. Nursing at that time was offering significant sign-on bonuses and jobs were plentiful, with good starting wages well above the highest paramedic pay,” said Connolly.

But beyond the higher pay was a higher calling for Connolly. “I wanted to be a part of something bigger and make a difference to our warriors that serve our nation. I wanted to take that opportunity,” he said.

When Connolly had the opportunity to receive a commission in the Army, his hero was there.

“I had Col. (Ret) Gritz provide my oath of office when I was commissioned in 2006. Col. (Ret) Gritz’s family is all about service: His father was a nurse, and all of his brothers served in the military. His brother Toby is immortalized on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. Toby was a Marine aviator who died in Vietnam,” according to Connolly.

While remembering the legacy of his hero, Connolly reflects on his path to nursing, or “mursing” as he amusingly calls it since he is one of three hundred and thirty thousand male nurses today.

“What I enjoy is opportunity. I have many choices of employment and job types. I loved my years as a Flight Nurse and really enjoy serving in the Army Reserves as it provides far more opportunities than just nursing,” noted Connolly. My Registered Nursing degree was the conduit to becoming a Commissioned Officer and I have chosen to perform more leadership roles that don’t involve direct patient care,” said Connolly.

From Nurse case management to support Army Readiness to being in charge of Soldier Readiness while at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, Connolly has found his path with a hero to guide. Heroes like Florence Nightingale whose keen business sense kept hospitals open in England helped pave the way for the more than three million nurses in the US today. Connolly is proud to be one and proud of his nursing skills gift to the Army.

“I think Army Reserve nurses are force multipliers in that we bring real-world experience and current practice from so many areas in nursing that may not always present themselves to the active component. My leadership skills gained in the military also carry back to my civilian career,” said Connolly.

Happy Birthday to some of the greatest heroes among us, Nurses.

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