Monica Walsh Blankenship joined the U.S. Air Force in 1974 as a nurse. She spent two years at the David Grant USAF Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif. Over the subsequent five years, she was an active reserve flight nurse, primarily with the 65th Air Evacuation Squadron at Travis, and flew all across the Pacific theater. She left the Air Force in 1981 as a captain.
What drew you to enlist?
Blankenship: While working in Chicago, ironically, I had turned down a lucrative offer to work on the Alaskan pipeline; there was no way I was going to commit to something for two years! Three months later, I was commissioned in the Air Force. Go figure!
Having a brother who served in Vietnam with the Navy certainly nudged me toward the military. I had been peripherally involved with the AFROTC group from college, so I was getting encouragement there, too. But I primarily wanted to contribute in a different way, be a part of something bigger. The flying aspect was a lure, but there was more to it. I believe I was looking for more direction, adventure, newness — and thought, “Why not?!”
How has your military service influenced who you are today?
Caring for patients in the military let me comprehend some of their unique pain and circumstances and definitely contributed to being a better nurse. It also inspired me to go further in nursing, eventually earning my master’s degree while in the active reserves. I met my husband, a physician in the Air Force, while at Travis. So that time drastically impacted who I am today. After the Air Force years, we then lived overseas for 17 years, a much easier transition because of our military experience. My Air Force years broadened my horizons geographically and intellectually, brought me lifelong friends and the love of my life.
When it comes to discussing service with a veteran, what advice would you offer citizens who have not served?
For people who have not served, I would advise an awareness that, just as many veterans love to tell their story, there are those that find it painful and choose not to talk in any depth about their experiences. That needs to be respected. Keep in mind, too, that some veterans feel “unworthy” of interest because they were not deployed or in combat. Recognize whatever their role was and convey that it was important. Keep questions general and listen. Being genuinely interested beyond “thank you for your service” is appreciated and rewarding.