Military Nurses share their early experiences

Jo Evison and Erica Phillips are two friends with a rich military history.

Jo Evison and Erica Phillips are two friends with a rich military history. Both are veterans and between their two families they have nearly 113 years served in the military, and that’s just in modern wars. Between the two families they have had family members in both the Gulf Wars, the Balkan wars and in Afghanistan.

Both ladies originated from England and each had a different path that led them to the military, but both ended up serving as military nurses in Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Core.

“I always wanted to be a nurse,” Phillips said. “From the age of 13 I started looking at the military as an option for nursing because they provided the education at that time. I was at the recruiting office from the age of 15 until I finally joined at the age of 18 in 1983 and left 23 years later”

Evison’s journey was the complete opposite. She never had any inkling in joining the army. She was set on becoming a teacher but after getting bored at school and dropping out, she started to work at a grocery store. After her father learned what happened, Evison said he marched her down to the recruitment office and told her to do something useful and it was then that she found nursing.

Phillips and Evison have travelled to many different places and have each had different experiences. When Phillips joined, it was in the midst of the Cold War. She said while the conflict was all about the Soviet Union against everyone else, and there was a constant threat, the world was a stable place. Once the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, Pillips said it destabilized everything and the Gulf War was hot on the heels.

“Suddenly you go from training for a war that was going to be Russians versus the rest of the world to suddenly deploying to the Middle East in a completely different scenario than what people are trained for so it was a bit of a surprise,” Phillips said.

Evison left for the first Gulf war in the autumn of 1990. She said at first there was a lot of downtime and socializing. Then one night the sirens started going off.

“That was a real jolt. That was when we realized it was real.”

There was no threat, but Evison said it was a reminder of the situation they were in at the time. As military nurses Evison and Phillips each saw a lot of devastation and sometimes tragedy.

Phillips said each place she went was a different experience. When she went to Bosnia for the first time, she said the Bosnian women would bring their children to the base asking them to take their children with them in order to give them a better life.

“That was hard on everybody. That was something we all struggled with,” Phillips said.

That wasn’t the only experience Phillips had in Bosnia. The second time she was there she recalled a time when they had just sent out the first group of transports to get their flights home.

“An hour after they left we got a phone call telling us there had been a motor vehicle accident and to expect casualties,” Phillips said. “The casualties that came through the door were the very people we had just spent seven months with and we had just sent home. One of them was the fiancé of a member of our team and a couple of our medics. One of them I ended up taking home on life support so the parents could say goodbye before they turned the life support off.”

It was an experience that Phillips said makes an impact on you.

It wasn’t all bad memories though. For all the bad memories there are good memories also.

Phillips met her husband in Bosnia. They spent a lot of time together, living on the same base. There was a lot of time to get to know each other. After returning home, Phillips said they met up and went on a date and they never looked back.

Phillips and her family moved to Golden in 2006 and Evison followed with her family in 2015. Now both work for Interior Health.

Evison is the nursing manager at the Golden and District Hospital and Phillips is the Heath Services administrator for the East Kootenays. Phillips said her training as a military nurse has helped in her ability to adapt to situations.

“I think if it taught you anything, it was flexibility and the ability to adapt pretty quickly. When you think of the recent wildfires and floods, you’ve got effective experience in emergency preparedness.” Phillips said.

Reflecting back on their military service, Evison and Phillips say that Remembrance Day has taken on a different meaning.

“I think more so for me now that I’m out,” Evison said. “When I was younger it was a day I had to go to church and now it’s more of a reflective day. Now it’s more real to us. Growing up it was about the war and our grandparents. Now it’s friends and people our age that are being killed.”

“Whether or not they died or came back injured, if you think about all the people that have had their lives changed by conflict, or even just serving your country, even if you never went to an active war zone,” Phillips said. “The fact that you took time out of your life. I think it is time to reflect on that and to remember all the people that have been impacted.”

Phillips said when it comes to Remembrance Day, the celebration is everyone getting to live their lives as free people because of the sacrifices of others.

Through all the experiences, both good and bad, Evison and Phillips both agree that they wouldn’t change the experience for anything.

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