KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - During the cool hours on Forward Operating Base Sweeney, which is situated in a mountain valley in southern Afghanistan, a woman with a beautiful and seemingly carefree smile sits under shade at a picnic table. Beneath the amiable surface of Capt. Dianne James, at her core layers of character, lie years of countless victories over struggle and hardship.
James is a U.S. Soldier originally from Kingston, Jamaica, who serves as an operating room nurse as well as officer in charge of the OR for the 250th Medical Detachment (Forward Surgical) Airborne, 62nd Medical Brigade. Disappointments and perceived setbacks in her life have taught her to take life a day at a time, she said. In her response to her circumstances, she chose early on not be a victim.
Capt. Dianne James, a native of Kingston, Jamaica, who serves as an operating room nurse and officer in charge of the OR for the 250th Medical Detachment (Forward Surgical) Airborne, 62nd Medical Brigade, assists her coworker, Maj. Fernando Lopez Jr., a native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, who serves as chief certified registered nurse anesthetist for the 250th Med. Det., in demonstrating how to insert an oral airway to Afghan National Army soldiers on Forward Operating Base Sweeney, Afghanistan, June 25, 2014. Sgt. Raymond Macmarius, a native of Idaho, who serves the 250th Med. Det. as a medic, was the patient during the class, which was conducted for the 1st Kandak, 2nd Battalion, 205th Corps. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston)
“My mom always worked, and she always worked hard, but always struggled to support us,” James said. “She left my dad when I was very young due to his abusive nature and alcoholism... Watching my mom go from the early morning hours to late at night, always fighting for us, really left an impression on me.”
Watching her mother, Gloria McPherson suffer on behalf of her children would foreshadow a stewardship for James that most people would deem too great for a child to take on, but that would provide the framework of her character. It started when her mother's monetary assets ran dry.
“The company that my mother worked for was going out of business, so I think she got up one day and thought, ‘What am I going to do?'” James said. “She was talking to friends in the U.S. I felt like something big was going on, and then we got a phone call from her and she said, ‘Look, I'm leaving and you can't tell anybody.' The next day she was gone, and she entered the states to seek work.”
James explained that when her mother left, she left her and her four siblings, ranging from age six to fourteen, with relatives.
“So my poor aunt took on a lot more than she realized. One day I had it out with her, as teenagers are prone to do with authority figures. She said, ‘I don't have to put up with this,' so she left us, and from then on we pretty much raised ourselves,” said James.
Essentially alone in the world, James' survival instinct kicked in and she began to lead her family as chief parental figure.
“My oldest sister, Yvette, was 14 and was always very timid, and I was always more assertive,” James explained, “so I took charge and became a mom at age 13. I made sure that everybody went to school, and made sure I went to school as well.”
Perhaps one reason for James' resolve to push forward as she did was because of her attitude toward her mother's motives for leaving.
“There is a lot that she could have done. She could have given up,” James said. “She sent money when she could. She left us in hopes to try and make things better for us.”
James chooses to optimistically reflect on the nature of her past.
“A lot of people hurt us... a lot of people took advantage of us,” James said with tears in her eyes, “but there were a lot of people who helped us too.”
“I had really good friends in high school and college,” James said, “who didn't have much, but would always make sure that I got something to eat. I knew that not getting an education was not an option, so I had to rely on the kindness of those who knew our situation.”
Seven years passed before James or her siblings saw their mother again, when she was granted amnesty.
“One day I came home from work and my mom was there, and I couldn't believe that I was seeing her,” James said smiling. “I had dreamed about it for so long, but...you just think it's never going to happen. I remember talking to her late into every night t she was there.”
Amnesty in hand, James's mother could begin bringing the family to Queens, N.Y., where she was living. Over the next seven years she strove to bring the family to the states. James, the last to go, found herself in a difficult situation.
“By the time the paperwork went through I was 27 or 28 years old and I had established myself,” James said. “I honestly didn't really want to leave. But when my sister Yvette left with her kids, I missed them so much because we had all been moms and dads to those kids. So I changed my mind and left.”
Upon arriving in Queens, James explained that she found a good job as a secretary for a public relations firm, but was living in a two-bedroom apartment with her mom, four other siblings, as well as three nieces and nephews. One day, after a year in Queens, she saw an advertisement on the television that inspired her to do something bigger than herself.
“It sounded pretty cool, and it offered me a way to go to college, so I talked with a recruiter, and six months later was in the Army,” James said.
James explained that for the next 10 years she developed her skills as an operating room technician, all the while working toward getting her prerequisites done for a bachelor's of science in nursing so she could further her career in the Army as an officer through the Army Enlisted Commissioning Program in 2006.
James' service in the Army inspired her sister Donnette Clay to join the Army, and she is currently a chief warrant officer 3 serving a personnel manager for 5th Army. James' career in healthcare inspired her sister Bridget James to seek a career in nursing in the emergency room in Jersey City, N.J., and her niece, Monique Lindo, also joined the Army and is currently a sergeant serving in human resources with the 45th Sustainment Brigade, Central Command Material Recovery Element. James and Lindo are currently serving a deployment simultaneously on KAF. James is on her second deployment to Afghanistan and serves on a Forward Surgical Team.
The FST is an asset that goes far forward with infantry units into remote areas to give trauma care on the battlefield if needed, explained coworker and friend Maj. Fernando Lopez Jr., a native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, who serves as chief certified registered nurse anesthetist for the 250th Med. Det. (FS), 62nd Med. Bde.
“The higher the level of care that you provide far forward, the more lives, limbs, and eye sight you can save,” he said.
James' experience in taking care of people has made her an invaluable asset to her team in the operating room. She is meticulously responsible for everything that goes on in her realm.
“She's in charge of the heart and soul of this unit,” said Maj. Anne Saladyga, a native of Cuba, N.Y., who serves as commanding officer and general surgeon for the 250th Med. Det. “The unit has the most equipment, the most technical skills and Capt. James is a very driven, detail oriented, and uncompromising worker.”
James has many opportunities and decisions to make in the near future to further her medical career in the Army. She has 18 years of service and is eligible for promotion. She explained that she will make those decisions as they present themselves, having already overcome a difficult past she will continue to strive for success.
By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston
Provided through DVIDS
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