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
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.
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
“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.
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
“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.
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 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
“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
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