Bajan Colonel Sawyer
Highly decorated nurse prepares to retire from military
Colonel Wendy Sawyer is a highly decorated nurse in the United States Army Nurse Corps. She climbed from her start in the direct commission to Second Lieutenant and staff nurse to where she is now — Colonel and Chief of the Department of Hospital Education at Brooke Army Medical Centre.
The Barbadian-American has lived in the US for 42 years. However, her roots are firmly planted in Rockley, Christ Church and Marley Vale, St Philip.
Born to Rupert and Vida Millar, Sawyer was naturally a smart child. Her mother recounted several calls she received regarding her daughter’s edge above classmates in school. Besides having a big brain, Millar described her daughter as quiet with a love for books and a drive to succeed.
Millar revealed that from a young age, Sawyer showed signs of wanting to help others, thus sparking her interest in the medical field. This was shown through toy medical kits and the substitution of needles for matchsticks to give injections.
In September 1974, Sawyer took a plane to Brooklyn, New York where her new exciting adventure began. Leaving Barbados behind, she reunited with her parents who had made the move a few years prior. Sawyer recalled the feelings of fear and nervousness shared with her brother Gilfoyle Mason and sister Marva Millar-Williams.
Upon touching down in the U.S, there were many changes to adapt to. The warmth of 80 degrees full of sunshine in Barbados quickly faded to the cold darkness of Brooklyn. Not to mention being enclosed by skyscrapers and seeing persons drive on the “wrong” side of the road. The coldness of people also took some warming up to.
She also had to adjust to the American accents, spelling changes, basic adding and subtracting differences and a new neighbourhood, and an end of frolicking outside which was a norm in Barbados.
“I always had a passion for anything medical,” Sawyer said, disclosing that initially she wanted to become a doctor. The difficulties of the course at college, along with the thought of eight years of additional school, quickly altered her path to nursing.
After graduating from City College of the City University of New York, Sawyer wanted to do something different. Unlike her classmates who planned to return to their parents’ home and settle in one state, it was her dream to see the world.
The jumpstart to her career began in the military in 1986 with a three-year contract in San Antonio, Texas. The initial plan was to finish the contract, settle in Texas and find a job. However, three years turned into a 30-year career in which Sawyer achieved her wish to see the world while doing what she loves most.
Recounting a time she was stationed in Germany for three years, a part of her dream was fulfilled after visiting France, Belgium, Italy, England and other European countries.
Italy stood out most because of its attractions like the Vatican Museum. Describing the cuisine as fattening, she admitted that she didn’t miss a meal and fell in love with a delicious pasta seafood medley of shellfish, muscles and scallops.
Being a military nurse, Sawyer has encountered other nurses of different ethnicities, races and nationalities and her knowledge grew through sharing new ways of thinking. Sawyer also loved the idea of moving every two to three years, allowing her to keep her rank while exploring the world.
One of her most memorable moments was responding to a plane crash at Pope Air Force Base. At the time, she was in North Carolina to attend to a patient. The mass casualty called for rapid response to save the crew members and paratroopers. They were then triaged, treated and brought back to the only burns unit in the military in San Antonio.
A Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal and National Defense Service Medal are among Sawyer’s decorations. She gives her mother all the credit for every success.
Respecting the value of discipline which her mother instilled along with having a good work ethic, Sawyer acknowledged they played a central role in her accomplishments. While her family was not the most privileged, she expressed sincere appreciation for her mother’s hard work to make the best life possible for her children.
Millar said her three days spent in labour were worth it as she was proud of all of her daughter’s successes and loved the closeness of their relationship.
For any young girl wishing to pursue a similar career path, Sawyer shared the one lesson she learnt which is flexibility.
“Go for it but go with an open mind,” she emphasized, noting young girls tend to be disappointed when they are unable to reach short-term goals. “All assignments will not be exciting but they are chances to learn and grow; however, having a degree creates more opportunities,” she added.
The perfectionist aspect of her personality keeps her going as she pursues every goal set until completion. Sawyer believes that she is accomplished when she is able to enhance the next person’s quality of life.
Sawyer expressed her love for Barbados, and while she will always visit, there has not been a thought to returning home permanently. As of now, Colonel Wendy Sawyer, whose army career is coming to an end, plans to spend her much deserved retirement in San Antonio.