Kent State Nursing & ROTC: Three Alums Connected by Service & Leadership
A reunion more than twenty years in the making took place earlier this year for three Kent State University nursing and Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) alums. In February, senior nurses across the Army Nurse Corps met for an annual leadership training in San Antonio, TX. It was there that Colonel Amanda Forristal, BSN '93, Deputy Commander for Nursing at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, Fort Campbell, KY; Colonel Michael W. Greenly, MS, BSN '92, RN-BC, PMP, CHIMS, Program Director, Clinical Informatics Policy at Health Affairs in the Pentagon; and Lieutenant Colonel Jennifer Huxel, BSN '98, Deputy Commander for Nursing and Patient Services at Reynold's Army Health Clinic, Fort Sill, OK, reconnected. “All three of us commissioned as Second Lieutenants into the Army from the Kent State ROTC battalion,” said Forristal. “We fondly remember our days as a cadets and students. We reminisced on the leadership and nursing skills we learned while at Kent State, skills we have aptly applied throughout our careers.”
Although Forristal and Greenly had graduated before Huxel was a freshman, Huxel said that sharing a Kent State nursing and ROTC commonality connected them. “I had met Colonel Forristal two years ago at a conference, but we’d never had the opportunity to work together, which is surprising since she is a midwife and I work in obstetrics,” said Huxel. February was the first time she had met Greenly, and similar to her first meeting with Forristal, there was a feeling of comradery and look at us now. “I didn’t have their mentorship as a student, but they are mentors for me now. They are both a great support system.”
While each was drawn to nursing for different reasons, they all shared a desire to help others. “I wanted to do something bigger than myself,” explained Greenly, who initially joined the Army as a Combat Medic when he was 17 years old. “Watching people get better and helping them laugh made me feel good. I love to see others happy.”
When it came time to select a university, Forristal and Huxel sought out Kent State’s nursing program because of its strong reputation and convenience to home. “I was on the fence between teaching and nursing,” remembered Huxel. “I liked that the nursing students were exposed to clinical rotations in their sophomore year. I figured worst case scenario I could always switch programs in my junior year, but I loved it!” Greenly chose Kent State over Ohio State’s nursing program based on the College review book available at the Schofield Education Center on Post. “I was living in Schofield Barracks, HI, at the time. I was asked to choose a university program in line with my Army Medic role,” he said. “I knew nursing was primarily a female dominated field, but I felt it would be the best fit for me. Kent State also happened to be close to my family.”
According to Kent State University ROTC Recruiting Officer Bill Terry, the ROTC program provides university students with the same leadership development curriculum cadets receive at an academy. “ROTC is designed to be a four-year program, but students can come in as late as their junior year; however, they will be responsible for completing all of the material they missed,” said Terry. “Nursing students traditionally do very well in the ROTC because they already have a mindset of service to mankind and their nation.”
Forristal first learned about the ROTC program and its nursing scholarship opportunities from her high school guidance counselor. “With Kent State's great nursing program and the ROTC's mission to commission nurses, the timing worked out great for me." She received a full, four-year ROTC scholarship and joined as an incoming freshman.
Having grown up in a military family, Huxel wasn’t sure if she would take the same path. However, when her parents explained they would only be able to assist with a portion of her education, she knew she needed to find another way to pay for school. Huxel’s father, himself a Kent State ROTC alum, told her about the ROTC nursing scholarship opportunity. She was awarded a four-year nursing ROTC scholarship and officially signed with the ROTC at the end of her freshman year. While her father was proud of her decision, it was her grandfather, who had served as a field artillery officer in the Battle of the Bulge, who was most excited to see one of his 22 grandchildren follow in his military footsteps.
Unlike the others, when Greenly began at Kent State, he did not have any interest in the ROTC program. “I didn’t apply for the ROTC at first. I was primarily going to use my Army education benefit and focus solely on completing my nursing program,” he explained. It wasn’t until Greenly met an ROTC recruiter in the Student Center as a freshman and learned about the different opportunities available to students did he consider joining the battalion. “In the end, the ROTC paid for my tuition and I used my Army benefit to cover room and board,” he said. “They also waived my first-year requirements because of my prior service.”
Unlike their fellow cadets who may enter into a number of different career fields upon graduation, nursing ROTC students must become Army nurses. As a result, the ROTC provides various opportunities for nursing students to participate in special training exercises designed to provide them with an introduction and orientation to Army nursing, called the Cadet Nurse Training Program. These exercises provide the ROTC nursing cadets with a mentor for their last year before commissioning. “We went to a two-week summer camp in Fort Lewis, WA, and then we were dispersed to various military treatment facilities across the globe to practice for four weeks in clinical. I went to Fort Bliss in Texas and worked on a pediatric floor,” said Forristal. “I followed the Army nurse’s schedule and took care of the patients alongside her. It was an amazing experience. That program is actually still going on today; we had seven cadets at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital this summer.”
One particular ROTC nursing experience made a lasting impression on Greenly. “We had the opportunity to go to the Pentagon, Washington, D.C. and Walter Reed Army Medical Center. They had multiple Intensive care units, a huge OR, and an open-heart unit which really intrigued me,” recalled Greenly. “I could not get that visit out of my head. I just kept thinking about all the things I’d encountered. I wanted to go back there, and it ended up being my first duty station.”
As cadets progress though the ROTC program, many find junior year to be the toughest. “All cadets are required to attend the advanced ROTC camp, which is a formal leadership assessment at Fort Knox, KY,” said Terry. “Additionally, they are responsible for teaching the underclassmen so they can receive hands-on leadership training.” In order to balance the high expectations and demands of both the ROTC and nursing programs, Huxel said students need to be very disciplined. “I quickly figured out I needed balance. I had fun occasionally, but my emphasis had to be on successfully completing my programs.” Forristal and Greenly added that the flexibility of both programs contributed to their success. “Our battalion was very flexible. As a nursing student, there were days when I would go to clinical in Cleveland and had to be out the door before the sun came up,” said Forristal. “If the nursing students missed some of the physical training or a class, they worked with us to make it up. The battalion was really supportive in what we needed to do for our nursing program.”
In addition to leadership and mandatory Army training, Greenly says the ROTC taught him time management, backwards planning, and public speaking. “As a cadet, I had numerous opportunities to stand up in front of my peers and talk. I am very comfortable speaking publicly today because of those experiences.” As for Forristal and Huxel, they praised the ROTC for their mental resiliency and wisdom to listen to their noncommissioned officers (NCO). “As a newly commissioned second lieutenant, I outranked noncommissioned officers who had been in the Army for nearly a decade,” said Forristal. “But when I had questions, those were the individuals I went to. They knew the Army inside out. They knew what they were doing, and they weren’t going to steer me wrong.”
All three also acknowledged the strong education and training they received from Kent State College of Nursing. “We were exposed to many great clinical leaders and instructors,” said Huxel. “They were hard, but it was tough love.” Forristal commented that within six to seven weeks of arriving at her first hospital for active duty, she was the RN for the shift. “I had a strong NCO who worked in the nursery with me. I felt fully prepared.” Greenly remembers Kent State was adamant about teaching students to plan for the unexpected and know how to decrease the level of tension and anxiety in a room. “This knowledge is useful because if you're prepared for it, it's not as much of a surprise,” he said. “This foundation defines me as an Army nurse leader and as someone who cares about the people around me.”
As officers in the Army, Forristal, Greenly, and Huxel are required to constantly grow and expand their knowledge and leadership skills. “If you want to stay a staff nurse, there is that opportunity. You can be a civilian nurse at an Army hospital. But If you want to remain in the Army Nurse Corps, you're going to be led into leadership roles,” said Forristal. For Huxel, an opportunity to grow came about when she was selected as one of four recipients of the Command General Staff College/Intermediate Level Education one year in residency program at Fort Leavenworth, KS. “We learned about the various capabilities within the joint services, had distinguished visitors come speak, and developed our strategic learning as well,” said Huxel. “Having gone through this course, I am considered more competitive, which assists with advancement within the Army Nurse Corps. It has equipped me with the skills and the tools I need to be successful whether it's in the Army or in the civilian sector.”
Along with continued growth, mentorship plays an important role within the Army. “There are so many individuals who I can lean on,” said Forristal. “Whenever I have a question or concern about my career, nursing specific questions or need someone to talk with about a personal matter, I can reach out. What’s nice is the Army is small enough that you run into the same people over and over again.” Huxel explained that her mentors left their legacy by assisting in her growth. “Someday, they will retire and move on, but by investing in myself and others, they are helping the next generation of Army Nurses to be successful.”
Greenly never imagined he would have so many opportunities within the Army Nurse Corps. Thirty years of active duty in October 2019, with 27 of those years as an Army Nurse, he would not change a single event that has led him to this point today. “Every opportunity was a new skill to be learned and added a new step in my personal growth and development. I never dreamed life could be so adventurous. I’ve seen new places. I have the ability to walk in chaos and put order to it.” In his current role as Program Director, Clinical Informatics Policy at Health Affairs, Greenly serves the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, and his Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. In this role, Greenly ensures their vision is properly executed according to policy and that it is being carried out by services across the Military Health System. “The fact that I'm doing this job is a credit to the Kent State nursing and ROTC programs,” said Greenly. “They helped to mold me. The leaders and professors really helped me to understand I need to take care of what is most important today and work on the little things later. This job is the crème de la crème for me.”
Looking back over her career, Forristal commented that she never expected to remain in the Army Nurse Corps this long, but she and her family always look forward to finding out what the next assignment will bring. “We’ve been stationed in Alaska, Germany, Texas, Georgia, Kansas and now Kentucky. We also spent two years in Michigan when I was attending graduate school,” she said. “I have four children and they know that wherever we go is never permanent. After three or four years we are sent off on another adventure and get to discover new places to enjoy.”
In comparing and contrasting Army and civilian nursing, Forristal put it simply. “We’re all taking care of patients; that’s our priority. But the difference is Army Nurses have to be ready to go fight a war. We do extra trainings civilian nurses may not do. We have a saying that we’re on duty 24/7 because we can be called up at any time for anything.” While Forristal and Huxel have never been deployed, Greenly served a three-year tour in Germany with his wife, Renee, who is also a Kent State nursing alumna and a civilian nurse. Huxel added that civilian nurses may not have as many leadership opportunities or the same incentives to continue advancing their education.
To the current nursing students who may be trying to decide if the ROTC program is for them, Forristal, Greenly, and Huxel wish to encourage them to give it a chance.
“You will gain a lot of experience and it's fun. There are opportunities to travel, work in other hospitals and you're not strictly tied to one unit forever,” said Huxel. “The Army Nurse Corps will help you discover what you love about nursing.”
“Look into the ROTC and the limitless opportunities it provides. Life in the military and as a nurse is a marathon, it's not a sprint,” said Greenly. “You have to keep yourself going by remaining positive. That positive attitude helps tremendously to accomplish the mission, and in propelling your fellow soldiers to be successful.”
“Not everybody is cut out for the military and that’s okay. It is challenging, but if you can accept those challenges, try it out,” said Forristal. “We grow our nurses very quickly. If you want to specialize, there’s special training you can attend. Think of it as staying with the same company for many years and never losing your seniority, but your job can and will change as you grow.”
Nurses who have already completed their BSN are also encouraged to talk with a recruiter about joining the Army Nurse Corps. “If you are interested in loan repayment options or looking to relocate to a certain location, share those interests with a recruiter,” said Huxel. “We are always looking to recruit people who already have some nursing experience.”
All were in agreement: the Army builds its leaders very well. “We are well-rounded and have a great opportunity to do the greatest good in our society,” said Greenly. “We were prepared well. I can't thank Kent State enough for equipping me for the Army Nurse Corps and my professional life as a Registered Nurse. It really was an easy transition when I left the university, I was prepared for anything!”