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York County nurse retires after 32 years in Navy
Kathi Stayman spent the past 30 years of her life as a Navy nurse, serving in military hospitals stateside and overseas during two wars.
After receiving her bachelor's in nursing, she joined the Navy in 1983 for educational opportunities, she said.
"Sleeping out in a tent in the freezing cold, it may not be high on someone's list, but it certainly builds character," the 62-year-old Spring Garden Township resident said.
She thought joining the Navy would help her get her master's degree faster, but she found she didn't have much extra time. She eventually received her master's degree in business administration in 1998 from York College.
Joining the Navy: Stayman served in two hospitals in the 1980s, leaving her job in a neo-natal intensive care unit in 1987 to start a family.
She joined the reserves in 1988 and was deployed during the Gulf War in January 1991.
The challenges of being a working military mother meant keeping her son in kindergarten for an extra year because she was not sure he would be able to handle all of the changes.
"I didn't think it was his best interest to start in September or August because I thought I'd be leaving. I thought it would be too many changes for him," she said.
First deployment: Saudi Arabia was "rural," she said, and she lived in a tent.
It was cold at night, and supplies often arrived late. Sometimes she waited hours to make a phone call, and mail was sometimes searched, she said.
But it was there Stayman saw what she described as the most heartening moment she witnessed during her time in the Navy: U.S. Marines giving food to the Iraqi Republican Guard.
"Here they were to be a terrible enemy, and they were scared to death and were starving, and the Marines fed them," she said.
The Republican Guard didn't really fight, she said.
Deployed, again: Two decades later, in 2011, she served in Afghanistan at a NATO base for eight months.
"Being 20 years older, I was a little concerned," she said.
She said she was anticipating an experience similar to Saudi Arabia, but the supplies arrived regularly in Afghanistan and she had her pick of several different dining halls.
But the casualties were more horrific, she said.
"I don't think the Republican Guard were as threatening as the Taliban," she said.
Her base was attacked by rockets, but it was "rocket proof," she said.
"It was very annoying to do a lot of your work in Afghanistan because you'd have to be interrupted for a little bit," she said of the rocket attacks.
The worst of war: She spent much of her time in the Navy — 2004 to 2015 — at the post-anesthesia care unit at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
The wounded and maimed young men who came there left a lasting impression.
"They suffer so much when they come back; they have so many surgeries — and to watch the families be at their sides," she said.
She said a lot of the men were so young that many had parents at their sides instead of spouses.
"The young men are kind of stoic," she said. "They don't say too much. They just want to get back to normal as much as possible."
Retirement: Stayman retired from the Navy last month after serving the allowed maximum amount of 32 years.
"I figured it's best to allow the younger junior people to move up," she said.
After more than three decades of service, she didn't have kind words to say about war.
"I wish it never existed," she said.
But looking back, she said she enjoyed witnessing the leadership and culture of caring for the wounded being passed to another generation.
"When the young men are so dreadfully injured, it was an honor to take care for them and help save their life," she said.
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at firstname.lastname@example.org.