Air Force Capt. Gina Fasciani, stationed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), was just named as a 2012 Military Leadership Award winner by the United Service Organization (USO). The WRNMMC critical care nurse was honored Tuesday at the USO's 46th Woman of the Year Luncheon held at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.
The award is granted to one woman in each branch of service who inspires and uplifts the spirits of her comrades, military families and the American people through her selfless commitment to country.
"Captain Gina Fasciani exudes courage and leadership," wrote Air Force Maj. Daniel Donohue, about the nurse presently assigned to the 79th Medical Wing, 779th Medical Group, 779th Medical Operations Squadron, Joint Base Andrews, Md., and works in the Medical Intensive Care Unit at WRNMMC. He called her "a portrait of a nurse who epitomizes all that the 'Battlefield Guardian' embodies," to inspire future generations.
Donohue, a flight commander for critical care at WRNMMC, nominated Fasciani for the award and cited her recent deployment to Afghanistan, where she served as the critical care nursing expert for a surgical operating team based at Forward Operating Base Ghazni from March to October 2011. She is credited with ensuring a 99 percent survival rate and directly treating 380 trauma patients, of which 342 required emergency transfer to a higher level of care.
"While under indirect fire, she [left] the safety of the bunker, put on her battle gear and ran to her patients to ensure their safety," according to Donohue.
What made Fasciani stand out are the extra duties she willingly volunteered to help the community, explained her award nominator. "She was pivotal in leading a mentoring program for Afghan women that met weekly with 30 Afghan female leaders for counsel on educational and cultural awareness," Donohue wrote. "These women took those values and shared them with other women in their villages. This use of education highlights effective health diplomacy that is integral to the stabilization of a nation torn by war."
During her off time while deployed, Fasciani coordinated 34 events to increase morale among her fellow service members. The Airman also received the Army Achievement Medal, the NATO International Security Assistance Force Medal, and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal for her service during her deployment to Afghanistan.
The 28-year-old Littleton, Colo., native joined the Air Force in 2007, and completed a critical care nursing fellowship at the former National Naval Medical Center prior to her assignment in the intensive care unit at the military treatment facility in 2009.
Fasciani said she enjoys the mental challenge of thinking on her feet in the fast-paced environment of the ICU as well as being part of an interdisciplinary team. She said it's an honor to be with her patients, "the sickest of the sick" in their time of greatest need. The nurse said she also enjoys working with their family members.
"A lot of work that we do is actually with the families, helping them to understand what's going on, helping them feel a part of the care that their loves ones are receiving," she explained.
Critical care nursing is a specialty, in demand, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. Why did she join the military when she could practice nursing in the civilian world?
"The honor of serving my country, being a part of something bigger than myself, and the patient population that we get to take care of is so unique and special," Fasciani explained. "I love taking care of the wounded warriors and that was a huge motivation."
The Air Force nurse said camaraderie is another reason. "My co-workers are a huge part of what makes me who I am and what makes me successful. [What] makes me excited to come to work is that I get to work with amazing people every day. People like other nurses and doctors who are motivated to learn and grow and make a difference in people's lives through medical care."
Fasciani described one early morning in Afghanistan that helped define her military nursing experience and confirmed her life's purpose. It was 2 a.m., and a large roadside bomb sent five Soldiers to the trauma bay. Two died on the way. Another, receiving CPR during the trip, died within minutes of his arrival. His wounded medic lay beside him, reaching for the dead Soldier, yelling, sobbing and refusing pain medication for his own injuries.
"As I stood there in the midst of chaos and pain, I just held the hand of this medic and cried with him there in the trauma bay," said the nurse, who explained her team was able to save and stabilize both the medic and other surviving Soldier.
Her 20-hour work day ended with a "hero ceremony."
"As I helped drape the coffins of three heroes with U.S. flags, I was overcome with a feeling of such honor. Who was I that I could be the one to drape the U.S. flag over their heroes?" Fasciani asked. After a somber nighttime ceremony with prayer and taps on a helicopter pad under the stars, the nurse helped transport the fallen Soldiers into the waiting Blackhawk while her comrades stood in salute.
"It was a painfully beautiful experience that has both confirmed my passion for what I do as well as defined who I am as a person," she said. "Nursing is definitely not a glamorous job, but I wouldn't trade it for any other profession."