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Air Force nurses and staff at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center celebrated the 64th birthday of the United States Air Force Nurse Corps July 1.

During the celebratory program held in their honor, Walter Reed Bethesda Commander, Rear Adm. Alton L. Stocks, and Deputy Commander for Nursing, Navy Capt. Patrice Bibeau, praised nurses for what they do at the Nation’s Medical Center, caring for wounded warriors and their families.

Keynote speaker at the program, Air Force Col. Marla Buckles, the 779th Medical Group chief nurse at Joint Base Andrew’s Malcolm Grow Medical Clinic, explained the evolution of the Air Force Nurse Corps. She said Capt. Lillian Kinkella Keil was the most decorated woman in American military history. An Air Force flight nurse pioneer, Keil was a stewardess when the U.S. entered War World II. She joined the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) and by 1943, was serving in England treating the wounded. Keil also flew on 425 combat evacuation missions, took part in 11 major campaigns, including the D-Day invasion of France, the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in Korea. Awarded 19 medals for her heroism during World War II including pulling wounded and frostbitten crewmen out of B-17s returning from bombing raids over Europe and credited with tending to 10,000 wounded service members, Keil’s experiences were used as the basis for a 1954 Hollywood movie, “Flight Nurse.”

Buckles explained the original Air Force Nurse Corps emerged from the Army Nurse Corps in 1949 when 1,199 nurses were transferred over to the newly-formed Air Force branch. The Air Force Nurse Corps’ first chief was Col.

Verena Marie Zeller, who served in the position from 1949 to 1956. In 1955, the Air Force Nurse Corps first accepted male nurses as Reserve officers, and six years later, males were commissioned as active duty nurses in the Air Force.

In 1970, Ethel Ann Hoefly, a pioneer in flight nursing, was the first Air Force Nurse Corps chief promoted to brigadier general. Maj. Gen. Barbara Brannon became the first two-star general to lead the Air Force Nurse Corps in 2003, Buckles continued.

Maj. Gen. Kimberly A. Sinscalchi has led the Air Force Nurse Corps since 2008, and she also serves as Assistant Air Force Surgeon General, Medical Force Development. She leads a Total Nursing Force in the Air Force of more than 18,000 members including active duty, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, civilians and contractors, according to Air Force officials.

“Nursing is a profession vital to the success of our health care system,” Sinscalchi said before the U.S. Senate in 2009. “Our top priorities include, first and foremost, delivering the highest quality of nursing while concurrently staging for joint operations today and tomorrow. Our warriors and their families deserve nothing less than skilled and educated nurses and technicians who have mastered the art of caring. It is the medic’s touch, compassion, and commitment that often wills the patients to recovery and diminishes the pain.”

The Walter Reed Bethesda celebration concluded with the traditional birthday cake cutting by the youngest and longest serving members of corps in attendance. After Buckles and 1st Lt. Amanda Higdon cut the cake, they shared a piece, symbolizing the passing of knowledge from one generation to another.