For the past two decades, thousands of American women and men have found themselves in harm's way during conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq nearly 7,000 miles across the Atlantic in Central Asia.
Ephrata native Michelle Lee Kline, Ph.D., and Dracut, Mass. native Jim Gorman met overseas while both serving in the Army. They were married when they returned to civil- ian life five years later. In all, Kline, a clinical psychologist, and Gorman, a combat medic, have more than 20 years active duty time between them including a total of six deployments in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan.
Married for eight years with two young daughters, the pair have taken their medical and military training with them into careers here in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Jim is a registered nurse working in the operating room at Well-Span Ephrata Community Hospital and Michelle is taking a break from her career as a clinical psychologist -specializing helping soldiers get back on their feet from trauma and PTSD - to be a stay-at home mom raising two active children. Michele remains a member of the military as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Pennsylvania National Guard and plans to open a clinical practice as the girls get older.
The couple are both extremely proud of their service and their contribution to the country's mission in both Iraq and Afghanistan and speak fondly about the hands-on medical work they did while serving overseas. The dedication and loyalty they felt to fellow soldiers during deployments in harm's way a half a world from home was lifechanging and comes through in conversations about their military service.
Not a surprise, LTC Kline's and SPC Gorman's military service came with highs and lows - a lot higher and a lot lower than what most of Americans experience -- something only, they explain, those who have served their country in times of conflict can appreciate.
The pair were deployed at forward operating bases getting injured soldiers back on their feet -- both physically and mentally -- with many of their patients in second and third deployments.
The pair knew what they signed up for but, as they both say, "No one really expects to see multiple year-long deployments in combat zones so far away from home." They served in the Army's 2nd Brigade Combat Team/1st Armored Division stationed out of Baumholder, Germany.
LTC Kline has 13 years of active duty service with two combat deployments including one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. She currently is in her third year in the Pennsylvania National Guard. SPC Gorman has 10 years of active service with four deployments including three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
She is a 2000 Franklin and Marshall College graduate and received her PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Houston in 2006. She accepted a direct commission in the Army that year. Her specialty is working with adults dealing with current and past traumatic events and she put her skills to work quickly while in Iraq in 2009. "Some of our soldiers had combatrelated injuries and others just weren't quite ready for what they volunteered for," she says.
"Fortunately the military today is more aware and sympathetic about both our soldiers' physical and psychological injuries and we're better able to assess and treat them." LTC Kline was "outside the wire" often and responsible for 5,000 troops in an area, she explains, the size of Ohio. She worked with the help of two para-professional enlisted soldiers and called on about 12 outposts monthly.
"I treated soldiers at their posts," says LTC Kline, "and many were able to return to regular duty quickly. If someone needed more help, I brought them back to our larger military outpost where they could receive additional treatment." LTC Kline explains the United States has an all-volunteer military now and these soldiers weren't looking to be shipped home.
"Most of them wanted to complete their tours of duty and most eventually were able to do that." SPC Gorman, a combat medic, was trained as a chef at a vocational high school as a teenager and in 2003 was tiring of restaurant work. He was close to enlisting in the Air Force as an aerial gunner, he explains, before taking a 180-degree turn for a career as a combat medic. He was trained at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.
"I knew I was heading to a combat zone," SPC Gorman said. "I was deployed to Iraq working on Field Litter Ambulances (FLA). During my 10 years, I did tours in Germany as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan." Not for casual discussion over coffee, but SPC Gorman, like all combat medics, saw horrific injuries and deaths caused by both roadside bombs and small missiles, called rocket-propelled grenades that killed and maimed combatants and civilians without with regard to sex, size, race or rank. He describes it in a huge understatement "as being always busy."
"What hurts," says SPC Gorman "is when you have the best training and the most sophisticated medical equipment on site or at a base close- by and still won't get to come home." He remembers, in particular, a soldier and friend who had been extended past his tour deadline that lost both legs in a roadside bombing. "Those are the ones that stay with you," he says, "but fortunately this soldier has gone on to a successful civilian career as an artist. But it something I'll never forget and I am sure all combat medics live with similar incidents." SPC Gorman left active service and returned to civilian life in 2013. LTC Kline transitioned from active duty in 2009 and continues to serve with the PA. National Guard.
According to Amy MacKenzie, Quartermaster of the Cocalico Valley VFW Post 3376, "Jim and Michelle, like other younger veterans, play an important role in seeing the work of the VFW continue and they both serve on our board." Michelle and Jim have two children: 7-year-old Grace, who attends Clay Elementary School and is in first grade; and daughter Rose, who is 5 and attends OMPH PreK-4.
Art Petrosemolo is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review.