As Women’s History Month comes to a close, Veterans Voices continues to recognize women who have served in our nation’s military.
Retired Chief Petty Officer Deb Gilchrist spent 20 years in the Navy as a hospital corpsman.
She’s been stationed all over the country and said it’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.
“It was something I somewhere in the back on my mind I always wanted to do, but I kind of put it out of my mind,” Gilchrist explained. “Then finally, I think it’s time.”
Gilchrist began her military career as a Naval reservist in the late 80s at 22-year-old but decided to go active duty shortly after completing corps school during a voluntary recall of corpsman.
With her medical background working in radiation therapy, she served as a hospital corpsman.
“With the Navy, we have sea, air and land,” Gilchrist said. “I think I’ve hit most of the gamut.”
Her first duty station was at a clinic in Key West.
“Basically I was checking patients in, checking out, helping with minor procedures,” Gilchrist explained.
From there, she spent time working in radiation health in Groton, Connecticut with people who worked in the nuclear program. Gilchrist then became an instructor at Port Hueneme in California, before being stationed for a few years in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
“I’ve been fortunate I’ve been to places where there is a lot of history,” she said. “Pearl Harbor is one because of World War II history. It’s interesting you know the solemnity of going out to the Arizona memorial.”
Gilchrist said her favorite was a research command in Bethesda, Maryland, monitoring those who worked with radiation.
“You had Army, Air Force, Navy and civilians and they did research there, and to see some of the groundwork research they did for treating radiation exposure or to learn the effects of different types of radiation in situations, that was really kind of interesting,” she continued.
The next duty station took Gilchrist to sea, on the U.S.S. George Washington.
“On an aircraft carrier, with full ships company and the air wings there’s over 5,000 people, so I was on this floating city bigger than my hometown,” Gilchrist said laughing.
That’s where she was on September 11, 2001, and where she remained as the ship was stationed off the coast of New York in the following days.
“Somebody came into the room we were in ‘Hey a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center’. And then a couple minutes later somebody else came in ‘another plane just crashed in’. I heard something about the Pentagon too,” Gilchrist remembered. “We were out to sea. We were available. We didn’t have our air wing. We actually got another air wing to fly overnight to us to join us and we went up basically to give the people of New York reassurance that hey, we’re here.”
Gilchrist wasn’t quite done moving around. She also worked at a Naval Hospital in Bethesda, which is now Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
With all that traveling, she met plenty of new people.
“I really don’t remember ever being stationed with the same person twice,” Gilchrist added.
Finally, she made the decision to retire on January 31, 2008.
“I never wanted to have my sailors do something I wasn’t willing to do myself,” Gilchrist said. “If that’s how I’m feeling, it’s time to get out.”
As far as being a woman in the military, she says she was just another sailor doing her job, and if you did your job, you earned respect.
Advice that translates to anyone.
“Whether you’re in the military, civilian, whatever you’re doing, do your job and do it well, to the best of your ability,” Gilchrist advises. Find the job that you do well and do it.”
Several years after retiring, Gilchrist moved back home to Brilliant, Ohio and is now the first female commander of the American Legion Post 573.