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Meet Staff Sgt. Pamela Hyer of Pierce City. She’s a member of the 206th Area Support Medical Company. She joined the National Guard just after the attacks of 9/11. She says the events of that day influenced her decision, but the importance of military service was a part of her upbringing.
“My parents were both retired active duty. And I thought, ‘I’m going to join the guard.’ My mom thought I was crazy. She said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ I said, ‘Yes. I want do it.’ So I did."
For her first deployment Staff Sgt. Hyer went to Bosnia where she worked in an emergency room as a medic. She says it was good preparation for studying nursing in college, something she did when she returned to Missouri. With only one semester left, Hyer found herself heading overseas again. This time, she was going to Iraq. She was stationed at Camp Bookah in southern Iraq and worked at a troop medical clinic or TMC, a facility that’s like urgent care. She says at first, she was disappointed with her assignment.
“Truthfully, when I got assigned to that, I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this. I want to be on the front lines and do all the cool stuff.’ But the TMC was wonderful. Pretty soon, I figured out that I have plumbing. I actually have a toilet and clean, running water. I’m in the air conditioning most of the day.”
And Staff Sgt. Hyer quickly realized that her job was an important one: to support the soldiers and keep them healthy so they could do their jobs. She describes the kinds of illnesses she treated.
“Lots of gastrointestinal stuff, lots of dermatitis, lots of respiratory problems, lots of back, knee, and hip problems from soldiers wearing all that gear. We had soldiers who were up in the towers 12 hours a day, wearing 40 pounds of protective gear, and coming in with back pain. We did see trauma. We saw amputations and broken bones. We saw a lot and learned a lot.”
Shortly after Staff Sgt. Hyer arrived in Iraq, the forward operating base or FOB where she was stationed came under attack.
“We had been there four days. The military teaches you that incoming sounds like (whistles). It was about 10:30 at night. We heard it coming in. Everyone knew: get your gear and get out to the bunkers. I sat in the bunker and thought about my mom. I thought, ‘Well, Lord, if today’s the day, I’m really ok with that, but I’m really worried about my mom. I don’t know if she could handle that.’ I look back and I didn’t feel a lot of fear. I know that sounds crazy, but I really didn’t. I was in the bunker, wearing my gear, I was making sure all the rest of us girls were there, taking accountability for the soldiers I was with, and we just waited it out.”
There were fatalities and injuries from that attack. Besides being deployed to a global hot spot like Iraq, Staff Sgt. Hyer has also done humanitarian work. She worked in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, and was stationed just a few blocks from the Superdome. She left for Haiti July 22, 2010, about six months after a massive earthquake shook the small island nation. Her mission was building schools outside Port au Prince. She also took part in medical missions that involved setting up medical stations and treating people. She recalls learning that people in Haiti die from things that would not be fatal in the United States where there’s better access to medical care. Being in Haiti had a profound impact on Staff Sgt. Hyer.
“Haiti was unbelievable. Words can’t describe, pictures can’t describe. When you see that and see how real it is, it opens your heart and mind to the whole world. The world is not just a picture on a television. There really are starving children in Sudan. There really are starving children in Haiti. There really are places where people walk around with AKs everywhere they go. That’s real.”
She recalls interacting with children in Haiti and how she and the other soldiers were a sort of symbol of what’s possible in the wider world.
“They were the most special wonderful part about Haiti. They do look up at us with such respect and desire for something else.”
Even with all these missions outside the United States, Staff Sgt.Hyer did complete her associate’s degree and is now a registered nurse. She says she hopes to complete a bachelor’s degree in the near future. Join us this afternoon at 4:30 when we talk with Staff Sgt. Pam Hyer’s husband Private First Class James Hyer. We’ll hear about how they met, his determination to join the military despite being color blind, and they’ll both discuss the role of women in the military.