Every Veterans Day, Glen Lilly is overwhelmed with all the thanks he receives for his military service.
Actually, he’s the one who’s grateful – thankful for those supportive sentiments from friends and strangers and even more appreciative of his 21 years spent in the U.S. Air Force, where he transformed from a rebellious 21-year-old with so-so grades into a master sergeant who graduated magna cum laude from college.
“I’m always thanking people for thanking me,” said Lilly, a physician assistant at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Myrtle Beach. “I appreciate all the support, but I was thankful to be able to serve.”
A proud tradition
Lilly is one of a number of employee partners at Tidelands Health who have served in the military and who – like veterans across our region and nation – we honor this Veterans Day. Whether they fought on the front lines, served as a nurse or documented the times as a photographer, many of the military veterans at Tidelands Health say the lessons they learned, experiences overseas and friendships made in the military have helped shape them into the hard-working, well-rounded people they are today.
“I’ve done a little bit of everything,” said Laura Sousa, who served as a nurse captain in the U.S. Air Force from 1984 to 1990. “It’s made me well rounded, more structured, more disciplined, calm under pressure.”
Sousa, director of quality and clinical risk management at Tidelands Health, was commissioned in the military when she was 22 after earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing.
“I’ve always liked structure, but I also wanted to see the world,” said Sousa, who was stationed in Japan and traveled to China, Hong Kong, the Philippines and other “places I wouldn’t have been able to go to otherwise.”
In addition to experiencing other cultures, Sousa gained valuable experience in emergency management and served in a variety of nursing roles – from setting up field hospitals to OB and ICU.
Dustin Warren, who joined the U.S. Army five days before 9-11, quickly found himself serving a tour in Iraq with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
“That was the start of a year there chasing Saddam [Hussein] and the people trying to blow us up,” said Warren, who left the service in 2005. “I felt pretty fortunate I made it out.”
Warren and others said teamwork was paramount – a mindset they still carry to their jobs today. The military teaches you how to work with others despite any differences.
“You don’t leave somebody behind,” said Warren, a physical therapist assistant. “You are a team.”
The military introduces you to people with diverse backgrounds, and you learn how to work together, said Jodi Vogelsong, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1998-2005 as a photographer and multimedia specialist.
“Teamwork. It’s all about teamwork,” said Vogelsong, a pharmacy technician at Tidelands Health Oncology. “I really enjoyed it, and I have lots of friends from all over the world that still keep in touch. It’s family.”
Vogelsong also appreciates the broadened perspective she acquired in the military.
“You learn to look at things in a different way,” she said. “Not everything is black and white.”
Linda Queen, a volunteer partner at Tidelands Health, learned the value of teamwork and how to work with all kinds of people during her 20 years as an Air Force major.
“It was a wonderful experience,” said Queen, who volunteers in outpatient surgery at Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital. “It broadened my idea of the world and my community.”
Many military members took advantage of the GI Bill to pursue bachelor and master’s degrees. That education – along with their military education – has propelled them into successful careers at Tidelands Health.
Their military memories are still very much a part of their daily lives. Some, including Dr. Gerald Harmon, have some of their military memorabilia displayed in their offices. Dr. Harmon served as chief surgeon and assistant surgeon general before retiring from the National Guard and the U.S. Air Force, where he served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Lilly has a room in his house dedicated to showcasing some of his most cherished military items, including flags that were flown over the U.S. Capitol for his retirement and overseas displayed in protective shadow boxes.
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“When you walk in the room, you’d probably feel like you needed to salute,” Lilly said.
Shortly after leaving the Air Force, Sousa missed it so much she used to sit by the airport to watch the planes take off. She still loves to see military flyovers and is impressed with the historical markers and street names in The Market Common area, where the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base operated until it closed in 1993. While she was stationed at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, she would often travel to the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base to teach life support and other classes to the clinicians.
“Lots of memories driving through there,” Sousa said.
The next generation
Sousa and others say their military experience was so valuable and life-changing that they encourage teens to consider enlisting.
“It will make you a better citizen,” Sousa said. “Go experience it. Go do it.”
Just like Lilly followed in his father’s military boots, Lilly’s oldest son started his service in the U.S. Air Force about six months ago.
Vogelsong, who enlisted when she was a high school senior, said the military should be promoted more to teens as an alternative to college.
“I really think the military helps with structure, discipline,” she said. “It helps make you a better adult.”