Making It Our Business to Care

By Jean Chamberlin

July 2015

It was a planned medical evacuation out of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, for wounded warriors. We had been on an over-water mission and this was the last leg. I'd already experienced living for days on the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, sleeping on the floor, on pallets next to CH-47 Chinook rotor blades, the whole thing. So this was the trip home.

Before the mission I met with the head nurse to understand what was working and what we could improve about the way the aircraft converts from cargo to medical evacuation. I was the C-17 program manager, but my first career had been in nursing.

They had two intensive-care patients -- soldiers hit by an improvised explosive device. You couldn't recognize there was a human being in either station -- so much equipment surrounds the individual.

Three others sustained such significant concussions they had memory failure. One couldn't remember who he was, but it was gradually coming back. His team made sure he had the clothes he left home in and pictures of his family, and that he kept reciting their names. They helped him change into those clothes so his family would recognize him. Doesn't it break your heart?

I had always wanted to be a nurse. I worked nights as a head nurse for the first years of my career until my daughter was born. Then in Seattle I worked in the burn unit and emergency room. And I actually got burned out. I was 27. There were children I was caring for who were the same age as my daughter, who I knew wouldn't survive. It was a tough situation.

I went back to school. I studied at a community college in Des Moines, Wash., and began sending my transcripts -- all A's -- to The Boeing Company saying I'd like to start on the factory floor. They all said no, we want you to come be a registered nurse. I said no.

I finally got hired in 1979 as a methods analyst on the 737 line. After a downturn in commercial, I went to the B-1 program to be a data coordinator and did systems engineering work.

Every job I took in Boeing, I looked to see what related off-hours courses could help accelerate my learning. I went to school the whole time!

Most recently I worked with the U.S. Air Force and Army to understand how they train, the simulations they use, and think about how to reuse some of that with our employees who work in high hazards and prepare them to work safe, change their habits.

You have to care for one another and watch each other's back. It doesn't matter how many new tools or tertiary safeguards we have. If the guy next to you isn't going to say you haven't buckled up, it's not going to do any good.

There's so much done in nursing to try to convince people to do what they don't want to do. Putting bandages on and doing stitches and handing out pills -- that's the mechanical part; the tough part is being able to reach the human psyche and have them understand why they want to change their behavior. It was the best background anyone could get to go into business.