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Cheryl L. Koski, US Navy, 1972-2012

 


larry Nelson

Veteran’s History Project

Cheryl L. Koski was in college at the University of Connecticut. She learned of a scholarship program offered by the US Navy. The Navy would fund a student’s year in college and would expect two years payback in return. By 1973, she had an wobligation of service to fulfill. In the end, she served forty years.

On graduation from college, she reported to a Navy boot camp for Officers at Newport, Rhode Island. Here, she and other new officers were trained like recruits in the basics of the military and the Navy. They learned to march, went through the physical fitness regimen, and went through the classes on military customs and courtesies, etc. They were fitted for and were issued clothing necessary for them to do their jobs. Yes, the new candidates learned of new ways of expressing things and events as said by their trainers. This training had nothing to do with nursing.

Towards the end of the training, the candidates were given the opportunity to pick out which Navy bases they would like to serve in … pick three. Cheryl’s picks didn’t seem to get any traction. She was sent to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The marines own this facility. It worked out though. A Marine Officer caught her eye and vice versa. Not long after, a marriage was in the works!

At Camp Lejeune, the hospital was physically laid out in sections. The thought was that if it was bombed, not all of the facility would suffer damage. Cheryl covered three wards including three levels of psychiatric care, medicine, and isolation. If other nurses couldn’t make it to work, she did their work as well. There was a Navy Corpsman on the floors as well.

The time frame is 1973 and many of the patients –especially on the psych floors- were Marines who had served in Viet Nam. Another dynamic that was working here was the past history of some of the patients. In those times, in the civilian sector, if a young man or woman was out of control and in trouble with the law, the choice was either the military or jail. Some were hospitalized because they could have been a little off to begin with? Some were victims of drug abuse including hallucinogens and heroin.

She noticed a patient who was hospitalized for pneumonia but was acting much different than he should have been. Someone had put drugs in the food cart. One instance had a patient setting off a bomb on the roof of the building. Two patients jumped out of windows (top floor)… one broke both of his legs, one died. Although certain events were memorable, Cheryl saved many lives as patients were situated on the edge of life. Although it goes with the job, saving a life is precious work.

Cheryl worked hard and was overloaded with responsibility. She also had musical talent. She was a flute and piccolo player. She learned of an opening in the Marine Carps Band at the base. She was a female Ensign. The band was made up of enlisted Marines. She contacted the band leader. He reminded her of the rules…she’s an officer, she’s a Navy member, she’s a nurse. There were some hurdles to overcome. He gave her an audition and allowed her to join the 2nd Marine Band.

Her nursing schedule was changed around so that she worked nights and practiced during the day. She toured with the Band and was a member of the group that played for President Gerald Ford’s reception in New York City. To get past the officer bit, the Band made her an honorary Master Sergeant! She got a write-up in “The Leatherneck” publication.

Cheryl’s new husband was set to end his time in the Marine Corps. He wanted to get into Law School. It was convenient that she could end her active duty time and join the US Navy Reserve. They moved to Wyoming and made both plans happen. She joined the Navy Reserve in their Navy Operational Support Center (NOSC). She remained in the Reserve unit until 1979 and then entered the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) program. That means she could be called into service but would not be required to attend drills as a Reservist.

The administrators at Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie recognized her talents and asked her to become a teacher for the Licensed Practical Nurse program. Initially she turned the offer down. She was soon directed to report to the Administrators Office and there was told that on the following Monday, she would be teaching. This change actually launched her into a career of writing education curriculums and training programs for several colleges in Montana and Wyoming. Concurrently, she had two children and earned a Masters Degree in Nursing by 1985.

Cheryl rejoined the US Navy Reserve and participated from 1990 to 2012. She served assignments in San Diego, CA, Bremerton, WA, Naples, Italy, Jacksonville, FL, Fleet Hospitals Five and Nine, Navy Reserve centers in Cheyenne and Laramie, WY, Naval Fleet Hospital in Minneapolis, MN, and the Naval Reserve Readiness Command, at San Diego, CA.

Cheryl had been getting correspondence from the Navy Reserve Center in Cheyenne, WY. They needed her to get back into the Reserve program. Her mail addressed her as a Lt. Commander. She disregarded that for a while but did join the Reserve unit closer to her home at the time in Billings, MT. She checked into the title thing and found out that she had been promoted while in the IRR.

In 1990, the Desert Storm war broke out. In Cheryl’s Reserve unit, many of the Commanders had such specialties that they dropped out of the Reserve. That action left Cheryl as the Officer in Charge! She was/is an accomplished woman with four kids, and highly educated. She would handle the new situation well! She had put her packet in for promotion as well. She was turned down the first time, but after getting better prepared, she became a Commander. Her husband had become the Deputy Public Defender for the State of Wyoming.

After moving to Cheyenne, and still doing deployments in the US Navy Reserve her civilian career continued to blossom. She became the Executive Director for the Wyoming Board of Nursing from 1999-2007.

Her husband, Kenneth, became the Public Defender for the State of Wyoming. He was an avid interviewer of Veterans. He obtained pictures, records, and the stories of many who had served.

Service in the US Navy was a very significant part in the life of this fine Officer. She was promoted to Captain, and obviously held in high regard by peers and subordinates. She earned the Meritorious Service Medal, the navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (x5), National Defense Service Medal, and many others. She is proud of her rifle marksmanship badge as well!

Captain Cheryl Koski, you’re a splendid example of service, motivation and dedication. Thank you so much for your service!

 

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