Diamond named 2019 Woman Veteran of the Year

Diamond named 2019 Woman Veteran of the Year

Retired U.S. Army Major and 2019 Woman Veteran of the Year Michele Diamond holds a photograph of her from officers basic training and a framed letter from the day she swore-in. (Breeze photo by Nicole Dotzenrod)

LINCOLN – The Providence Regional Office of Veterans Business Administration has named retired U.S. Army Major and Lincoln resident Michele Diamond the 2019 Woman Veteran of the Year, for her “remarkable military service and continued efforts in service of local veterans.”

Diamond’s military career began in 1995, when she joined the Army Reserves. While working for her first nursing degree from the Community College of Rhode Island, she cared for an “authoritative but sweet” retired Naval nurse in North Providence, who in moments of lucidity shared fond memories of her time in the service.

“She inspired me,” Diamond said, recalling the woman sharing photos from her time in the Navy. The patient, who had dementia, had an old transistor radio on her counter. When she switched it on, she would be transported in time to her days in the military. “She’d start saying it’s time to go … she had to go take care of the troops,” Diamond said. In a moment’s notice, “she would be back there.”

Diamond, who is originally from Cumberland, said it was her client’s pure devotion to her military service that stuck with her. Upon graduation from CCRI, she knew she wanted to serve.

“I said: I want to do this. I knew I wanted to be a nurse in the military. To me, it was where I was meant to be,” she said of the decision. She was sworn in as a second lieutenant and her goal was accomplished.

Diamond served for three years with the 455th Field Hospital in Providence before transferring to the 399th Combat Support Hospital, where she remained for the next 18 years.

From September 2006 to October 2007, Diamond and the 399th deployed to Iraq. There, Diamond and her team helped establish the first level-three trauma center in the Anbar Province. After working as a case manager as a civilian, Diamond said the transition to a combat zone was jarring.

“It was a totally different atmosphere,” she said, describing a moment of thinking, “Oh god … this is real. Time to put all of this training in action.”

“I wouldn’t say you’re prepared emotionally, but you’re prepared for the work. You know what you have to do,” she said. “Emotionally is a whole different thing.”

While in Iraq, she was a charge nurse on the medical/surgical unit, overseeing the unit on the evening shift. Patients with gunshot or IED wounds, depending on the severity, would be taken to surgery or taken directly to Diamond’s unit.

She also served as a transport nurse in Iraq, providing care for U.S. soldiers, coalition forces, Iraqi soldiers and police officers, civilian contractors and detainees. Her role was to prepare and medically package wounded soldiers for transport aboard military aircraft.

One thing she said she was not prepared for – a memory that still raises the hair on her skin – was working with children in a combat zone. “I never expected to have children there caught in the crossfire. We had children coming in with gunshot wounds and IED blast wounds … I wasn’t prepared for that. Having children in that environment was very difficult.”

She described 12-hour shifts during her deployment and being on-call 24/7. Even as a nurse, she was required to work, eat and sleep with her M-16 strapped to her back. If she had a “good day” with little activity, she’d grab dinner at her housing unit – “like a storage pod with a window” – before hanging out with her comrades.

“No campfires were allowed but we’d sneak one on occasion and chat about our day,” she said. Some of the younger soldiers would feel depressed and talking about their day helped.

Above all, the camaraderie of her unit stands out to Diamond. “You felt like you were part of a team,” she said. “If we saw that someone was not part of the team, someone would be there to talk to them.”

Upon her return from Iraq, Diamond continued to serve with the 399th. While Iraq was her first tour to a war zone, over the years her career has taken her to Native American reservations in Montana, and on humanitarian missions to Bolivia and Guatemala to provide direct care and preventative education.

One of her most rewarding tours, she said, was to West Point as part of the Combat Medic training cadre for candidates for admission to the academy. “You’re seeing these young boys and girls come in, fresh out of high school in their blue jeans, and in two weeks they’re military. What an amazing, amazing transformation to see.”

After 20 years in the Army, she thought it would be her final tour; however, Diamond was promoted to major in 2016 at age 59. She was charged with a battle aid station at Fort McCoy during her final tour of duty before her retirement in 2017.

Her service to military veterans did not end with her retirement, however. Diamond continues to serve soldiers and veterans as the Nurse Transfer/Travel Veteran Coordinator at the Providence VA Medical Center. In 2018, she was appointed to a two-year term as Minority Veteran Program Coordinator, working as an advocate for minority veterans and assisting them with navigating the VA system.

Diamond also serves as a volunteer member of the Rhode Island Medical Reserve Corps and Operation Stand Down Rhode Island.

Asked for her thoughts on being named 2019 Woman Veteran of the Year, Diamond said she was shocked but very honored. “I’m just grateful that I can continue to serve veterans,” she said.