Patricia Jackson

Patricia Jackson-KelleyPatricia graduated from Hunter College in New York with a Bachelor’s degree in nursing and was in the Navy Reserves. At the age of 36 she had separated from her husband and wanted to travel. Her reserve unit had no billets for female officers so she looked for another reserve unit. She went to the Army first and they lost her papers. Then she went to the Air Force. She ended up going onto active duty with the Air Force because as she told me, “a good looking recruiter talked me into it.”

            I went to the two-week officer candidate school at the Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. From there I was sent to Travis AFB 50 miles NE of San Francisco, California. It was 1979 and I was told that I would be put on pediatrics because my recent nursing skills were working with children. Then they actually assigned me to a medical-surgical unit. It was a disaster because I had not done bedside nursing in about nine years. It was both frightening and frustrating for me. I had to learn all over again. I kept asking, in vain, to go to pediatrics. One day one of the women I was friends with, became a patient and had her esophagus dilated. It was punctured and she died. I became hysterical and went to the chief nurse to say I could not work there any longer. The death rate was extremely high and it was too frightening and emotionally draining for me. Initially when I got there I had to leave my 7-year-old son because I did not have housing. It was a personal crisis having to be separated from my son for 4-5 months and adjusting to being in the military full time. In order to have my son I had to apply for housing so I got off base housing so I could get my son back.     

            The nurses were very unfriendly to me; they were younger and knew more than I did about the military, but I outranked them because I was a captain and they were lieutenants. I was older and had more experience but not in medical-surgical nursing skills. The other nurses were first and second lieutenants and were hostile and had a lot of resentment towards me. Needless to say, there was a lot of tension between us. I was on that ward for nine months and the nurse in charge wrote a very negative evaluation of me written from a racial bias and said that I was not competent. The chief nurse made her change it and told her she could have been more supportive. She was told to write it so it accurately described my proficiency rather than as critical and judgmental. That was done and soon after that I was moved to pediatrics. I was on pediatrics also for nine months.

            Then I was reassigned to Lajes field, Azores, which is in Portugal. It was wonderful there, but I had to be on the housing list, and it was over one year before my name came up. I was there 15 months and they never gave me a place where I could bring my son. He was able to come for the summer, and was with his dad the rest of the time. I worked in obstetrics and on medical surgical. It was a small medical holding facility, only had four to five patients, and was not as tense as the hospital on Travis AFB.

            After the Azores I was supposed to get a choice of assignments because the Azores was considered remote. I wanted to go to Sacramento, California. Everyone got their choice except for me. When my name came up they told me my choice was not available. They offered me Nellis AFB in Las Vegas and I turned it down. Now I think that was a mistake. I ended up going to George AFB near Victorville, California. It was another big hospital and I was working on obstetrics and medical surgical wards. It was horrible. That is where I experienced the worst racism. I had a young charge nurse who resented that I came into the military as a captain. I was the only black nurse. She gave me the worst assignments and the most to do. She would meet with other nurses and leave me out. They did social things together and did not invite me. She gave me poor evaluations regardless of my proficiency. These affect my pay and rank. The chief nurse made her change it. All the evaluations come to the chief nurse and when she saw it she made the charge nurse change it and make it less judgmental and more accurate. The chief nurse called me in and discussed it with me but no one mentioned racism. It was very difficult and painful for me and it was the deciding factor for me to get out of the air force.

            One day a civilian nurse assistant on the OB ward had lost her wedding band and was very upset. The next day the security police came to my door and stated that the civilian aide had filed a complaint stating I stole her wedding band. Our bands were very similar. I guess God is really good because several months prior to that I had appraised all my jewelry. I showed it to the base police. I had three pages of appraised jewelry. I showed him the ring she had accused me of taking, which was inscribed inside with to Patricia, love Bill. The police could not believe this was happening and told me they were sorry to have disturbed me. This happened a few weeks before I was getting out of the Air Force. I could not sit through the daily reports and could not stop crying, I was so distraught about what was happening. I would call my minister in New York to talk about it. I could not get help on base because it was a stigma to have psychological help in your medical records.

            I was discharged in 1983 and went to the AF reserves but had to leave my son on weekends. I transferred to Army Reserves in 1983 and lived with my son in LA,  did my drills and came home at night. I stayed in for a total of 26 years and retired. I was the nurse in charge of the psych unit in my reserves.