Alum Served as Nurse to the First Family
Racheal Wood ’05 was a small-town girl who didn’t think she’d ever leave the country.
Little did she know, her future had China, Jordan, Estonia, Senegal, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, and many more countries in store. She’d attend the funeral of Nelson Mandela and fly on Air Force One. And walking into the gate of the White House each morning would remind her how lucky she was to see history in action.
It was all part of her journey in the Army Nurse Corps.
From ROTC to Washington, DC
The aftermath of corrective back surgery at a young age nearly prevented Wood from pursuing her childhood goal of serving in the military.
But three steps she took at SUNY Brockport helped turn her fate around: enrolling in the Army ROTC program, earning a degree in nursing, and sticking to her personal mantra, “persistence, not perfection.”
“I learned quite a bit about the military during the semesters I took military science classes. The [ROTC] program fostered quite a drive in me to serve in the military,” said Wood.
What she calls the “hardware” in her back was the barricade between Wood and an ROTC scholarship.
However, after earning her nursing degree and passing her licensing exam, she worked with a healthcare recruiter to obtain a waiver for direct commission in the Army Nurse Corps.
Wood has served in the branch ever since. Starting her training in a maternal-child department in Ft. Bragg, NC, she moved on to intensive care units in Ft. Bragg and Ft. Gordon, GA, deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, and was even selected to serve in the White House Medical Unit in Washington, DC. In that role, she worked among a group of nurses that provided 24/7 care for the president, vice president, and first and second families.
Wood said the interview process and training for the nurses hired into the White House Medical Unit is intensive. Landing her week-long in-person interview at the White House required an endorsement from her Army command, vetting by the Army Nurse Corps, health and security screenings, and experience as a critical care or emergency nurse.
Once on the job, getting to know the first and second families was an “incredibly humbling experience,” she said.
“We get to know them in a very human light, as our role is largely behind the scenes. Just like anyone else that came to us for care, we helped them feel better to make sure they were performing at their best so that they could go focus on the incredibly important roles that they have,” said Wood. “As with any patient, president or not, I always feel tremendously privileged to see them at their ‘worst’ or most vulnerable and to be given the trust to care for and treat them.”
During President Barack Obama’s campaign, Wood said her team traveled so often that she sometimes couldn’t remember what state she was waking up in.
“One memory that really sticks with me is my first flight on Air Force One. I had been so busy preparing and training to cover the president on travel that I didn’t think about what it would be like,” said Wood, who was amazed to see singer-songwriter Jon Bon Jovi among her company on her ride to the flight. “It was quite an experience to watch how everything comes together with so many people and organizations to support the president’s travel.”
The Next Adventures
Since earning her master’s degree in nursing education, a post-master’s certificate, and a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Wood is on track to earn a PhD in Nursing Science this summer, which will prepare her to conduct research for the Army and Defense Health Agency. She said her growth and guidance in the Department of Nursing inspired her love of continuous learning, and the Student Nurse Organization, ROTC program, and her generous scholarship donors have motivated her to serve greater causes and continue to pay it forward.
Wood will be eligible to retire from the Army in five years, and she looks forward to someday teaching other nurses, practicing direct patient care, and spending more time with her husband, Army retiree Brian Wood ’02, and their four children.