EL PASO, Texas — Being an Army nurse is like being in an "elite club," said the top nurse at Beaumont Army Medical Center.
"Not everyone gets to belong to the Army Nurse Corps," said Col. Colleen Takahashi, deputy commander for patient services/nursing at Beaumont in Central El Paso. "It's a huge honor."
Nurses have to go through a competitive selection process to become an Army nurse, to get promoted and to be picked for advanced training, she added.
Army nurses also do the critically important work of caring for sick and wounded soldiers and their families, Takahashi said.
"The nurse is who is at the bedside with a patient 24/7," she said. "Nurses spend a lot of time with patients, they communicate with patients and are an important part of care."
Saturday, the Army Nurse Corps will celebrate its 112th birthday. It was founded Feb. 2, 1901, to take care of soldiers "on the battlefield and at home," Takahashi said.
That role has expanded over the years to include military spouses, families and retirees, she said.
Takahashi, a Greeley, Colo. native, has been an Army nurse for 28 years and is the longest-serving Army nurse at Beaumont who is still on active duty. She's in her second stint at the military hospital and has been stationed there since June 2012.
The first time Takahashi was posted to Beaumont, she served from 2007 to 2010.
Takahashi joined the Army in 1985 because she said it would provide a great opportunity to travel, but also would help to further her education and advance her career.
"It's an honor to take care of our soldiers and their family members," she said.
The goal of the Army Nurse Corps is to provide the highest quality care possible, she said.
"The Army Nurse Corps provides leadership opportunities and mentorship opportunities," she said. "There are so many opportunities, so many diverse nursing opportunities that our nurses get trained to do."
Takahashi, for instance, is a trained operating room nurse.
The Army Nurse Corps provides a wide range of occupational specialties for nurses that go beyond the traditional medical-surgical nurse role, Takahashi said.
"We have nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, nurse case managers," she said. "We have community health nurses. We have critical care nurses, emergency room nurses, operating room nurses" among other roles.
Army nurses closely partner with civilian nurses, who ensure continuity of care when Army nurses get deployed, Takahashi said.
Beaumont has about 240 Army nurses and about 400 civilian nurses.
Takahashi was deployed once to Iraq, in 2004. She has also gone on humanitarian missions to Honduras and Cambodia.
She earned a bachelor's degree in nursing from the University of Northern Colorado, earned a master's in nursing from the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and took the Army's advanced course to qualify as an operating room nurse.
At the other end of the spectrum, 2nd Lt. Claire Laser of Allentown, Pa., is one of the newest Army nurses at Beaumont. She has been an Army nurse since May 2012 and has been stationed at Beaumont since last November.
"I come from a large military family," Laser said. "My two older brothers are Marines. All the males have served. It's important to have good nursing care. I wanted to do my part. It's not just for the soldiers, but for their families, too."
Her older sister, 1st Lt. Shannon Krupka, is an Army nurse who works at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. A younger sister, Anna Laser, is in the ROTC program at DeSales University in Pennsylvania and wants to be an Army nurse, too.
Laser is currently in Beaumont's six-month clinical nurse transition program which eases the transition from nursing school to being a floor nurse.
"It's amazing I'm a part of it," she said.
Laser has a bachelor's degree in nursing from DeSales.
Beaumont will celebrate the Army Nurse Corps' 112th birthday with ceremonies and cake Feb. 8 at the hospital and its two main clinics — the Mendoza Soldier Family Care Center, 11335 Staff Sgt. Sims, and the Soldier Family Medical Clinic, 2496 Ricker.