Bonita Keefe-Layden

Veteran, Ret Colonel, U.S. Army Reserves; CEO Rehabilitative Resources, Inc.

It was in 2003 when we started the war, when [President George W.]  Bush declared war [on Iraq] near St. Patrick’s Day, I think around the 19th [of March], and we were in country on the 23rd.  We had been at Fort Drum a couple of months.  I was with the 804th Medical Center which is the command and control of all medical units and we were in Kuwait.  The 804th Hospital Command.  They changed the name since I first started.  So my unit in country was in charge of all the medical aspects to the equipment, the professional staff, doctors, nurses, and the cleaning operations.  When I was deployed I was asked to be the medical regulating officer.  The regulating officer’s job is to coordinate all evacuation so I had myself and about seven other people [laughs] and some of those people were 19 and 20 years old and myself, and a major, and my enlisted group.  We coordinated all the ground ambulances in the area and the connection with the Air Force to evacuate and it was very stimulating and it was very rewarding.  It was tough because we were dealing with casualties.  We were dealing with all the amputations and we were dealing with at that time—I’m digressing a bit from your question, but at that time, the military was just implementing what they called “the golden hour” where it was believed that if you could get someone with severe trauma from the place of injury to level three care within an hour that you had a better chance of saving the life.  That was our mission and we did it.  We did it.  The only time we couldn’t is when people couldn’t tell us where they were.  [Laughs]  You might find that pretty amazing, but a lot of times people couldn’t tell us where they were even if they were on a road.  They didn’t have—GPS is pretty common now, but GPS was just beginning to come into use in 2003 so maybe one person in the convoy would have GPS and convoys get separated and spread out.  And these were young kids, 18, 19 years old.  We wanted to get to them obviously as fast as we could.   If you couldn’t give us a grid coordinate at least tell us what road you are on and the nearest town and the helicopter could follow that.  Convoys are pretty big so they could find a convoy.  We really implemented the golden hour rule and, of course, part of our job is letting the hospitals know they are coming and having the ambulances at the landing site to get them into the hospitals.  The golden hour included the telephone call, the launching of the helicopter, contacting the hospital, the ambulance to the landing field, and getting them to the emergency room.

Bonnie Keefe-Layden describes her experiences the Army Reserves and as a CEO of the Sturbridge-based Rehabilitative Resources Inc. She attained the rank of Colonel during her 33-year military career and was deployed to Iraq in 2003 where she was the medical regulating officer of the 804th Hospital Command.  While describing the responsibilities of the unit, she recalls the tragedies that she observed as well as proud moments striving to achieve transportation of injured personnel within “the golden hour” and first-time efforts evacuating injured to a ship, the U.S.N.S. Comfort.  While proud of her military service, she is also proud of her work at the non-profit organization she led and her work with developmentally disadvantaged individuals.  Bonnie also shares the difficulties of balancing life as a wife, mother, full-time worker, full-time student, and Army Reservist as well as the experience of being a woman in the military.  She also struggled with cancer at one time in her life.  She attributes the support she received from family, her ability to remain focused on the job at hand,  and the leadership skills she developed as a CEO and as a Colonel, as contributing to her ability to successfully manage both careers and a family.

Interview
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Interview Date: 
June 8, 2017
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