March celebrates National Women in the Military Month. As a nurse practitioner, retired US Navy Captain Mary K. Jacobsen was already in the service of her neighbor, but was later commissioned into the US Navy with the rank of Lieutenant to the age of 38 years.
“No kidding,” he said, not exactly about his career change, but about his unique career redirection.
Jacobsen was born in DeKalb, Illinois. She and her younger brother are only a year apart and she was the only girl in her neighborhood growing up.
She laughed and said, “So, I played ‘Army’ and everything else.”
She attended the University of Illinois and earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing. She started out as an intensive care nurse. Upon earning her master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, she specialized in advanced primary care nursing and became a certified family nurse practitioner. She worked as a nurse practitioner for three years, but also with a teacher’s heart, she taught the Associate Degree in Nursing program at a community college in Wisconsin.
She said that at the time, the options for women were nurses or teachers. She did both.
“A big part of nursing is teaching,” she added.
One of the big to-dos was the Wisconsin Air Show and when he was in grad school his aunt and uncle were involved with the Experimental Aircraft Association. He became involved with retired War Birds military aircraft and worked on the flight lines. As a liaison between recruiters for her students in college, the female commander of the Milwaukee Navy Recruiting District contacted her to see if she would be interested in joining the Navy.
“I always felt like something was missing because I hadn’t joined the military,” he said. “So when this opportunity came up, I was at a point in my life where I thought, why not?”
She was commissioned into the Navy on September 8, 1990, and completed Officer Indoctrination School in November, where she met her future husband, Navy Naval Aviator Air Capt. L. Scott Jacobsen.
Upon completion of OIS, his first assignment was at Naval Hospital Jacksonville, FL, where he was a practicing member of the teaching staff of the Family Medicine Clinic and Family Medicine Residency Program, the oldest and largest Family Medicine Residency Program. of the Marine. , established in 1969. She said the transition from civilian medicine was not difficult because he said the Navy operated under the same practice model.
“One of the things that I had to do a year of being there was to deploy to Cuba when the Haitians decided to leave their island and go to Miami and they were intercepted by the Coast Guard and we had to set up refugee camps there to handle them,” she he said. It was 1992 and he was deployed to Guantanamo Bay for Operation Safe Harbor.
“Actually, there were four of us (nurse practitioners) who deployed there, and before we came along they were all doctors, but they began to realize that nurse practitioners were a good application for refugee health because it was wellness and minor care. . So we had a team of doctors and nurse practitioners who provided medical care. It was all very interesting. It was the first time I saw a real measles.”
He served as General Medical Officer on the USS Forrestal (AVT-59). She said the most interesting case of hers was when a shipyard worker was hit by a forklift. Paramedics were outside the base gates so the Forrestal’s medical team responded. She had just finished the trauma care course with the doctors who worked with her. She and her team treated the injured worker, administering a tourniquet, IV, oxygen and all right there in the shipyard.
“He had fallen face down and didn’t know his leg was gone,” he said. “I talked to him the whole time to keep him conscious. We didn’t tell him his leg was gone.”
Paramedics did arrive and took him by ambulance to Jefferson Hospital to the Emergency Room.
“He walked into the ER, he wasn’t in shock. They took him right into surgery and the doctor called me and said it was the best emergency case they’d ever had…it saved his life.”
He was one of the last crew members of the USS Forrestal before it was decommissioned on September 11, 1993.
She then served as a family nurse at the Naval Hospital in Newport, Rhode Island.
Captain L. Scott Jacobsen, whom she met at OIS, became her husband on April 30, 1994. She joked that he was her “Navy-issued husband.”
He served two years in the Individual Ready Reserve and went with Scott when he was stationed overseas at the US Embassy in Greece, serving as Defense Attaché.
They returned to the United States in 1996. With the Navy Reserve, she was assigned to Detachment 108 at Naval Hospital Jacksonville. The following year, she joined US Naval Forces Central Command Detachment 108, supporting the 5th Fleet surgeon’s office in Bahrain and Tampa. While she was on reserve duty in Bahrain, she was the acting Force Surgeon during the accident of a civilian Airbus on the island of Bahrain, directing the military rescue operation. Her reserve department head commented, “She came into an environment that was far beyond what a reservist would normally be expected to perform in and she did excellent.”
After 9/11, she was called to active duty and assigned to Washington, DC, where she served on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations as director of Navy Reserve Force Health Planning and Policy (OPNAV 095) during seven years. As a policy maker, she and staff developed medical responses, protocols, mobilization capabilities, and vaccination regimen policies.
“It was a huge challenge because this was at the beginning of the war and we were making decisions about what preventative health measures we needed to put in place to protect our service members going overseas,” he said.
“I think we did some good things.”
They also helped streamline medical policies between reserve and active forces, as well as develop a web-based IT system to communicate medical readiness for the entire Marine Reserve force, a capability that even the the active duty Navy did not have at the time. hour.
“Eventually, the entire Navy, the entire Marine Corps, all the Marine Corps Reserves and the Coast Guard started using this system,” he said.
He said it made it easier to track the readiness of the force.
“Everything related to politics that needs to be done to make sure you have a fighting force ready… it’s all interactive,” he said.
He served for 22 years, with 15 years of active duty, and noted that his work in the Navy was exciting because it always presented new challenges and new accomplishments every day.
“It’s never the same,” he said. “I worked in family medicine clinics. I sent medicine on board. I did field medicine. I was a policy maker.”
Her last active duty assignment was as Executive Officer of the Navy Wounded Warrior Program, Navy Safe Harbor, where she was second-in-command. “I was selected as part of the Inspector General team to review the Navy’s procedures for wounded, ill and injured sailors. Then I was asked to be part of the Process Improvement team where we develop possible solutions. But the best part was that I was asked to be the XO of Navy Safe Harbor to implement those changes.
“It was a very rewarding exciting experience because we changed the lives of sailors for the better, being able to help sailors and also take care of wounded, sick and injured Coast Guardsmen,” he said.
He separated from active duty in July 2010 and retired in 2012.
Captain Mary K. Jacobsen earned the Legion of Merit, two Meritorious Service Commendation Medals, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, and two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal decorations, as well as the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, two National Defense Service Medals, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Special Operations Ribbon of the USCG and Pistol Qualification Ribbon.
“It’s not a job. It’s an adventure,” she said.
For her, she said that serving in the armed forces, “added a greater sense of patriotism, because I was able to serve my country and know, in my particular contribution, that I was supporting the operational combat forces that are the front line for us. ”
When asked if he would have done anything differently, he simply said, “I would have started younger.”
For all the women serving in the military, Jacobsen said, “Well, they’re all heroines. I know quite a few and respect each and every one of them for the outstanding contributions they made to their branch of service.
“It’s not just women, it’s anyone who is considering military service or who has served.”
He added: “When I came to the Navy, we all had the attitude of ‘We are all sailors’”.
His decision to join the Navy brought him what he didn’t know he was missing; the adventure, the companions, the contributions, the opportunities, the impact and even her husband. She was able to make a difference in so many lives by putting her professional medical skills at the service of the nation’s heroes, such as herself.
Despite all the experiences his U.S. Navy career added, he said, “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”