Twenty years ago, Col. Jeanne LaFountain, United States Air Force Reserves (USAFR), received a postcard that read: “If you’re a nurse and are less than 48 years old … there is a critical need for nurses in the military.” The day she answered that postcard’s call, she was 45 years old.
“I was never one to follow the normal order of progression,” she said. “I like taking risks, and when opportunity knocks, I like to take it. That postcard was my calling.”
LaFountain, a Delaware resident, is a cardiac, vascular and thoracic surgical nurse at OhioHealth Grady Memorial Hospital with over 40 years of clinical nursing experience in both staff and leadership roles at academic and regional trauma centers.
When LaFountain joined the military, she was told time and time again that she would never retire. On Saturday, June 1, she retired from the USAFR as the commander of the U.S. Air Force Reserves 349th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron (AES) of the 349th Airlift Wing, Travis Air Force Base, California.
“I joined because someone else defended my freedom,” she said. “It was my way of giving back.”
Since 2016, LaFountain commanded a squadron of 102 support personnel who were to be ready at a moment’s notice to mobilize and deploy fully equipped, specialty trained medical and communications personnel to any homeland or overseas contingency or operation. She said that her squadron took care of all U.S. military branches and civilians, no matter the nationality, in times of peace, war, and national emergency inside the U.S. borders or abroad.
“We’d pick them up knowing that they were in pain, and it was our job to get them home as comfortable as possible,” she said. “Our soldiers are not afraid, because they know that we’re out there and we’re coming for them. It’s been an honor and privilege to get them back home.”
LaFountain said that only 10% of this country’s population serves in the military. “People should be extremely proud of our young men and women in the military,” she said.
During LaFountain’s military career, she was deployed five times in support of Operations Iraqi/Enduring Freedom as aircrew or in a leadership role with a 99% total survival rate in her career when it came to getting soldiers back home. She was also part of the first aeromedical evacuation crews to arrive in New Orleans in 2005 to evacuate the displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina.
“The body is amazing at what it can endure and survive,” she said.
LaFountain was also the aeromedical evacuation officer-in-charge and lead educator for Operation Central Accord 2013, providing training to African medical personnel.
However, starting out as a captain and flight nurse taking care of soldiers in the back of a cargo plane, LaFountain said her first deployment was to an unknown destination for an undetermined amount of time.
“I got a call to pack my bags,” she said.
LaFountain said the flights are long and at times she had to endure nine hours of flight time.
“They’re long flights — you have to be physically fit,” she said.
LaFountain admits she’s never been much of a runner, but she always made sure to achieve a minimum score of 90 on her yearly fitness test.
“I needed a 90 or I would have to take the test every six months instead of yearly,” she said. “I was dedicated to meet the requirements.”
LaFountain said all of her time in the military was spent in the reserves.
“I have met some amazing people,” she said. “I have no regrets.”
LaFountain served on three airbases: Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton for 16 years; Scott Air Force Base in Illinois; and Travis Air Force Base, California.
Now retired, LaFountain said her plans include working at OhioHealth Grady Memorial Hospital and visiting with her grandchildren. Over the next several weeks, however, she and her boyfriend of 20 years plan to tour the country’s national parks in their camper before eventually wondering back to Delaware.
La Fountain said there is a lot of time to make up for, so she is thinking about doing some missionary work in some of the countries she has been to but hadn’t had a chance to see.
“They have nothing,” she said. “I’m a doer and not one for sitting around watching TV.”