Maria Ortiz First Army Nurse KIA Since Vietnam

The Army has buried the first nurse killed in combat since the Vietnam War.

Capt. Maria I. Ortiz was buried yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery, nearly a month after she was killed in the Green Zone in Baghdad, the first Army nurse to die in combat since the Vietnam War. Ortiz, 40, of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, was killed July 10 by enemy fire, the Defense Department reported. She was caught in a mortar attack while returning from physical training.

[…]

Ortiz volunteered to go to Iraq, leaving in September after 18 months as the chief nurse at the Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. “She really felt that while what she was doing here was important, she felt as though she needed to go over there, because she wanted to take care of our soldiers and the people of Iraq and the coalition soldiers,” said Wanda Schuler, who worked with Ortiz at the Kirk clinic.

A sad milestone. Maj. Gen. Gale S. Pollock, the Army’s acting surgeon general, attended the funeral and New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine issued an executive order to fly the state’s flags at half staff.

As an awkward aside under the circumstances, MG Pollock is a nurse. How can a nurse be the surgeon general, giving orders to doctors? (Indeed, it’s always struck me as odd that nurses can rise above the rank of captain and thus be paid more and senior to board certified MDs.)

Hat tip: Phil Carter

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Military Affairs, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    Why not? There’s no upper grade cap on nurses AFAIK. In the Air Force, we have non-rated types and (heavens forbid) navigators commanding pilots.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Why not? There’s no upper grade cap on nurses AFAIK.

    I’m arguing that there should be. Or, more likely, that we divorce rank from pay for the professional positions.

    Do board certified doctors report to nurses in any hospital in the country? Not to my understanding.

    In the Air Force, we have non-rated types and (heavens forbid) navigators commanding pilots.

    You wouldn’t have a navigator commanding a flight crew, would you? Wouldn’t the pilot in a given craft be senior or at least equal in rank to his navigator and in charge of the flight?

    In terms of rated/non-rated, that’s apples and oranges. A captain flight jockey isn’t inherently more skilled at his craft than a lieutenant colonel intel guy. Nor would the latter ever be in a position to make judgments on the former’s flying ability.

  3. Scott_T says:

    The obvious reason of higher ranks for nurses than doctors is their managing skills, not necessary operating skills.

    A chief nurse managing 50+ nurses who help 20 doctors should be paid appropriately.

  4. James Joyner says:

    A chief nurse managing 50+ nurses who help 20 doctors should be paid appropriately.

    Sure But not in command of doctors.

  5. legion says:

    Do board certified doctors report to nurses in any hospital in the country? Not to my understanding.

    No, but that’s because the civilian hospital is only interested in their relative medical education & experience; in a military hospital, command is dictated by who is best-suited for command, which is significantly different.

    Relating to the aircrew thing, the pilot in charge of an aircraft is GOD on that bird; he is in charge of (and responsible for) every single thing that happens, just like the captain of a ship. If the pilot is a captain, and has a general for a passenger, that captain has every right (and obligation) to order the general to sit down & shut up if he’s interfering in the safe operation of the aircraft. The guy in charge is The Guy In Charge, and that’s for good reason – a captain yelling at a general may be bad, but a general putting the entire arcraft, its crew, and its mission at risk, is worse. Likewise, a doc may be a doc, but if the nurse outranks him, it’s for a good reason.

  6. arky says:

    A chief nurse managing 50+ nurses who help 20 doctors should be paid appropriately.

    “Sure But not in command of doctors.”

    And Doctors are gods? Who then, would be qualified to be in command of them? A lawyer?

    It’s not as if she’s going to be telling them where to cut in the operating room. It’s a management/policy position.

  7. James Joyner says:

    in a military hospital, command is dictated by who is best-suited for command, which is significantly different […] if the nurse outranks him, it’s for a good reason.

    Well….not really. Rank is determined almost exclusively by time in service. In the current era, it’s virtually impossible not to be selected for promotion.

    And Doctors are gods? Who then, would be qualified to be in command of them?

    Senior doctors.

    Now, sure, the base commander, the commanding general, and others in the military chain of command have the authority to make general policy decisions over them. But they’re not going to interfere in day-to-day medical decisions.

    A nurse simply isn’t competent to command doctors. She lacks the specialized training.

  8. Beldar says:

    I think you’re confusing the art and science of war (broadly defined, to include administering military medical facilities and personnel) with the practice of medicine.

    A nurse, lacking a medical degree, may not have legal or ethical authority to write a prescription for a patient. But she, or a MBA hospital administrator, may have the practical authority to order physicians to choose from a list of approved drugs if those physicians intend to practice in her system.

  9. Beldar says:

    I should add this: I don’t disagree with you, Dr. Joyner, to the extent your argument is limited to saying that almost all of the time, in all but exceptional circumstances, it would be a better idea to have a physician as surgeon general. There are plenty of physicians who have the necessary management and leadership skills, as well as the training and authority implicit in their MD degrees and licenses to practice medicine. I would feel comparable skepticism if, say, a paralegal were appointed to the Supreme Court.

    I just don’t see it as a logical, categorical necessity.

  10. Grewgills says:

    It seems to me that limiting the maximum rank attainable by a nurse in the military is a prescription for less nurses in the military.