SFC Monica J Primus U.S. Army (1988-2010)
Read the service reflections of US Army Soldier:
SFC Monica J Primus
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE ARMY?
I had been working as a Certified Nursing Assistant and wanted to do something more with my life than just get a paycheck so I decided to join the military. I knew it would give me health and dental benefits, financial stability, training and an opportunity to travel so once I made up my mind to join I did not hesitate. There was no delayed entry program for me or reserve time. I went full force and enlisted for 5 years initially. I looked at all branches. I ultimately chose the Army. This was the branch of service of my father, Furlan Udine Primus, and offered the training I wanted.
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK. WHAT WAS YOUR REASON FOR LEAVING?
I enlisted for 98GL, but that was not to be. During basic training, I received a Letter of Intent (LOI) to Deny Security Clearance so I was forced to change my military occupational specialty (MOS). It took some wheeling and dealing, but I finally got my choice, Pharmacy Specialist. After completing basic training at Fort Jackson, SC I moved onto Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Sam Houston, TX and then to my first duty station at Fort Sill, OK. While I was stationed there, I did receive my security clearance. I was that 1 in a 100 that receives an LOI to Deny but actually is not denied. If I had only held out longer, I would have been a Linguist. It actually turned out well though because I have come to love the Pharmacy and did well for myself in that career field. During my first tour at Fort Sill, I rotated through all areas of the pharmacy. After my rotation through all areas, I was assigned to work in the Outpatient Pharmacy. I worked with many wonderful civilians and soldiers there.
I next moved on to Camp Red Cloud in Uijeongbu, Korea where I learned to love Kimchi. I then went back to Fort Sill. It was as if I had never left. I was now in charge of the Inpatient Pharmacy. Next up was instructor duty at Fort Sam Houston. I had begged for this and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. While I was there I not only taught pharmacy specialists, I also taught cardiovascular techs, ENT tech, eye techs, helped with PA program and Medic training. I guess my crowning glory there was incorporating the Sterile Products training program into the Pharmacy Specialist course so all techs were trained in this specialty area. I was then off to Fort Meade, MD followed by Walter Reed Army Medical Center. While there I ran the Inpatient Pharmacy, worked as the Training NCO (about 500 soldiers), and was the only enlisted person assigned to Clinical Pharmacy. I was also a member of a S.M.A.R.T. that deployed to Hurricane Katrina Relief. My last assignment was Senior Enlisted Advisor for Pharmacy, Bavaria Medical Department Activity (BMEDDAC), Germany. While there, I was the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of the Department of Pharmacy for Bavaria and got to travel to all the clinics on a weekly basis. This was not an undemanding final assignment. I had to work many long hours and travel a lot, but it was worth it. I retired from the Army in 2010 because I felt it was time to start a new chapter in my life.
IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN ANY MILITARY OPERATIONS, INCLUDING COMBAT, HUMANITARIAN AND PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.
I was part of a Special Medical Augmentation Response Team (SMART) that was deployed to Hurricane Katrina Relief in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was quite an experience to see all the devastation that was left behind due to the hurricane and I cannot imagine living through it. Other than that, I was not deployed anywhere else. At the end of my career I found out that someone had coded me as non-deployable. I guess whoever that was thought they were doing me a favor.
OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
I guess I am quite lucky because I have very fond memories of almost all of my duty stations. My first duty station was at Reynolds Army Community Hospital’s (RACH) Outpatient Pharmacy and my first line supervisor was then SFC Juli Zugner (now MSG (r) Juli Tanzi). She was a dynamic NCO that set a wonderful example of what a Soldier should be, know, and do. I also worked with Mrs. Cyndi Bell, who treated all of us as equals and ensured we were “family”. While I was stationed there, I helped create the pharmacy at the then to be built, TMC #2, which was dedicated to SGT David B Bleak, Medal of Honor recipient, whom I was honored to meet.
My second duty assignment was Camp Red Cloud, South Korea. Although this was a difficult assignment because I had absolutely no overlap time with the specialist I replaced, it gave me an opportunity to enhance my skills as a pharmacy specialist and NCO. Because Pharmacy, Radiology, and Laboratory were all only one man deep, we were always on call and this did not allow for much true down time, but we managed to have fun. I remember one time we all were called in because there had been a single vehicle accident involving a Soldier. Under the guidance of CPT Uretzky, we were able to save the patient’s life. She unfortunately did lose one of her legs below the knee, but had we not been there working together as a team she would not have made it.
During my third duty assignment, I was stationed again at RACH at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. It was wonderful going back there because they had just completed work on the new hospital. During this assignment, I was made the NCOIC of the Inpatient Pharmacy, something I had not done since my initial assignment at RACH and did a two-week rotation there. I was a bit nervous about having so much responsibility placed upon me. While I was there, I was able to computerize our crash cart inventory and inspection process and I created a medication location guide for the nurses so they would not have to call a technician in during the middle of the night for a medication that could be found readily available on another ward. I had 3 wonderful military technicians, one of whom I still stay in touch with.
Two of my least favorite moments occurred while I was stationed there. The first one is that my top-notch civilian technician quit without notice. This unfortunately had a lot to do with her spouse, but she never opened up to anyone other than to say he did not like the hours that she worked. The second incident that put a damper on my spirit and made me question whether I would re-enlist was that I was called on the carpet by the acting Sergeant Major because there had been a Soldier sleeping in the lobby near the command suite and in an authoritative voice, I told him to wake up! I was told by the acting Sergeant Major that it was not my place to tell that Soldier to wake up. I was incredulous. If it were not my duty to do this then whose was it?
I was next assigned to the Academy of Health Sciences where I was an instructor for almost 4 years. I had begged and pleaded to be assigned there and when I got my orders, I was ecstatic. I loved teaching and I loved pharmacy, so this was a dream job. I helped integrate the stand-alone Sterile Products course into the Pharmacy Technician course thereby allowing all those enrolled to receive the training. I was also the primary instructor for that portion of training, which is considered the most difficult portion. I have many cherished memories of students finally “getting it”, truly comprehending what the practice orders were, being able to do the complex calculations, and then being able to compound the required product. It really did seem as though a light would turn on over their heads. I really loved that assignment. I also had a great relationship with my fellow NCOs and still am in touch with one of them.
My fifth assignment was at Fort Meade and this was a dark time in my life. I suffered the loss of my husband followed by the loss of my dearest aunt followed by the loss of thousands of dollars worth of vaccinations due to a refrigerator malfunction and a civilian interim supervisor that blamed me and whom I bumped heads with every step of the way. Fortunately, I was reassigned to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and had a wonderful First Sergeant (now CSM Gregory Lott) who was also a Pharmacy Technician. I worked with a wonderful team of pharmacists in the Clinical Pharmacy section of the pharmacy. These were some very smart people and I had the privilege to be on their team. What an honor.
My last assignment took me to Bavaria, Germany where I was in charge of seven pharmacies. I spent many hours on the road going to and fro, but it was worth it because I was able to ensure that the pharmacies were in peak operating order and that the pharmacists and specialists were all well trained. I was able to pass on my knowledge, which helped ensure that my Soldiers performed well and that my Pharmacists stayed informed. This assignment took its toll on my TMP, but I would have driven around the world to ensure my pharmacies were at their optimum.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE, INCLUDING COMBAT, DESCRIBE THE PERSONAL MEMORIES WHICH HAVE IMPACTED YOU MOST?
There are many memories that stand out for me. First is repelling down Victory Tower during Basic Training which allowed me to overcome my fear of heights and accomplish a task that I originally thought I would not be able to. My first duty assignment where I worked with some of the best trained and knowledgeable people I know. Teaching at Fort Sam Houston because I was able to pass on skills and knowledge to new Soldiers. Deploying to Hurricane Katrina Relief. Being the Training NCO for about 500 Soldiers. Working in Clinical Pharmacy and doing drug studies. My service in Germany. I know those are just brief statements but I could write volumes on those subjects.
WHAT ACHIEVEMENT(S) ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF FROM YOUR MILITARY CAREER?
There are two awards that I am most proud of. The first one is a Commendation I received while stationed at Camp Red Cloud. We had a trauma victim come in and I was part of the team that worked on her. Unfortunately, she did not make it, but I am proud of the fact that I know I and the team of health care providers did everything humanly possible to try to save her. There was nothing in my pharmacy technician training that even came close to preparing me for that situation, but I and the others handled it with great professionalism. This was in January 2004.
The next award that I am proud of is an Army Commendation Medal I received for rendering emergency medical treatment to a civilian who was having a grand mal epileptic seizure. This incident occurred while I was attending a pharmacy conference in Biloxi, Mississippi. The conference had ended for the day and I was on my way back to my room to change into civilian clothes. I just passed a pillar and caught a glimpse of someone. It looked as though they were hitting their head on the slot machine they were playing. I took another step forward toward my room, but something just didn’t seem right. I turned around and noticed this person was not just hitting their head on the slot machine, but was actually having a grand mal seizure. I rushed over to him, pulled him back from the machine so he would not injure himself further, got the attention of a security guard who helped me lower the man to the floor, directed him to call 911 and get the man’s player’s card from the machine so he could be identified and have his family or companions paged, ensured the man did not injure himself, and stayed with him until the ambulance arrived. Again, my pharmacy technician training did not prepare me for this, but I had prepared myself because I had been a Certified Nursing Assistant before joining the Army and by taking the Combat Lifesaver’s Course and attempting the EFMB twice. This was in April 2000
OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, FORMAL PRESENTATIONS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES YOU RECEIVED, OR ANY OTHER MEMORABILIA, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH ARE THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
My second AAM (1993) is very meaningful to me because it validated my knowledge and skills.It was given to me because I went TDY to Fort Chaffee to replace the Pharmacist who had to be out for over a month and there was a JRTC rotation being held so it was critical that the pharmacy be manned.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
My very first NCOIC, MSG(r) Juli Tanzi had the biggest impact on me. She set the standard of how an NCO should behave. Never once did I hear her complain about the long hours we worked or the changes that seemed to be constantly implemented. She made it happen. I
remember when I first arrived and met with her she cared about my whole person, not just the soldier side. She helped me enroll in correspondence courses and directed me to the Ed Center so I could enroll in college classes because that, too, was important. If there was training to be had, she would ensure we got to it. I never saw her back down from any challenge and that set a trend for me. She also never hesitated to lend a helping hand and she was always present. During our busiest times of day, she would be out on the front-line entering or filling prescriptions with the rest of us. She exuded competence and confidence and had an outstanding work ethic. I am so glad that she was my first NCOIC.
The other person that had a very positive impact on me is CSM Gregory Lott. After I had suffered the loss of my husband, my aunt, and had fallen into a deep depression, he supported me by ensuring there were no ramifications to me seeking mental health help, having confidence in my abilities as a pharmacy technician and NCO, and allowing me to perform my job as the NCOIC of Inpatient Pharmacy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and then as his training NCO. This changed my life for the better and without his support I don’t know if I would have been able to continue my career in the Army.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE BEEN FUNNY AT THE TIME, BUT STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
Yes, my first desk when I was assigned as the Training NCO for Alpha Company, WRAMC. You see, there were not enough desks to go around and the building was being renovated so I had a living room chair to sit in and a desk chair as my desk.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR PRESENT OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY?
After I retired from the Army I attended Fayetteville Technical Community College (FTCC) where I earned a degree in Culinary Arts and graduated with honors. I currently am a Chef for hire for private occasions, am involved in the American Culinary Federation, and will begin teaching cooking classes at the Continuing Education Department of FTCC in July 2015.
I am involved in a four volunteer projects. I do data entry for both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. This allows documents to be searchable. I also photograph, upload, and transcribe headstones for Find-A-Grave.com and BillionGraves.com
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
I was a member of Sigma Phi Psi Sorority, Inc. They were the first Greek letter sorority for Armed Forces women that required no college affiliation. This association provided a great feeling of sisterhood, support and camaraderie, but I got stationed in Germany for 4 years, retired from the Army, and then went to school for two and a half years. I found I did not have the time to dedicate to the sorority since I was no longer near a chapter therefore I resigned my position and left the sorority although I do still keep in contact with a couple of the sorors.
My sorority sisters and I would carry the flags for the DAV during parades on Memorial Day and Veterans Day at Arlington Cemetery and Quantico.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?
Actually, it hasn’t. My philosophy and that of the military were the same when I joined so I really fit in. I had a strong work ethic, a sense of being, and a sense of purpose when I joined and that fell right in with what I believe the military represent. I was also taught, before joining the Army, that if you are going to do something then do it right the first time and that is a philosophy I tried to follow and instill in my soldiers.
BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE ARMY?
I would challenge them to better themselves and those around them. It really is a team effort and if you are in it for yourself then you are in the wrong profession and need to leave. For those that are in it to better themselves, their soldiers, and to stand up for what is right then I say to them continue what you are doing. You are an elite few that have chosen to take on this challenge and it is worth it. If more people had this mindset then we would all be better off. Regardless of your MOS, field time, or deployments you are important and what you do does make a difference. Whether you are a pill pusher as I was, a cook, or a tanker we all have our role to play and they all interlock so do the best you can because someone is counting on you.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.
It is a good forum to stay in touch with others that had served or are still serving. I was able to find a fellow soldier that I had served with while at Camp Red Cloud. Because we had different MOS’s we drifted apart, but because of Togetherweserved.com we were able to reconnect.