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Monday, June 30, 2014 - 10:27pm
FORT BLISS — Retired Col. Lenore Enzel, associate director of nurse and patient care service for the El Paso Department of Veterans Affairs, knew she wanted to become a nurse since she was a child. It all began when she read “Sue Barton: Student Nurse” and the rest of the books in the series by Helen Dore Boylston.
Enzel’s father was a World War II veteran, so she was always drawn to the Army. “I went to nursing school, graduated and when I went to take my state boards, there were recruiters from the Army, Navy and Air Force,” said Enzel. “I went up to the Army recruiter when I was all of 20, and I asked about the Army. Well, At that point, in 1971, the Army Nurse Corps had already gone to an all baccalaureate corps.”
Enzel had the traditional two-year diploma from a nursing hospital. The Navy and Air Force would take the young nurse, but her heart was set on the Army, so she went on her way. She began working at the same hospital she trained at Enzel continued her education and within a couple of years, she had her bachelor’s degree.
“I had worked all inner-city hospitals taking care of not always the most pleasant patients,” Enzel recalled. “I had food trays thrown at me, urine thrown at me. I had a knife pulled on me to give someone the narcotics keys. I was told by a lot of pimps that I could make more money working for them than I could at this hospital.”
After weighing all of her options and discussing her decision with her mentors, Enzel finally joined the Army. At that time, in 1977, it was not considered appropriate for a young Jewish woman from New York City to become a nurse, Enzel said. It was even worse to join the Army.
She was sent to Hawaii for her first assignment, and would be sent there three more times in her 30-year Army career.
While in the Army, Enzel was surprised to find the doctors, nurses and different specialties truly worked as a team. She even found, for the most part, the patients were very grateful and respectful. She really liked being an Army nurse.
“I went in kind of thinking I would stay in for twenty years; I’m not really sure how I got to thirty,” laughs Enzel.
Throughout her career, Enzel flourished in roles of heightened responsibility and challenging circumstances. “I think the Army really pushes you into things, and its sink or swim and I’m not going to sink,” said Enzel. “I just learned to take a deep breath; whether it’s going into the CS (gas) chamber, the (Army Physical Fitness) Test or going to Singapore or Thailand by myself.”
On her second assignment in New Jersey, Enzel met her future husband, also an Army nurse. The couple married in Colorado and received orders to Hawaii. While there, Enzel’s husband retired.
“He became the one following me,” said Enzel with a smile on her face.
Enzel’s career followed a path of success. She was not sure if it was hard work or luck, but she was grateful to get there.
She had many unique opportunities and was made an honorary member of the 1st Cavalry Division while stationed at Fort Hood. She had the opportunity to travel throughout the Pacific while she worked with TRICARE.
“It’s good to be good, but it’s also good to be lucky,” said Enzel. “Since I was out there, I got to be one of the first nurse commanders at the battalion level. I had the 2nd Medical Recruiting Battalion.”
Enzel spent many more years in many different positions. One of the highlights to her career was getting promoted to colonel. During her promotion ceremony, she gave a speech and said if she could make colonel, then the Army was big enough for everyone.
“I was not your typical nurse. I was a little bit older, I grew up in New York City, I was pretty sophisticated, I was a loud mouth,” lists Enzel. “I’m still a loud mouth, but I’ve learned how to temper it and become a little more politically correct and respectful.”
When she was promoted, Enzel felt like she was finally in a place where she could make some changes. She wanted to make things better for Army nurses. “I felt like there were always things that I wanted to change and influence,” she said. “You have to get enough rank and power and control so you can do it. I think I did a lot of good things in my career; I made a lot of mistakes too. I think overall, I did some good stuff.”
Enzel’s last assignment was as the deputy commander for patient services and nursing at William Beaumont Army Medical Center. “During my tenure (at WBAMC), we went to war and one of my nurses died there,” Enzel said. “I had five years of deploying people with sick husbands; deploying people with four-month old kids. You do what you have to do because it’s the Army, but it takes a toll.”
In December 2007, Enzel retired from the Army after 30 years of service. She felt drained and wanted to take some time off. People were offering her jobs, but she didn’t want to be the Soldier who hung up their uniform and went to work as a civilian the very next day.
After a few years of volunteering and working at a private hospital, Enzel was drawn back to the military. An opportunity arose to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs, where she became the associate director of nurse and patient care service.
“I think that veterans are special people, and if you work here you have to honor that and respect their service,” said Enzel. “I love having the opportunity to take care of veterans, but to also kind of be the voice of VA nursing in El Paso.”
Enzel has spent more than 40 years of her life as a nurse. It was a passion that started as a young girl when she read her Sue Barton books. Today, that passion has translated into a lifetime of service as a Soldier and for Soldiers.
“I’m passionate about nursing. I’ve been a (registered nurse) for forty-two and a half years,” said Enzel. “I think nurses are the heart of healthcare. I think they have a lot to offer that often gets overlooked. I think they need someone to give them a voice.”
Enzel has dedicated her life to being that voice.
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