From diesel mechanic to ER nurse
Rhea served 9 years in Iowa Army National Guard
Today, one would usually find Fort Dodge native Regina Rhea bustling around UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center where she works as a nurse in the emergency room. About 20 years ago, you would have been more likely to see her buzzing around a motor pool full of military vehicles.
Rhea enlisted in the Iowa Army National Guard in 1995, when she was 17, and spent the summer between her junior and senior years of high school at basic training. After graduating from Fort Dodge Senior High, she went on to attend Advanced Individual Training, where she’d learn how to do her new Army job — quartermaster equipment repairman.
While in high school, Rhea had gotten used to seeing the Army and National Guard recruiters who would visit the school at times throughout the year.
“It always intrigued me,” she said. “It was always something I was interested in, and every year the drive just got a little more powerful.”
While in the Guard, Rhea attended drill with her unit twice a month in Eagle Grove. She and her unit would also attend a two-week annual training each year on various military installations across the country.
During the week, the young soldier would work different day jobs as time went on — from typical after-school jobs to being an aide at Friendship Haven to working for the Transportation Security Administration to working in a factory.
And then the day came that everything changed.
“When 9/11 happened, I immediately called my unit and asked, ‘Is there anything I can do? Is there anything you need me to do?'” Rhea said, eager to do whatever she could to aid her country.
She then was put on active duty status and was assigned to security detail at Camp Dodge in Johnston, just as military installations everywhere began to beef up security in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack.
Rhea stayed at Camp Dodge for a little over a year before going back to her regular National Guard status and beginning her new job with the TSA, but she didn’t get much time to settle in.
“I hadn’t even been with the TSA for four months when my unit was activated to deploy,” she said.
By now, the needs of her unit had changed, so Rhea had already retrained into a new military occupational specialty — an Army wheeled vehicle mechanic.
The unit spent six months training at Fort Riley, Kansas, before heading to Bagram, Afghanistan, in 2002.
“We spent six months boots-on-ground doing hands-on diesel mechanics,” Rhea said.
After her deployment, Rhea came home and returned to her TSA job.
In 2004, when Rhea’s enlistment contract was up, she decided to not re-enlist for another term. She had served nine years, reached the rank of specialist and had one deployment under her belt. It was the deployments and her young family at home that helped her decide to get out.
“After watching a bunch of people do deployment with kids, it was not something I was OK with,” she said. “They pretty much told us we were looking at the possibility of another activation within a year and I didn’t want to leave a very new baby at home with someone else.”
Rhea’s husband at the time was also in the military and she was concerned about how it would affect their children with both parents being called up to deploy at the same time, as well as the physical and invisible wounds they may come home with.
“If it weren’t for seeing what it was like for deployments and kids and families and how that could either significantly make or break a family, I don’t think I would have gotten out until I hit retirement,” Rhea added.
After she got out of the National Guard, Rhea worked for a little bit more and then went to nursing school with the help of her G.I. Bill benefits. She finished nursing school in 2011 and worked in Lake City for three and a half years before finding her way back to her hometown to work in TRMC’s emergency room.
Rhea is proud of her military service and training and how it’s helped shape who she is today. She said because of her time serving, she’s more organized and able to look at the bigger picture and look at problems from different angles to come up with a solution.
“It’s helped me with being well-rounded when it comes to working with different people, in different environments, in different situations,” she said.
Being in the military and being a veteran is like having a whole other family, Rhea said.
“It’s just knowing that you’re part of an elite group of people that know they would never go back and change what they’ve done,” she said. “I like having those proud moments knowing what I did might encourage other people or my own children to join some form of the armed services and give back to their own communities and give back to their own country.”