The Vietnam War – Pam Swennes Barrows – serving at Fort Benning and beyond | News, Sports, Jobs


Photo courtesy of Pam (Swennes) Barrows Pam (Swennes) Barrows raises the national flag during a 2021 Twins game

We learned about Pam Swennes Vietnamese service as an army nurse. After graduating from Marshall High School and nursing school, she volunteered for service in Vietnam.

Pam worked at the 71st Pleiku Evacuation Hospital, treating injured soldiers for twelve hours, six days a week. Her assignment was near her fiancé, Jack, whom she married on R&R in Hawaii.

They completed their tours in Vietnam and returned to the United States at Fort Benning, Georgia.

“I was appointed head nurse on a postoperative surgery floor. Jack was taking the advanced infantry officer course.

They were active-duty Army officers and Vietnam veterans, but Pam noticed a void.

“I don’t think we even talked about Vietnam at Fort Benning, even though we lived and worked in a military community. We were not received. We came home and there was nothing. It wasn’t until the 1980s that it became acceptable to be a Vietnam vet.

Although she hasn’t spoken about her service in Vietnam, Pam says it was the foundation of her career.

“Starting a career with that experience – we had to improvise; we had to learn – was a building block. Throughout my career, that’s how I operated. I learned what I had to do and I tried to do it as best I could, if I had to improvise, I did.

Pam enjoyed the Martin Military Hospital at Fort Benning and was promoted to captain, but her military service ended there.

“I had to leave the army when I got pregnant. It was just part of the army for women at the time – there was no other choice. I couldn’t even wear a pregnancy uniform. I had to wear my fitted uniform with my military green sweater over it. I left active service in July 1970. John was born in October.

Pam returned to Martin’s Army Hospital six months later as a civilian critical care nurse until Jack was reassigned to Fort Carson, Colorado. Pam explained that Jack’s career in the military ended soon after.

“Jack was released from active duty during the (post-Vietnam) Reduction of Forces (RIF). He didn’t have a college degree. We settled in Denver. I’ve interviewed [at St. Anthony Hospital]. They offered me a position in their surgical intensive care unit.

The GIR and the relocation stressed and eventually ended Pam’s marriage. She continued to work at St. Anthony’s, including the familiar role of treating helicopter patients.

“We had a lot of trauma because we were the first Flight for Life program in the United States. I was a member of the reception team in the trauma room. We did a lot of open hearts; spine surgeries; and open trauma.

During these years, Pam earned a bachelor’s degree in labor and personnel management. This led to another career change.

“I was divorced and John was in elementary school while I was at St. Anthony. Raising a child as a single parent has not been easy. I wanted to go back to Minnesota and closer to home. Northfield offered me the position of director of nursing.

After almost two years in Northfield, the house was called Pam.

“Marshall contacted me about their position as Director of Nursing. It worked better for John to be close to my parents. At Northfield and Marshall, I used what I didn’t like at St. Anthony , that nurses were treated like peons, to try to be another kind of administrator.Frontline workers are what makes or breaks any organization.

Pam worked as a nurse administrator and also earned a Masters in Business Administration. The hospital then hired Pam as the assistant hospital administrator.

Her tenure at Marshall also reintroduced her to military health care.

“I was part of this commission to investigate veterans’ homes. I was the delegate of the external state. The result was that the Commissioner of Veterans Affairs assumed responsibility for veterans homes through a board of directors. I served [on] this council for four years.

After he left his position on the board in 1992, they called Pam.

“They asked me to apply for the position of manager of the new Luverne Vets house. I really appreciated. In acute care, you couldn’t get to know patients, whereas in long-term care, you could get to know them and improve their lives. I also appreciated a position where you could support the staff.

Pam and her staff promoted a new approach to helping their residents.

“Long-term care was changing. The nation was moving towards care in a more family setting. Children were at the heart of our program. We had animals there. Food was important to have good meals. The involvement of the local veteran community was huge. We tried to make it a family.

Pam ended her career as Senior Director of Veterans Homes, then retired in 2012 as Acting Deputy Commissioner of Veterans Affairs for Veterans Homes.

She reflected on her career.

“I loved the challenge of caring for critical patients – taking the time to do it well. I loved the constant learning. Not just the clinical learning, but everything around it. I hope to have made a difference along the way. My goal was to support the people I was responsible for. I started my career caring for soldiers and ended it caring for veterans. doesn’t get any better than that.

Thank you for your service in Vietnam and for serving the veterans, Pam. Welcome to the house.

The Departmental Museum of Lyon is organizing an exhibition on the impact of the Vietnam War on the department of Lyon. If you would like to share experiences in Vietnam or help with the exhibit, please contact me at prairieview [email protected] or call the museum at 537-6580.



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