After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, Martha Ellen Birkhead attended Catholic University in Washington, D.C. to study psychiatric nursing. She graduated with her master’s degree in 1981 and moved to Colorado. She joined the Army Reserve on a reccomendation from a friend who was a nurse in the National Guard. Birkhead wanted to work in a different environment and teach nursing skills.
She commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps in 1984 and attended officers’ training at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado. During officers’ training, Birkhead worked in classroom training and transitioning to military conditions from civilian nursing. She also trained in the field in Utah and California.
Birkhead later went from Buckley Air Force Base in Denver to Busan, South Korea, in March 1985. She supported an active training simulation and conducted joint-training exercises with the South Korean Army. Birkead worked for three weeks in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital close to the simulated battle lines, practicing emergency surgery and live treatment procedures. She also worked in triage simulation training, in which she assessed the urgency of wounds or illnesses to decide the order of patient treatment. For her work during this operation, Birkhead received an Army Achievement Medal. Later, Birkhead went to Italy in support of another active training simulation in cooperation with the Italian military..
Birkhead honorably discharged as a captain in 1993. After leaving the Army, she worked as a psychiatric nurse at army medical hospitals for 19 years. She was part of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and a lifelong member of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association.
Birkhead passed away in February 2018 in Honey Brook, Pennsylvania, at the age of 63.
We honor her service.
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Writer: Sarah Concepcion