SPRAGUE: Today is September 12, 2019. This is an interview with ElizabethColle, who served in the United States Army through the beginning of the first Gulf War. Colle served from 1986 to 1990 in a medical unit at Walter Reed and Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston Texas. Elizabeth entered the service as Lisa Rochelle, or Rachel Cole?
COLLE: Lisa Rachelle Colle.
SPRAGUE: Colle, we'll get that correct. Sorry.
COLLE: That's okay, no worries.
SPRAGUE: This interview is being conducted by Luke Sprague at the East Branch ofthe Milwaukee Public Library in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for the I Am Not Invisible project for the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Oral History Program. No one else is present in the room. Starting out, Elizabeth when, and where were you born? 00:01:00
COLLE: I was born in Los Angeles in 1968 at Queen of Angels Hospital, which Iguess is a famous hospital, or was then, but then converted since to a Dream Center, but I was raised primarily in Westminster.
SPRAGUE: Moving on, did you grow up in Los Angeles? Tell me about that.
COLLE: I grew up in a suburb. I guess they would call the suburbs of LosAngeles, I lived in Orange County, which was south, and a lot of families would have to commute because they wanted to live in a place that was easier to raise children in a better environment. So, we lived kind of in the suburbs.
SPRAGUE: Which suburb was it, by the way?
COLLE: Westminster, which was, I would say central to north Orange County, whichwas about maybe an hour away from Los Angeles. 00:02:00
SPRAGUE: And what schools did you attend?
COLLE: I attended which is now Franklin School, Springdale Elementary, StaceyJunior High, and then Westminster High.
SPRAGUE: So, what was life like when you grew up in that area? What was that like?
COLLE: It was great. This is before the time of helicopter parenting, kind of afree-range parenting. So, the time to come in were when the streetlights went off. And Mom and Dad really didn't worry about where you were, as long as you came home from for dinner. So, quite different than today. It was a nice time to be raised in the seventies and eighties, to be a kid.
SPRAGUE: So, getting to that, tell me a little bit more in terms of growing upin the seventies and eighties and being a free-range kid.
COLLE: At the time you don't realize how lucky you are, I guess,00:03:00until you're older and you do comparisons. But we were free to listen to the music that we wanted, and in those days, we had--Pink Floyd was coming out with songs and Led Zeppelin already had some songs that we would listen to, and the eighties music, and it was all about--I guess they were worried about devil worship and things like that, but I guess we enjoyed being bad. That was our version of being bad. And drugs were around and everything, but not like today. It really was a very innocent time compared to what we have today. We didn't have social media so if someone wanted to call you, they actually dialed a telephone. We had this yellow telephone attached to the wall with a long cord, and if you weren't home, you weren't home. Mom would tell you later, "So-and-so called." It was just a slower-paced lifestyle.
I walked to school by myself, except for when I was maybe five. We00:04:00did it in a group. No one worried about anything. So you had this feeling of autonomy, I guess, that kids don't really have now. And we knew what to do, where to go, go on public transportation, we just figured it out somehow. It was a great time to be a kid.
SPRAGUE: So, what made that transition from childhood? Were you thinking aboutthe military in the back of your head? Tell me about how you got around to getting into the military.
COLLE: When I was a kid, I used to watch M*A*S*H with my father. He was a KoreanWar vet. And he didn't talk about it much, surprisingly. And my father was kind of stoic. He was kind of a Midwestern stoic father. I know he loved me, but he was not very demonstrative with his emotion or his affection. I mean, 00:05:00not an angry man whatsoever, but just kind of even and deliberate, quiet. And so, by watching these shows, Hawaii Five-0, M*A*S*H was a way for me to get close to him. And he loved it because it reminded him, I guess, of a time--just like a lot of people in the military, you think it's the worst part of your life but when you look back you remember mostly the good times and really, when you didn't have a lot of responsibility, didn't have a family or children. And so that was kind of like your last hurrah before you settled down. And my dad enjoyed that immensely. And I got used to the lingo, just by watching M*A*S*H and I really liked it.
And I didn't really think much of it, but as I got older, we had recruiters cometo our high school and told us what we wanted to hear, took us out for lunches, and I didn't know what to do after high school. No one ever talked 00:06:00about college. I was actually a very bright kid, but my mother had not even a second-grade education, and although my father had a degree, no one really talked to him about college, so I guess all he knew was just that kids kind of raised themselves. So I got to the age where all the other parents were helping their children fill out application forms and all that for college, and I was kind of left not knowing what to do. So I thought, "Well what do I want to do? Well, it would be kind of neat to be a photographer and work for Stars and Stripes, like I've seen in the movies." So I said, "Well," and me and my friend, we both joined together, and she turned out to get--she went into computers and I was in the delayed entrance program. I was only seventeen at the time.
So my father actually had to sign me into the military. And that's how ithappened. And then I went in. 00:07:00
SPRAGUE: What did your father say when he signed that document? What do youthink he thought?
COLLE: He wasn't very happy about it, but he did it. And there were some familymembers that were a little upset, I found out years later, "How could you let your daughter join? An Orange County girl with all these resources, join the Army?" And these were relatives that were in Vietnam, so they had a different, I guess, idea of the military and were, I guess, very upset with my parents for letting me do that, casting me to the wind. But I went ahead and did it and I never heard anything of it until many years later. But my dad was okay with it, I guess. One less mouth to feed, I suppose.
SPRAGUE: So what was your experience-- tell me more about the delayed00:08:00entry program and what that was like for you being in high school and being in the Army at the same time. Explain that to me and the listeners, please.
COLLE: Well, knowing that you're going to be in the military but you'reunderage, basically, you're not old enough to legally sign any documents, so you make a promissory note with a parent or parents signing for you. My mom didn't really know how to write, so my dad signed the document where you're promising to, once you're eighteen, that you will join the military. And high school friends were just like, "Really? You're joining the Army?" And they're like, "Wow, that's kind of badass." So, I mean I kind of liked the idea, not really knowing what I was getting into, but it was a neat time. 00:09:00
SPRAGUE: So tell me your first impressions. So you show up at basic training.What's that like?
COLLE: Well, they put you on a bus. You go to MEP [Military Entrance Processing]Station, which was in Los Angeles and that's where they process you when you do your final swear in and you sign more documents. And then we took an airplane, because I went from Los Angeles Airport, LAX to New Jersey. So I was on a really long flight. And I'd never been anywhere, really, so I went to the East Coast and landed at the airport and then they took us from the bus. That's when the yelling started. [Laughter] And I guess my only reference was--what was it? I forgot the name of that movie, Stripes, maybe? And Private Benjamin. Those were my only references. So I knew the yelling was going to start, but not 00:10:00to that extent that we saw in the movies. And then they took us to the post we were at. And then that's where it all started.
SPRAGUE: What post was that?
COLLE: This was at Fort Dix, New Jersey. I'm not sure if it's still open, ifit's a working post at this point, but it was then. And I picked a very unique time to have basic training, not knowing--being from Orange County, that in October through December, is actually winter, [laughter] and the winters on the East Coast are quite different than the winters in California, Southern California.
SPRAGUE: So at that time, it's what, 1986, somewhere in there, about to be 1987.Was the training together with men and women or was it separate in basic training how did it that go?
COLLE: They were separate units. Our platoon, we were all women. The00:11:00only time we saw the guys, maybe in the mess hall, and then, strangely enough when we did our PT [physical training] and our qualification, the sit-ups, push-ups, and the run. And we would do that together. But otherwise we didn't, we just saw them in passing, the men.
SPRAGUE: So, you were in separate platoons?
SPRAGUE: Okay. But the same company?
SPRAGUE: Interesting. In a normal line company? Were there three platoons ofwomen in one of men or three of men and one in women? What was the ratio?
COLLE: That's a good question. I actually don't remember. [Laughs] We justremember being cooped up with girls in the barracks and when we would get a chance to see the guys, and they would have a chance to see us, it was--to the mess hall and you know. It was very limited. So, I think that's about the only thing we were interested in, just seeing them. 00:12:00
SPRAGUE: Tell me about going to the mess hall at basic and what that was like.
COLLE: It was actually quite good. I didn't realize the food would be so good.Unfortunately, I didn't get to eat a lot at the mess hall. Most of us didn't. We had a lot of MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) and that was the time where they went from C-Rations to the new and improved C-Rations, which were called MREs for Meal, Ready Eat. They really weren't that good. We were actually in the field more than I thought we would be, more than the guys, actually. They reported that they didn't do that as often as we did. I don't know what the reason was, but when we did go to the mess hall, I indulged. It was really nice.
But when you first went, you have three minutes to eat. And that was not fun.But as you prove yourself in basic training, towards the end, they actually let you sit down for twenty minutes or so and actually have a real meal.
SPRAGUE: Do you remember any of your experiences while you were in00:13:00the field training with your platoon?
COLLE: I do. My favorite, or my only thing I liked really was the rifle range.And I did pretty well. I didn't realize I would do well with the rifle range. I made Expert Rifle Qualification. The rest of it, I didn't like too much. I didn't mind the marching. I didn't mind a lot of the stuff. But what I really didn't like was the bivouac, and the gas chamber. That was kind of frightening. But a lot of it was just making us do stupid stuff, just to break you down, just like in any institution that wants to--the whole indoctrination thing. Looking back when you're a kid you don't really know what you're getting into. You just do what you're told. Everything is regimented from when you go to bed, when you get up, when you do PT, when you eat, always being told what to do, 00:14:00what side of the line you're going to be in, where you stop behind this line.
I didn't like that. And I also discovered that I wasn't being--the people aboveme weren't always that bright, in my mind at the time. And me being a kid and thinking I'm more intelligent than most people, kind of looked down my nose and kind of resented being screamed at and told what to do by someone who had a reading level that I thought was probably third grade, which probably wasn't a very nice way to look at people, because we have people from all different backgrounds. But when you're a kid and you're kind of immature and someone's screaming at you and in your mind you're like, "Yeah, well you can read at a third grade level. I'm better than you, anyways." So. [Laughs]
SPRAGUE: So, you're at Fort Dix. What was the experience with00:15:00bivouacking in New Jersey or nearby? What was that like?
COLLE: It was miserable. we had to put up a puptent, which I never did. Theyshowed us how briefly, how to do it. And it was freezing. I think it was nine degrees that night. And that was one of the times that I wondered, "What did I sign up for?" Because you had a buddy. There was just enough for you and one other person. I remember the drill sergeants laughing and saying, "Your rifle is your boyfriend now, because you're going to sleep next to it at all times," which I thought was funny even then, because I didn't have a boyfriend, but--I don't think I ever had a boyfriend until afterwards. But that was miserable. That was one of the most miserable, cold nights. And they showed us a film where you're supposed to take your clothes off, down to your underwear and 00:16:00then when you get up, you put your clothes back on. And I didn't. I was so cold, I just crashed in everything including my boots. And I think that was a smart thing to do, so when they called us in the morning, like five in the morning, I was already dressed because there's no way I could have been dressed in time for that. Because by the time you fall asleep, you're waking up again. And you're just so tired. And we were out there for a few nights, I remember.
SPRAGUE: And you thought that, or you knew that you had more time in the fieldthan the men did, it seemed like or was the case?
COLLE: We weren't sure, exactly, but from us eating the MREs and then the menbeing able to leave, we would see them in passing and then instead of 00:17:00sitting in the field like we were sitting around, sitting on rocks in the forest, they would leave to go to the mess hall and then come back later. So we were a little jealous of them.
SPRAGUE: Did you think there was anything to that? Like, "Because I'm a womanthey're doing this to me," or not really?
COLLE: Not really. Not really. We just thought that they had nicer drillsergeants than we did. [Laughter] We thought we just got unlucky.
SPRAGUE: So, you graduate basic. What's that like?
COLLE: It was a relief. It was really a relief. In those days--I don't know whatit's like now--you didn't pick your duty station, you just hoped that you would get the kind of job that you wanted. Well, I knew I was going to be a photographer because that was signed, and I remember telling my recruiter, because I knew enough at least about the military, that they promised you things that--watching Private Benjamin--about the boats and the lakes, I 00:18:00knew that wasn't going to happen. So I had them sign. I said, "I'm not going to join unless I can be a photographer." So I knew I wanted to be a photographer, I just didn't know where I would be stationed.
So that was at the end. We're all ramping up to, "Wow, where are we going? Whereare we going?" And then we check the list, and you get to see where you're going. And I got Walter Reed. I'd never heard of it. So that was a hospital in Washington DC.
SPRAGUE: Now, to interrupt you, was that where your Advanced Training was? Howdoes that work as a combat photographer?
COLLE: Oh, very good question. Our AIT was--at least for the photographers, atthe Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado which sounded great because it was in the winter and I could go skiing. And I think the only really, really sad 00:19:00time around that time was when the families of the other soldiers would come on graduation day, and my parents lived three thousand miles away, and not having the money or I think even really wanting to, deep down, to see me graduate, I felt kind of sad. But I was looking forward to the winter break because we just happened to have a winter break for two weeks after our basic training and so I believe we went home for two weeks, and then I went to AIT after that, in Denver, at Lowry Air Force Base.
SPRAGUE: What was that like?
COLLE: A lot better than basic training. It was a lot more fun. And that wasco-ed and being eighteen years old, that was fun. You got meet boys and learn about photography. And it was pretty liberal and lax, compared to a 00:20:00lot of AITs, because we were on the Air Force Base. We called them Zoomies, and they called us Grunts, but it was a more relaxed atmosphere. So we were actually detachment, but that was the only photography school that there was, at least that we knew about, so we ended up at Air Force Base, which was nice. And a lot of good memories, a lot of actually good times.
SPRAGUE: So, you called the Air Force guys Zoomies. [Laughter]
COLLE: Yes. Sorry, Air Force people. [Laughter]
SPRAGUE: There you go. At the Air Force Base, what did you do for fun? What didyou do in your spare time?
COLLE: Lots of things, actually. We went out in the snow. We made friendshipsand I had a few boyfriends. And I'd never really been around--the 00:21:00boys in high school were a lot different from--turning into young men in the military, so they were little bit more aggressive, more assertive in who they wanted. And it was kind of neat getting attention, because in high school I was kind of awkward-looking. I wasn't that attractive, I thought. So being in the military, it was almost like they were fighting for me, and I thought that was really a lot of fun. So we would go to the PX, which was like their grocery store, because we didn't have cars. I believe a few of the soldiers did have cars because they lived around the area. They were lucky enough to get AIT in their state or near, so they drove there so they had what were called POVs, privately-owned vehicles.
That's part of the jargon that we--all the acronyms that we learned. Sodepending on which boyfriend I had, we would go out. We would go out to Red Rocks. We would go out to see movies. In a big group we saw, what 00:22:00came out at the time was Platoon, which was a very big movie at the time, and Full Metal Jacket. So we saw those movies, at least Platoon I remember. And it was really a lot of fun. It was really eye-opening. And then I remember one incident in general, which was probably the most memorable, was when we went joyriding with the boyfriend I had at the time. We decided to go off-roading, and he didn't have four-wheel drive, which we didn't think about, being impulsive kids. So we went off the road in the snow and got stuck there. It was like, "Okay." So he carried me on his back to another car. He called a friend. He had to go to a pay phone because we didn't have cell phones in those days, so he had to trudge through the snow for a couple miles. So, he called one of the other soldiers who had a bigger truck to get us out of there. 00:23:00
So my boyfriend at the time, he handed me some whiskey and said, "Okay, I wantyou to drink this to stay warm, and every ten, twenty minutes, turn the car on with the heat." He was actually very protective of me. He was actually a very nice person. So this truck gets stuck in the snow in the mud, so he called a friend of his, and so on, and so on. So at some point there was like this graveyard of stuck four-wheel drive even trucks, and we had--it was like three, four in the morning, and we were going to have to go to class. We had to be in formation. So by the time we got a tow truck, we were late for school. We didn't show up. I mean that could be considered AWOL [absence without official leave]. And there was I think the only word that there was, was someone may 00:24:00have called, or may not have, I don't really remember, that we were stuck in the snow. So everyone was in class, and I tiptoed in late into my what they call the barracks, but they were really just like dorms at the Air Force Base and got called into the office and got chewed out.
And I was surprised I didn't get written up. I really thought I was going to getan Article 13, which is something really bad that's on your military record. And the guys did not, I don't think they got written up either, but they lost their color guard, which was an honor. They had to turn in their belts and their scarves and everything, so it was really kind of traumatic, for all the things that they had to do. They worked for that honor. So I remember the captain saying, "You, young lady, why did you go out there with these men? You could have been raped," and I just laughed, because these weren't, to me, 00:25:00the kind of people that would be doing things like that. That was pretty much a slap on the wrist. And it turned out we were a legend, because when I went to my duty station, the people afterwards heard about me.
They knew about Private Colle and her escapades. So when other people--I guessthe group after me, when we ended up doing the photography, I remember one Private Biju he was like, "I heard about you, and they said that I should date you, that you were a lot of fun." [Laughter] I didn't do anything, but we got stuck in the snow. And he said, "Yeah, you should check," one of the instructors, I was very surprised, said, "Oh, she's very good-looking, you should date her," and I guess everyone had heard about us getting stuck in the snow, and oh, it was a big thing. We didn't come to formation; we were the rebels. That was probably the most memorable good time that we had. 00:26:00
SPRAGUE: You mentioned Walter Reed as your first duty station. What was yourfirst day showing up there? What was that like?
COLLE: It was nice because I thought I would be getting yelled at, but I waskind of left on my own. The Abrams Hall there were like dorms, too. they weren't real barracks. And you had a roommate, and you had your locker, which usually separated you so you would have some privacy and you shared a bathroom. And I had a huge steamer trunk that I got from a junk sale, where I had all my clothes and belongings in, and the thing was heavy. And I believe I was on the second or third floor. I didn't know how to get the thing up there, and I was struggling, I was struggling, and people coming up and down the stairs, not really paying much attention to me. And then this one guy, really nice fellow, 00:27:00Steve Girouard, he said, "May I help you? You look like you're struggling." And then I believe he and another soldier, I forgot his name, but I remember Steve Girouard for other reasons that we'll probably go into later, and he was very, very nice and helped me put it in my room, said, "Is there anything I can do for you?" Very nice. So that was my introduction. And I felt very much at ease after that.
SPRAGUE: Describe your place of work and what that was like, and what you did.
COLLE: I was assigned to, which was called DOIM (Directorate of InformationManagement), and I forgot what that stood for, at this point, but it was at Walter Reed in what they called the old hospital, because they built a new modern hospital, but the old one that was, I guess when the actual 00:28:00Major Walter Reed was there, and I believe he cured yellow fever, so they dedicated a whole hospital to him. And we were in the old hospital wing where the rooms were converted to offices and they were part of the old hospital. So I reported to them. It was pretty much an 8:30 to 4:30 job. And I thought at the time, I wanted more freedom, but compared to everyone else, I think that we got a really cushy duty station. It was pretty much like office work. And our boss was Mr. Perry, a civilian. A very interesting character. [Laughs] And introduced to what we would be doing, would be all medical stuff, which I had never done.
The only hospital I think I remembered was just getting a tonsillectomy and thatwas only time I was around the hospital, so I learned a lot of the 00:29:00jargon that the hospitals used in we were told--we did pretty much what we did in AIT. We developed our own film, most of it, and printed our own things. And in those days, we didn't have digital cameras, so it was the single-lens reflex. So we loaded our own film, we processed own film, and we made our own prints and various things that happened in the hospital. And I met everyone else. So we had people from--I worked with civilians, and I worked with other military as well.
SPRAGUE: Okay, we're going to pause for a minute. So for the listener, if Iremember correctly, the DOIM is the Directorate or Division of Office and maybe Information?
COLLE: Information Management.
SPRAGUE: Information Management.
COLLE: Yes. Wow, you really know a lot. Thanks for reminding me. We used to makejokes about it, because it was called DOIM, and we said, "We're all 00:30:00DOIMed (laughs) working here."
SPRAGUE: So, it was the DOIM at Walter Reed, around that post or whatever.Describe your duties for that job if you would.
COLLE: We would be called to do certain things. Mr. Perry would say which job wewere getting. And the ones that I remember getting were open heart surgery, brain surgery, the morgue, what else? We did do some PR [public relations] work. When the medical students graduated, we covered that, did the photographs for that. So the officers, they went to medical school and they graduated as captains, and then they throw their hats up in the air. And so, I loved doing that, because it was kind of a break from the hospital could be pretty intense. And then one time with the general, General Malone, I remember, a 00:31:00very nice man. And on Thanksgiving he would see every single patient from the top down, and I got to ride in the gold elevator, which was a very special thing. So we started from the top, which was the penthouse. I didn't realize Walter Reed had a penthouse. And it wasn't like the regular hospital where the soldiers got treated. It was plush. They had crystal chandeliers.
And General Malone, he went in there and it was Claude Pepper, Senator ClaudePepper at the time, getting treatment. He was a Florida Senator. He was obviously retired, but he got a really nice suite in the penthouse. And General Malone talked to him for a little bit, I got my pictures, and we left, and then we went down, and we did the rest of the hospital, all the way down 00:32:00before we had the Thanksgiving. And I remember at that time Mr. Perry, was very proud of me and said that I had the eye of a photographer. He was so impressed. And I didn't know why, because I guess it's hard to judge when it comes to medical photos, it's pretty objective. There's no real art to it, compared to PR photos and things like that, because there are no expressions in open heart surgery. There's no time to really catch it, except for when the surgeon just says, "Here, you've got a second." But this was more subjective. And it was the first time that I was told I really had talent doing what I did. So that was memorable, and it was nice to hear.
SPRAGUE: Now, this was an old hospital, or the new hospital, the golden elevatorwith the penthouse?
COLLE: That was in the new hospital, and the golden elevator.00:33:00
SPRAGUE: Tell me more about the golden elevator. (laughs) I mean, it sounds likeWillie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
COLLE: It did. It was like that, almost. I didn't even know it existed. It wasin kind of a secluded area. Not necessarily covered up or top secret or anything, but it was I guess to avoid people using it. And so the general used the gold elevator and I guess people in his detail would use it. And it was a nice elevator. It wasn't like the regular freight elevators that sometimes that we went into, which I didn't think anything of, being in the military. Nothing was cushy or plush or anything like that. But it was a decent elevator. And I just remember being around some really high brass and kind of quiet, and we didn't know if we would get in trouble, because usually the sergeants, you better be this way, you better be that way. But they were just very 00:34:00nonchalant. I was like just another person.
And they treated me like one of their, not friends maybe, but just like someonethat they would know that hired for a job. And they were very nice to me and I really like going up that gold elevator. And I told everybody about that. Most of the soldiers that I lived with, they didn't know anything--most of them didn't know about the gold elevator, so I felt special. That was a neat ride.
SPRAGUE: Do you think, in your experience, did your experience of being aphotographer, an Army photographer, what's the correct terminology, combat photographer? What's the title?
COLLE: That's what they called it. They called that at the time combatphotographer, and then I believe they changed it to still photographic specialist, which can mean combat photographer, depending on where you went, or you could be doing Stars and Stripes, which I hoped for. I wanted to be a photojournalist. And seeing Full Metal Jacket I wanted to be like the 00:35:00guy who had the peace sign on one side and kill on the other to show the duality of man, because I thought I was so intelligent. So, I wanted to work in Stars and Stripes, and I thought it was kind of a bummer being assigned to a medical unit because I couldn't really develop my talents, I thought at the time.
SPRAGUE: So how many people were within your unit, itself?
COLLE: Our unit, I don't really remember. There was quite a lot because wefilled up all of Abrams Hall. But we did different things. It was just a small group of photographers. We had people that were quartermasters, people who did kitchen, or KP, or whatever they called it, that was their MOS, all kinds of different MOS, Administration, and lab techs. We had a lot of lab techs, since we were at Walter Reed. But we were very few, the photographers 00:36:00there. There was just at the most maybe a handful of us. So we came from different backgrounds and we all lived together in Abrams Hall.
SPRAGUE: What do you remember? Are there any experiences that you'd like toshare while you worked at Walter Reed?
COLLE: Living in Abrams Hall or working there in general?
SPRAGUE: Working there in general.
COLLE: Working there in general, it was the first time--being from Orange CountyI wasn't really around different cultures because it was pretty much kind of insulated. The only real ethnicities that we met were what they called at the time "boat people," which, that's not really nice to say right now, but they were refugees after the Fall of Saigon, so we got a lot of--it was after 1976, I think I was in second grade. And they brought these children in from Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. But other than that we had white people, maybe 00:37:00a few Hispanics, and then some of the Asians, some Japanese, some Hawaiians, that worked--a lot of them worked for McDonald Douglas, which was in Huntington Beach, which was very close to where I lived.
But we had different ethnicities. We had a lot of Hispanic. We hadAfrican-Americans. And it was a different culture. So learning the different foods that they ate, the different ways that they would speak, and just the language and everything was new to me. I thought, looking back, it was good for me because I was kind of insulated being an Orange County girl. So I learned different people, how the way they would speak. Sometimes I didn't understand people from the deep South, I couldn't understand what they said at times. It was that different of the vulgate, of the vernacular. And so, I 00:38:00learned to understand different people and understand their experiences. And there were people from some pretty bad backgrounds. And I didn't realize I had it so good in my family until I compared it. So working in the hospital was nice, I think. I met a lot of people. I had a lot of suitors and dated and had a good time. It was really, at the time, when you're eighteen years old, it really after doing my work, after duty, was boys and having fun and things like that.
SPRAGUE: How many women were in the group of combat photographers or photographers?
COLLE: I believe I was the only one. I think I was the only one. I think therewas one other, but she was assigned to AFIP, which was the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. And they did about the same work we did, but 00:39:00they were just in a different area. They did also medical things too, but they went out in the field, I think, a little bit more than we did. But we didn't really see them. But I believe I was the only woman, now everyone says female, but I was the only woman of the photographers, I remember at the hospital.
SPRAGUE: What were some of the projects that you did while you worked there?
COLLE: Mostly we called them eyeballs. We would have this civilian lady; Iforgot her name. I think her name was Linda, and she would always come up to the desk really angry because our eyeball photos weren't there in time. We were backed up all the time. So we would get Linda's eyeballs, and she worked in the eye clinic. And mostly the assignments we did were --they sent me to 00:40:00the morgue a lot, which at the time, I just did what I was told. I didn't think anything of it. If anything, it was a curiosity, seeing a dead body for the first time. You just see it movies and you think it's like someone being asleep, like you see in the movies, and in real life it's totally different from that. There's nothing pretty about it or glamorous. I remember one of the things that I did was, identifying bodies. There were some autopsies when there were mistakes made in surgery, so I had to document that. And that stood out in my mind a lot.
SPRAGUE: You mentioned in your pre-interview the cleft palates. Tell me aboutthat a little.
COLLE: Yes, thank you for reminding me of that. Yes, we had a lot of the ear,nose, and throat, and the doctors would do community projects for 00:41:00children who didn't have the money for these operations and were born with that congenital deformity, of the cleft lip and palate. Some of them were quite young. Some of them were infants because they couldn't latch on or get the nutrition they needed. So they ranged from infants to children that were seven or eight. Some of them were from other countries, so it was almost like a Doctors Without Borders kind of thing. And they would bring the children in and I had a ring light, so when the children would open their mouths, it would light that up so the doctors could see what exactly they needed to do, and they would have that up before they would start the surgery.
So I got to meet the children and the parents of the children. The parentsseemed a little nervous about the operation but happy to be there because their child was going to have a deformity fixed. And I thought that was 00:42:00really neat and I appreciated the doctors. So I got to meet a lot of the doctors and they were really nice, called you by your first name. So hanging out in the OR and hanging out in the ENT clinic, you were around doctors a lot, and you learned. And the nurses, too, you learned their lingo and a lot of them were very flirtatious. [Laughs] So that was another chance for me to, I guess, get my ego boosted. But it was, looking back, a lot of fun. I remember a lot of the good times, not so much the bad times, but the good times.
SPRAGUE: So, you also mentioned in your pre-interview dealing with domesticviolence photographs.
SPRAGUE: If you're willing to talk about that at all.
COLLE: That was when I was stationed--after I was married, I was sentto--because we were married and my spouse was being sent to Fort Sam 00:43:00Houston. And so I followed him. Being his wife, and having a child, I was able to follow him. And that was when I was at Fort Sam Houston, and I worked in anatomic pathology, which was actually right next to the morgue and a team of doctors there. So we did pretty much exclusively autopsies, and a domestic violence case, I remember one in particular, where the soldier had assaulted a civilian. And I believe this was after hours and it was a female, and I believe I was the only female then and they said, "You're going to need to stay after, she's very upset. Obviously, had been beat up, and you're going to be taking photos of her injuries and depending on what happens, this soldier's going to probably be prosecuted." And she came in and it was my first experience seeing someone beat up and being put in the position of being a caretaker in 00:44:00a way, not just photographing someone, but consoling someone too.
And I think that opened me up to a lot. And it was hard because I wanted to sitwith her and hold her hand and all those things, but we weren't really allowed to do that. So I remember just offering her soda or something from the vending machine, and just letting her speak. Well, she didn't too much. So I photographed her injuries, and she was there with, I believe, a crisis counselor. And I remember speaking briefly with the crisis counselor and that was my first domestic, the one that stands out in my mind, domestic violence case. And then we had a suicide, which a soldier shot himself with, I 00:45:00guess it was a weapon that he had off post. And the story was that his girlfriend broke up with him. And I thought, "Why would someone get so distraught over that?" A girlfriend, a young man. And I remember documenting that. And that was pretty traumatic for me because that was a peer. Not someone I knew personally, but someone within the vicinity. And the guy was dead. I mean, a young guy, forever. And I just thought, "What a waste." And that was--it was a little hard. I'm going to get a Kleenex.
SPRAGUE: Okay. Can we start it back up again?
COLLE: Sure, sure. This was the first time I ever photographed a bullet wound.And first time I really saw one. I mean, you hear about it being in the military, people get shot at, it's always a possibility, even as a 00:46:00woman you could be in the unit where you could be shot, you could be killed. That's always a possibility. And they even told us that photographers had a high mortality rate because in Vietnam, okay, you had a Beretta or a rifle with you, but you also had your camera gear, so when you're being shot at, you don't necessarily have your hands on a weapon. So I think they said it was twenty-five percent. At least this is what they told us. I don't know what the real statistics were. But we got picked off very easily in wartime.
But this was the first time I ever saw a real casualty, not necessarily from warbut someone being dead, and a peer, someone close to my age. And the weird thing, I remember the bullet wound, seeing that, and of all things to remember, they were taking off his clothes because he was clothed when he came 00:47:00in, I remember he had Calvin Klein underwear. And I don't know why I remembered that. And I learned much later, having PTSD, that's not uncommon to not remember certain things but you remember what something smelled like or what you ate, or something just really random like that. And I remembered that. They laid him out on the table, and I had to straddle the body, what they called straddling the body, when you're getting a front view. There's really no way, because they're not standing up, to get the full length of the body, so you have to actually hover over them, get on the slab, put your legs to the side of the patient, and you do your photographs that way, with in whichever lenses--and 00:48:00we had several lenses--and I just did what I was told. I didn't really think anything of it.
Afterward, I thought. But it did shake me at the time, a little bit. But thatwas really interesting. That was the first live casualty, instead of someone who is expire because they died in the hospital. There were a couple cases where people died of AIDS in the eighties, where they got contaminated blood, and we all had to be in MOPP [Mission-Oriented Protective Posture] gear for that, because the blood was everywhere, to photograph that. But this particular case stood out in my mind a lot, being a peer.
SPRAGUE: Do you think that--how that affects you to this day? How does that sitwith you today that memory? Still pretty powerful? 00:49:00
COLLE: It's difficult. It's difficult. When you're eighteen, nineteen years old,even though you know it's a possibility--now that I'm a nurse I don't believe that human mind is really developed as a teenager to process these things. I mean, I don't think it's easy for anyone to process this, but when you're eighteen or nineteen, you really don't have a sense of your own mortality. So I realized death could be around me all the time. So I started obsessing about it. I'd get quiet. And looking back, I changed a little bit after that. I was a little depressed and I didn't realize what depression was. I mean, I heard about it but at night, after the fun and the kegger parties we had, and all 00:50:00the fun we had with each other, and going to movies and things, I would sit back in bed and think about the day and starting to think of, "Okay, what about his family? This guy is gone forever, and he's cold and in the ground," and those thoughts started to play out in my mind. So it did change me.
SPRAGUE: Yes. So you're at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston. Wereyou also in the DOIM office there, or was it a different organization or unit?
COLLE: It was a different unit. We were in a medical unit and I'm not sure, wemay have had the medical patch. When I was at Walter Reed, we had the patch that had kind of like a globe with the lines through it with a lightning bolt, for Signal Corps Communications, but I believe we may have had the medical patch when I was at Fort Sam Houston. So even though we were Communications 00:51:00at Walter Reed, and we were doing the medical things--one particular autopsy stood out in my mind a lot at Walter Reed, and that one also contributed a lot to my flashbacks and my memories, and this was of a child. So after that, now that I'm a nurse, I never wanted to work in a pediatric ward, because it was just so heartbreaking to see that, a little girl basically dissected and torn to pieces, this beautiful little girl. I remember her name. I remember everything about it, how she died. And she died in surgery. But I believe we actually got the medical patches, I believe. It was a little different. 00:52:00
SPRAGUE: Any other memories you'd like to share while you were at that medical center?
COLLE: About the job?
COLLE: Just basically getting along, meeting civilians from different areas,different walks of life. The same thing just continued. And one of the soldiers from our AIT in Denver, we came actually together around the same time. We met up with each other at Fort Sam Houston, and we were like, "I remember you; I remember you," and he was really cool, I remember. And we would joke around and talk about doing civilian stuff we couldn't wait to get out and be free and go to college and travel and do all those things. But I remember the people I worked with. And one person who was really a role model to me at Fort Sam Houston was a doctor and I remember her name, Dr. Raval. And she was 00:53:00Indian, but she was from Africa, Kenya I believe. She was raised in Kenya. And I later learned that a lot of Indian people would leave India for opportunities to be merchants, and I think her father was a merchant.
SPRAGUE: Do you remember how to spell her name?
SPRAGUE: Raval, just like it sounds.
COLLE: Just like it sounds. And her first name was Hansa, H-A-N-S-A. And shetook me under her wing. She was the first person to really tell me I had brains, that I was intelligent. I never heard that before. And she told me, "You should go to medical school." And I was just--first I thought she was joking. [Luke laughs] But she protected me. She didn't let--sometimes there were office politics and sometimes people would pull rank and things like that and I was just this little specialist, this little girl, and she wouldn't let anyone, anyone mess with me. And I remember feeling very protected at Fort 00:54:00Sam Houston. I think I enjoyed it more in a sense that I grew more as a person and I gained some confidence and self-esteem that maybe I didn't have before.
SPRAGUE: So, you're at Sam Houston, you're doing your photography. You're beingmentored by Dr. Raval, learning from her, she's mentoring you to a degree. Tell me your thoughts--so this has got to be 1990, 1991, approaching?
COLLE: Yes, 1990. I was in from '86 to '90, so that was '89, '89 and '90.
SPRAGUE: And the Gulf War starts up in late '90. When did you decide00:55:00to get out and how did that go?
COLLE: My four-year contract was over, and I believe people were justdisappearing overnight. They didn't really--it was kind of secret and wasn't out to the press. In those days, we didn't have social media, so the general population really didn't know about it. And it was called Operation Desert Shield. And this is when the oil refinery in Kuwait were set on fire. And we're just, "Uh-oh, here it comes," kind of thing. We're just wondering. And then when people started disappearing, overnight like, "Where is Coleman?" "Oh, he's in Kuwait now." And we were just waiting, and my time was ending, and I was wondering--and I had a child at the time, so I didn't want to go. Normally, I would have just loved to have gone, but I had an infant, a young child, and wanting to be with my child. I was hoping, "Wow, I hope I get out before anyone decides to send me." And I got lucky, let's just say that. I wasn't 00:56:00exposed to--I didn't have to go overseas and leave my child.
SPRAGUE: So, you're in that transition stage between leaving the Army and cominginto the civilian world. Tell me how that went and what that was like.
COLLE: I was kind of excited, because it was the first time I got to--I wasactually getting a divorce at the time, being nineteen years old. Most people are not in a position and have no business getting married, but that's what a lot of soldiers do, I think, to get off base. And they think they're in love, it's puppy love, and I remember that my husband at the time, a wonderful person, but I was just too young. I didn't know what it was like to be married. And he was twenty-seven and I was eighteen when he asked me to marry 00:57:00him. So had an oops, got pregnant and my father told me I needed to get married. But then I got the bright idea that being a single mom was really cool, so I divorced my husband, which at the time, I didn't realize how much that hurt him. So we were arguing and fighting at the time. And so, I took my son, and my father flew out, my go back to California and my mother came out too, was already there, and I had what was called "terminal leave," so I had a month saved up. We all got in a car and drove back to California, and I was so happy. I remember being really happy.
SPRAGUE: So, if I understand you correctly, and to summarize, so correct me ifI'm wrong, you went through a divorce and leaving the Army about the same time or where am I off in that sequence? Straighten me out. 00:58:00
COLLE: Yeah, it was around Fort Sam Houston. I had been really sick. I think itwas probably from the stress and the PTSD. I started hemorrhaging. I started getting stomachaches, and I actually started hemorrhaging to the point where I lost a lot of blood. And I was in the hospital for a month, not being able to eat. I lost I think twenty, thirty pounds, so basically the baby fat from having the baby. And I remember resenting my husband at the time for not really visiting me. I was alone there a lot and afraid of death, because they weren't sure if I was going to die or not. And they wanted to give me a couple of units of blood, and I remember refusing it, seeing the cases, photographing people who had had tainted blood and documenting their autopsies. That was a possibility to me. I mean, I had the insight then to connect the dots, so I remember refusing the units of blood, the blood transfusions. So it took me a little 00:59:00longer to recover.
But I remember writhing in pain. It was very painful. And I was there for quitea long time. So I was there to think about all the things that I saw, especially I believe at the time, pivotal that the guy who helped me, I remember, move, Steve Girouard, ended up killing his wife, which I knew her. I knew Joyce. Of her, I didn't know her real well, but Steve ended up murdering her, or killing her. It was a crime of passion. And so, all those things came together. So you're in the hospital wondering if you're going to die, thinking about the photographs you've taken, the children, your peers, and then a peer murdering another peer of yours. So I think that's when I had a lot of those--I became very depressed. And I think that's what also alienated me from my 01:00:00husband. I didn't know what was happening at the time, I just remember becoming very depressed and angry for no apparent reason. And I think that contributed to the demise of my marriage.
SPRAGUE: And that was at Fort Sam Houston as you were leaving?
COLLE: No, actually that--when he murdered her that was at Walter Reed.
SPRAGUE: Okay, so that's back at Walter Reed.
COLLE: That was Walter Reed. And there was not a whole lot of time, maybe a yearbetween, a year or two at the most, between Joyce being murdered and me having--everything happened so quickly. Got pregnant. I got pregnant I believe when I was at Walter Reed. And so my husband at the time was a lab tech. He was being sent out to Texas to do additional training, so I followed him. So in a way, I was kind of glad to leave Walter Reed and those memories. I 01:01:00didn't want to be there anymore. It kind of lost its luster. We didn't have the parties we used to have because Steve was in prison. And he was a regular. He was such a gentle soul. So I was just seeing these dualities and learning things about human nature. You think you have it all figured out when you're eighteen, nineteen years old. And I grew up very quickly, becoming a mother and seeing all that I had seen.
SPRAGUE: Girouard, spelled G-E-R-A-R-D?
COLLE: I believe it was G-I-R--it was a French name, O-U-D, something like that.Very tall, thin guy. Good looking man. And I remember, very nice to me. We used to pass each other, "Hi, Lisa," "Hi, Steve," and when I heard about 01:02:00that, I just couldn't believe it. One day Joyce was there smiling, and she was very flirtatious. She dated a lot of guys in our unit, in her platoon, and so when she died, there were a lot of tears and mostly from the men who had known her, had dated her. And so in a way I was glad to leave Walter Reed. It didn't hold much fun for me anymore.
SPRAGUE: So, jumping around a little bit, chronologically.
COLLE: Yeah, sorry about that. The memories are coming back in different ways, I apologize.
SPRAGUE: And I went there. But moving forward a little bit, you're01:03:00leaving Fort Sam Houston, your parents are there to pick you up. You have or you're about to have--you've had your first child. Tell me, to move a little bit sideways, what was that experience like, being in the Army and being a mother? Tell me about that.
COLLE: Being a parent was harder than I thought. Just biologically, you seechildren, people having babies. And in those days to be married at twenty-five, having children in your early twenties, that was pretty much the norm. These days, people get married sometimes at thirty-five or older, sometimes. So coming back to California and living with my parents for a while before I got my own place, I felt kind of like a baby egg. I felt comfortable. And I felt taken care of. I wanted to go back and be a kid again. But like they say, you can never come home again once you leave. And there's a whole new dynamic. I had a child. And the parents that I once knew as grandparents, didn't recognize them. Were very mushy around my child. And I wanted to ask them, "Who are 01:04:00you and what did you do with my parents?" [Laughter] So my father, from a stoic Midwestern man from Wisconsin, become just this mushy, sentimental guy around my son, [laughs] it was very sweet. And I went straight to college, which I wanted to do, Hansa, Dr. Raval told me, "I want you to go straight to college," and I was like, "Well I don't--how do I fill out forms?" She goes, "You just do it. Go to the college, they'll show you what to do." Because again, no parents, nothing. And so I just kind of plowed through and did it.
And I'm like, "Wow. I really can do this." And I had the GI bill which helpedwith being a single mother, wasn't working at the time. And I was able to go to college and not have to work. And I was really happy to do it. I just 01:05:00flourished as a civilian. I just loved it.
SPRAGUE: What college was that again? Remind me.
COLLE: Golden West College. I went to Golden West College and I was in pre-medat the time. So I took all the general ed courses and sometimes it's so--I didn't realize this. It just takes one person to invest in you, to tell you nice things. And I got As in almost every class I did. And this is from a student in high school that ditched all the time and got a D I think, in algebra. And here I was pushing myself. I went all the way through calculus and all As. I never thought. I pushed myself to areas I never thought I would ever do in my life. So, my self-esteem really grew, and I grew a lot as a person, and I 01:06:00learned a lot. But I always felt different from my peers, my classmates, because they were still from Orange County a lot of them. They had never left. So they were just doing Orange County things and they were very nice people, I remember. But I had kind of this sadness about me. I kind of had this duality where I tried to fit in as a civilian and I did, on the surface. I adjusted very well, and I flourished. But on the inside, I felt older. Even though I was the same age as my classmates and my friends, I felt older because number one, I had a child so I couldn't do what they did. It's all about your child now, not about you.
So even though my mom would watch my son and I would go out once in a while, Ireally pretty much didn't. I had this military background, so I had a 01:07:00different view of the world, I was a little bit more cynical I think than everyone else.
SPRAGUE: So you're going through pre-med, and then you decide to become apsychiatric nurse. Tell me how you get to that sequence and your decision to come to where you are now.
COLLE: That was about a span of twenty years. That was a span of twenty years,because at the time, I was pre-med, never thought of being a nurse at all. And I was accepted when I was at--I think I was at Golden West College. No, I went to UC Irvine. I transferred to UC Irvine, and I was accepted into the pre-med program, which was, I told, a very prestigious thing. They chose fifteen people around the world and I was one of them. So, I got in and I was all excited and I remember the depression getting to me, to where I barely 01:08:00finished the program. I lost my enthusiasm. And I remember some of the doctors there, two of which ended up being in a lot of trouble, was in the news and everything, but going back to the nurse thing. The pre-med thing kind of died on the vine because I got remarried, had a child, another child, and then I had another child, and going to medical school wasn't really practical at that time.
So I stayed home and raised my children. I think I went to ultrasound school. Myhusband let me; he was a little controlling there. I wanted to finish my degree and he didn't want me to. He wanted me to work at McDonald's or something and I said, "Hell no. I either stay home with my kids or I'm going to college." And I tried to sneak a class here and there where it wouldn't upset 01:09:00him. But raised children to a point and then got in some trouble with the law. Maybe my anger issues got the best of me. So I was arrested for domestic violence. You wanted to hear the journey, so this is how it happened. But it was more of a reaction because my ex-husband did put his hands on me in anger. I was defending myself. And he got his graduate degree and decided to get rid of me three weeks before he got his master's, so I kind of outlived my usefulness. So I went to jail and got out. There was a restraining order on me, so I waited the whole state of the restraining order, and then came back to my children and I had to leave.
I couldn't stay in that marriage anymore. This man is trying to01:10:00finish me off and put me in prison. I mean, he lied about so many things. I was attacked so in defending yourself--and he was very manipulative and got the children to say things that weren't true, which they resent to this day. So this is my journey into becoming a nurse. And I can't really leave that out because it had a lot to do with it. So I took my children to a battered women's shelter. They put me up in a hotel. And I remembered the charges were dropped as far as the domestic violence, so I called the DA's office, telling them where I was. I called the school. I couldn't tell the school where I was, I just told them--because that was the condition of the shelter, for obvious reasons. You don't want the abuser to know where you're at and they don't want any drama. So I just called the school principal and said, "Look, the children are probably not going to be there for the next six weeks. I'm leaving for a 01:11:00little while. But the children are safe and they're with me." And I called the sheriff's department and let them know.
And I was at the Holiday Inn with the children, went to a battered womenshelter, and got arrested there for child abduction. And I didn't know why because I let everyone know where I was. How am I abducting my children? So it was a very strange case. And my attorney at the time said he had never, ever seen anything like that. So I went from being a pre-med, a mother, Orange County mother, ordinary person, a veteran, not a pillar of the community or anything, but beside a traffic ticket, never ever being in trouble in my whole life. And I went to jail twice and then I spent three months in jail because I was fighting the case. And my children were taken away from me because I was dangerous all of a sudden and I beat the children, according to my ex, which wasn't 01:12:00true, but the kids had to say something.
So it was kind of a parental--there's a name for it, parental alienationsyndrome that I learned about, being a nurse. But I just knew that I had no control. The accounts were emptied out. I was in jail. I had no one, nowhere to go. I was homeless when I got out. A couple of cousins of mine came to my rescue and got me an attorney, which I'm very thankful for to them for visiting me, because no one else did because no one in my family had ever been in jail, so they thought automatically something was very, very wrong with me to be in jail. So I was alienated from my family. But they--I don't know about stood by me, but they did for a while, sent me books to read while I was in jail. And 01:13:00all I could think about was fighting my case. So, I went from a point of being homeless--which it's very strange. At the time I didn't realize the homeless vet thing and the support that they give now for homeless vets, we didn't have that in 2006. I didn't even know I had VA benefits. No one ever told me. No one told me I was eligible for VA benefits. So I was homeless.
And I actually lived for a while with someone who was in jail with me. And theytook me, and I paid some of their bills and rent. She was a shoplifter, I remember. (Laughter)She had very sticky fingers. So I remember her. And so I thought, "I need to get into the medical field. I have all this training, all this background. I really like medicine. I love health. What am I going to do?" So I'll speed up a little bit. There's more, but I just decided--got a job doing retail at Bloomingdale's to support myself and rented out rooms. 01:14:00First, I was couch surfing for a while. And I remember doing my homework in my car when I was homeless. And I took the prerequisites for nursing school and working and fighting for custody with my kids. And I ended up having to plead guilty.
There were two felonies. I was facing prison for this child abduction. Scared todeath. Scared to death and knowing that I wanted to go in the medical field, you can't be a felon, especially charged with child abuse, and domestic abuse, and child abduction. I would never be able to do anything but maybe waiting tables. So they said they would take it to a misdemeanor, and they said, "Well, you can see your children the next day," backtracking, which I didn't. That was a lie. So the DA just wanted me--he wanted me punished. He really had it out for me, this Deputy DA. I remember him, Jim Basin. And this guy had no scruples, whatsoever. And to make a long story short, I was battling for my kids. I was alone, very depressed. A lot of the PTSD came back to me. So, did my 01:15:00prerequisites and I had to explain the whole thing about the jail, because you're not really supposed to have a record when you go to the nursing school.
So I sat with the director, told her immediately, "Hey, this is what happened. Ihad to plead guilty. Take it or leave it. I'm telling you the truth. I never abused my children. I never left the state or the country. I went directly to a battered women's shelter." I was a pretty bad child abductor if I'm calling the police and telling them where I'm at. And I said, "If you want to review any records, if you want to see anything, I have the papers. You can see them," which I showed her. And she said, "I'm very sorry at what happened to you, but by all means, you are a veteran," I had priority, but she said, "You would have gotten in anyway. Your grades were perfect." I had all straight As, 01:16:00and she said, "I want to welcome you into the nursing program."
SPRAGUE: Wow. Let's pause for a minute. And starting back up again. So tell meabout your experience in getting admitted to nursing school.
COLLE: That was a pivotal point of my life, going from a homeless vet doinghomework in her car at times, couch surfing, all that other stuff, from someone saying, "Yes," for being told for so many years, "No." No, you can't get out of jail. No, you can't do this. No, you can't do that. Yes, you have to go to court, but actually, saying something positive that was a yes, and believing in me. And that was the start of--actually there's like two halves of my life, the first half. This is the beginning of the second half of my life, and I went back in my forties. I thought I'd be the oldest person there. I wasn't, 01:17:00but I thought I was so old. I wish I could be forty again. But I just remember it was like rising from the ashes. I felt like a phoenix. I felt like a bird. And that was just--hearing that changed my life. And it opened me up even more to opportunities I never thought possible. I became very active in nursing school.
It was almost like redoing high school, because in high school, I was ametalhead. I ditched school. I'd hang out with the kids that ditched school. I didn't care about school. And now I was being built up to someone who was going to be fairly important, a very rigorous program. Saddleback School of Nursing is a very prestigious, very difficult school to get into. They're highly selective, thousands of applicants, and they choose fifty or sixty each 01:18:00semester. And I was very excited. So I went in and I just--even with all the stuff I was doing, I eventually got to see my kids, but I was pretty much alone. I became their communications director, became their vice president of the chapter of CNSA, which was the California Nurses Student Association, and their class rep for the entire two years, got their uniforms changed, which everyone hated the uniform, so I was able, for the first time in their history, I actually made some changes, and I couldn't believe it. So it was a wonderful time.
SPRAGUE: Where does this connection link up with leaving nursing school andgetting to the Milwaukee VA?
COLLE: Yes, very interesting. The type of nursing--they say when you01:19:00choose something in nursing, you don't choose it. It chooses you. I did my first job as a nurse working in stepdown trauma unit, which sounds exciting, but it was more like a glorified med-surg, and I hated every moment of it. And a lot of the nurses were bullies, which is kind of well-known in nursing, bullying is a big thing. And me, being a new nurse, I took a lot of the abuse because you're always worried, because you think they're trying to help you, but that's not always the case. So I hated it. And I wanted to be transferred to another--I started to doubt myself as a nurse, "Am I good enough? Maybe I should go back to Bloomingdale's." So I was offered--there were two transfers available. The emergency department at a sister hospital, and another one in 01:20:00behavioral health. And I chose the emergency room but someone who had more seniority than me got that position and I got behavioral health, and that's how I ended up a psych nurse.
So I worked at this Anaheim Global Medical Center. A wonderful experience. Ilearned so much. Made friends and I loved, loved, loved my job, loved what I did. But I still felt a little unfulfilled. I wanted to help veterans and tried to--I applied to Long Beach VA, and for years, I couldn't get in. And I noticed some of the people in--a lot of people, their motivation was for the benefits working for the VA, which I could totally understand. But my motivation was, I was beginning to understand that I had PTSD, the flashbacks were not normal. They weren't normal because I used to have strange dreams and I would 01:21:00describe them to people thinking they were ordinary, and they would be like, "That's not normal," and so I thought "I can really be of service. I can help vets with PTSD, because I have it myself. I have depression." So I kept applying and people where I worked were getting accepted like overnight, and I wasn't. I couldn't even get a call back. I couldn't get an interview. And I was a veteran on top of it. And I had every qualification, same, if not more.
And so I kept trying, kept trying, from 2014 I think through 2018. Nothing. So Ithought, "Well, I'm just going to apply nationwide, and whoever" it's like putting your finger on the globe and spinning it, wherever my finger lands, that's where I'm going to be. And my children were all adults. They 01:22:00were all grown up. And I'm still supporting them, so I didn't just abandon them. I still pay their gas bill and half of the rent right now. So I set them up as adults. And so I applied to Tomah, Wisconsin. That was open. I applied to Long Beach again, which obviously didn't get, Milwaukee and St. Cloud, and I got accepted to all three. I had offers to those three. And I chose Milwaukee. And that's how I got here. I drove across the country--got my car totaled on the way, that was quite an adventure, in the snow--because they wanted me in January and I asked, "Can we wait until spring?" [Luke laughs] "No, we need you right away." Okay, so I did.
That's how I got here. And I feel like I'm self-actualized. Finally,01:23:00at fifty-one, I feel like when I turned fifty, a self-actualized person. For the first time in my life, I am where I'm supposed to be, and I love what I do.
SPRAGUE: So, you do music therapy? Or tell me about music therapy and isolatedpatients. Tell me about that.
COLLE: Well, the music therapy actually came out as kind of an accident, whichstarted when I was in nursing school. I met up with a friend I'd known since I was fifteen, and he was kind of like a bohemian type, gypsy, had odd jobs here and there, but he was a musician, a fantastic musician, drummer. And one time he said, "Elizabeth, just get away from everything, nursing school. I'm in a band." So, I went to a garage with his friends, and he shoved a microphone in my face and he's like, "I know you always wanted to sing," and I did, and 01:24:00they're like, "Do you want to be in our band?" "Um, okay." So I was in a band. So I was in a series of a couple bands and got very comfortable with singing. And I do have a musical background. I play the flute as well. And so I basically am a musician and a vocalist. So part of the therapy, we have a karaoke machine where I work in the inpatient psych, and it was rarely taken out because no one liked to sing, really. So I thought, "Why not? Let's get this karaoke machine out there, and let's get the vets singing." And sometimes they don't like it, we don't have enough people they're like, "Yeah, I don't want to hear anyone sing."
But sometimes even the ones who don't want to sing, they come and the oneswho--some of them were close to being catatonic, they come out of 01:25:00their shells for that moment, and they sing seen as well as they can. And then someone spread the word, I don't know how it got out, that I'm a vocalist. So my patients got wind of that and demanded that I sing. So usually, when we have karaoke--I remember one point they said, "We're not going to take our medication unless Elizabeth sings." [Luke laughs] So I sing, and I help the veterans. And I think it opens up a line of trust and communication because music is therapy. I think music is part of communicating because you're communicating feelings, the lyrics and the words, and people pick songs that are important to them. And a lot of these patients where you think people have preconceived notions that maybe they didn't have an education, some of them are very highly--lot of them, very highly intelligent people. And they sing the songs. And I even 01:26:00met a patient that wrote songs, was in the music business.
And I think it's very helpful for them. They've told me it's very helpful forthem. So I get to do what I really love that I'd never thought I'd be able to marry my musical hobby to being a psych nurse.
SPRAGUE: So, tell me a little bit because I'm not familiar with it. What does itmean to be a psychiatric nurse, a little bit more, flush that out for me? Just please do that.
COLLE: Sure, sure. I'd be glad to. What we do, what I do, this is in-patient.This is a locked unit. And those are the only units we have. People that that come in as outpatients, for their medications and maybe counseling, but when it gets to the point where they can no longer function, they're suicidal, or psychotic, or have just been on drugs and they have no place to go, 01:27:00they get admitted. And it's a locked unit. The one here at the VA is very nice. Where I came from as a psych nurse, the one in California was a very, very violent unit. We had to restrain patients every shift. People got backs broken, staff members were injured. In there, we'd have to, unfortunately for their safety and the unit's safety, restrain them and I'd have to administer medications and draw up the medication and four-point restraints every shift. Every shift.
And I think it served a purpose, because I learned a lot to handle emergencies,but I didn't realize this because the adrenaline surge, I remember from the Army, and there was a need for me, which sounded very strange, for me 01:28:00to have an element of danger in my life, to make me feel alive, having PTSD. I actually needed that, which maybe was or was not healthy, but I liked it. I liked being at a risk where I was, that I could be injured or worse. There was a nurse who ended up in a coma, had such brain damage. So there was an element of danger. But I learned I was very good at deescalating, a lot of times, people, and patients. I learned that I could do it. But I could also run faster than everyone else being in the Army, and caught a few patients eloping, kept them from running out in the street and probably getting hurt.
So I learned a lot. So as a psych nurse, it can be very violent, could be veryphysical, and it's very mental. And there's this split in nursing. 01:29:00You have psych nurses and then you have non-psych nurses. We're very different from other nurses. And a lot of nurses don't even--they appreciate us. They're like, "I don't know how you do what you do," and I'm like, "Well, I don't know how you do ICU (intensive care unit)," so it's very different, because we're dealing with the head, not so much with the other things. But we do have comorbidities, which are diabetes, other things we have to take care of, as well. But back to your question as the inpatient psych, this is inpatient. It's locked. They cannot get out. The ones that we have here at Milwaukee are mostly voluntary. Some are not voluntary.
So you're basically redirecting, behavior modification, administering meds, andit's a great team. You have the psychiatrists, psychologists, they have round-the-clock nursing, we have the social worker, and we have therapy, like the groups like the karaoke, and we just got yoga now. We have yoga for them. And that's what it's like, right now, as a psychiatric nurse at the 01:30:00VA. As a psychiatric nurse in general, it can be a very dangerous job. We get assaulted. We have a high rate of assault, just like emergency room nurses, because we get psychotic patients, and they're punching, kicking, spitting, so you have to know, going in there, that's possible. Someone's going to pick up a chair and throw it through the window, which happened, not at the VA, but at another place where I worked. So in a nutshell, so to speak, that's kind of what being a psych nurse is. But it's also very, very rewarding to see 01:31:00people get better.
SPRAGUE: So, do you find that what your experience had been in the military andyour experiences with PTSD, and it sounds like it does, it prepped you for this experience as a nurse, or gave you some insight? Or is there any connections there that you can make for me?
COLLE: Absolutely. It made me a better nurse, even when I wasn't servingveterans, I would counsel my patients. We often didn't have the time, but I would actually go out and talk with them. And now being at the VA, where we're appropriately staffed, and most places aren't, I'm able to take more time and speak with the veterans. And when they see that veteran tag on me, there's this understanding, there's this kinship, and there's a trust. And there are veterans that told me things that they never told their own spouses, especially about MST, which is military sexual trauma, for men and for women, and 01:32:00especially for men, is a very difficult thing to tell someone for the first time that you went through that. And I have been the gateway for a lot of PTSD patients, for veterans, for the first time in twenty, thirty years, came out and said it, and were able to get benefits, claim their benefits from it, and start a new life because they were just in prisons in their own mind. And it's helped me become a more compassionate nurse, and a more patient nurse.
And I mean, I don't know if the words can describe how good that makes me feelin the service that I'm doing. Like I said, I'm where I'm supposed to be. I have roots in Wisconsin, because my father, obviously, was from Wisconsin, and from California, but for some reason, I ended up here, where half my 01:33:00family started out, except from the old country, they came to the Midwest and here I am. And I guess this is home now.
SPRAGUE: So, any other experiences you'd like to share as a psychiatric nurse?Or be willing to share?
COLLE: Sure. I mean with patients or with my peers?
SPRAGUE: No, it could be either or, and of course, respecting your patients' privacy.
COLLE: Absolutely, the HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and AccountabilityAct], yes. The MST. But at the same time, I know sometimes they're a little bit too gentle with the veterans as far as behavior modification, because they've been through a lot. But part of being in behavioral health and the psychiatric nurse there is a behavioral--we have the psychiatric component, which is like the diagnoses of depression, schizophrenia, things like that, but a 01:34:00lot of times we have what are called Cluster Bs, and Axis II disorders, which are the personality disorders, which often go hand-in-hand with them, which we have Borderline Personality Disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, avoidant, so you're treating both things.
And when the behavioral things happen, when they start screaming at the nursesand threatening violence, and a lot of the nurses will take it, and they're kind of afraid to not make waves. And me, as a veteran, I take no bullshit. I know when they're bullshitting me. And I'll tell them, "You're bullshitting me. Stop it. This is not appropriate." These nurses--and I think the civilian nurses get it the worst, the ones that are non-veterans because they don't get the respect a lot of times which I think is wrong, because they work just as hard 01:35:00as everyone else. They deserve that respect. Just yesterday I had a patient that threatened to punch my coworker, and I just went out there and I'm like, "No, you're not going to say that again. That's not appropriate." And I was the only one to say that. So that's one part about the nursing. I'm a little bit more--I drop the occasional F-bomb, and I think I got written up for it once, but I said, "I'm a veteran, what do you expect? The veterans talk like that too. Sometimes that's the only way I can reach them."
So yeah. That's kind of what it's like. But I've really bonded with myco-workers, and made some very, very good friends out here. I really love my co-workers and we really have a great team. I love where I work. I 01:36:00can't say enough about it, really.
SPRAGUE: So, backing out, how do you think your life as a whole--this is a bigquestion--has changed as a result of being in the military?
COLLE: Oh, it's taken me--I'm a different--I mean if I would have gone tocollege and not joined the military, I probably would have had, obviously, a different life, probably wouldn't have this PTSD, and may have had or may not had the depression, who knows, because it's prevalent even in non-veterans, but very different. I could have been one of the Real Housewives of Orange County that you see on television now. I could have ended up like that, with problems too, which is funny because one of them I actually saw in court. We actually had the same judge, in divorce court, which was interesting when I came 01:37:00back. But I could have been one of them. I could have been like a Stepford Wife. I could have been--who knows. I could have been an astronaut. But I think being in the military, especially with Dr. Raval, she was a pivotal person in my life. And I wish I could see her. I wish I could have kept in contact with her.
She was a personal friend of mine, as well. And there's a lot of people in themilitary--I don't know why we do this--when we go from one duty station to the next, we don't keep in touch. And I was so excited, being a civilian. I think I may have called her a few times and sent her a couple letters, but I really should have stayed in contact with her. I'm very grateful and a better person to have met her and worked with her. But yeah, it totally changed me as a person. My political beliefs are different. The way I see things are 01:38:00different. I see things beneath the surface. I see things in the media. I'm able to see things, I believe that I don't feel like I'm part of being what they call "sheeple," and I'm able to see a lot of different angles. I'm able to see not just the tip of the iceberg, but what's underneath, and I think I've turned into a much wiser person for being in the military, and more conscientious.
But at the same time, being aware and being pretty tough, because Milwaukee,there's some mean streets in Milwaukee. And when I got here, losing my car, I had to use public transportation. So I got assaulted a couple times. And I had to pepper spray one guy, I remember. So working the second shift and being on a transfer at Second and Wisconsin after midnight, is not the best 01:39:00place to be in the city. So having my military training, I know what's up and I'm able to handle myself. Now I have a car and that's not a problem, but I'm able to handle myself. And I was able to navigate a town where I knew nothing. No transportation, didn't know how to get to work, didn't know the city, didn't know where the nearest grocery store, and being in the military gave me that toughness to adapt. So I think the number one thing that the military showed me was, teaching me to be adaptable, the adaptability.
SPRAGUE: So, what motivated you to do this interview? What made you want to comehere today?
COLLE: Actually, I said was asked. I didn't know that this was available. I'mvery grateful for it. I just remember my manager, when my manager 01:40:00said that they were doing pictures for I'm Not Invisible campaign, and she really pushed me to do it and I was like, "Okay, I'll go." But she was like, "No, no, we really want you to go." So I did. And I showed up and I didn't think anything of it. But I talked to the photographer, because I think he was also in Washington DC, so we just kind of started kibitzing on that. That's Yiddish for talking. So we talked about it. and I think that's where he said, "You have a really interesting story," and I actually gave an oral story right there, in their audiovisual department. And I think that's how we got to this. And it was something I didn't ask for that they kind of presented to me. And I thought, "Why not? I guess this really is history." A lot of young people 01:41:00these days, they don't know about the Gulf War. They don't know about these things that happened. They don't know about what it was like for a woman to be in the military twenty, thirty years ago.
We didn't start things, but it was a bridge to what we have now. So I thought,"Why not?" And I'm glad to have done it. And if it gives anyone joy or helps anyone, I'm really--because we can all learn. I mean, I listen--we have very few World War II veterans left that are alive, and I've had maybe two patients that were World War II veterans, and to hear their stories? They don't think it's significant. I don't think mine are great or earth-shattering or special, but maybe someone else may find it very interesting. So if that helps, so be it. And I'm very grateful that I was asked to do this interview. 01:42:00
SPRAGUE: Did we miss anything that you'd like to cover?
COLLE: That I would like to cover? I guess more of a message to other people,vets, and non-vets. If you find yourself angry, if you've gone through some kind of trauma, you may not even know it was trauma, but you start getting bad dreams. I used to think about death, and I remember telling someone, "Yeah, I had a dream I woke up during my own autopsy." And they were freaked out. They were like, "That's disturbing." And I thought everyone had dreams like that. That's when I realized, "Okay, I need to do something. I need to see someone." So whether military or not, there are going to be things in the military that many people are going to see, and then years later, when they find themselves drinking and yelling at their spouses, and they don't know why, go 01:43:00seek some help.
And as a psych nurse, I can see that better. I'm actually a better patient nowas well because I was so angry. I remember my own psychiatrist asking me, "Why are you so angry?" "I'm not angry," you know. So, whether you're military or not, whether it's being molested as a child, being a victim of rape or incest, or what have you, or witnessing a traumatic event, I believe that, if this helps, don't feel like you're alone. It's not a weakness to seek help, because we have combat veterans who have been hard-core snipers, you name it, paratroopers, the toughest guys you can possibly imagine, and they get help. And for the first time, they cry in twenty years, and they just break down. And it's the healthiest thing. And they're on our way to healing. So I think going out, that would be my message to anyone, military or not. And to accept 01:44:00yourself as you are, and be willing to change for the better, if you can, and make a better life for yourself and for your family. And talking about it can help someone else. Pass it on.
SPRAGUE: Well, if that's it, Elizabeth I want to thank you very much for yourtime today and thank you for your service.
COLLE: Thank you. Thank you, Luke, and thank you for having me.
SPRAGUE: No problem.