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Ellicottville Native Maggie Fitzpatrick Kohler Reflects on Her Time in the Army

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By Mary Fox

“You will get out of the Army what you put into the Army,” said Army Captain Maggie Fitzpatrick Kohler, a young woman who has always put her all into her life experiences.

Maggie was born in Ellicottville and attended Ellicottville Central School. She went on to graduate from D’Youville College with an RN degree in Nursing Science and joined the U.S. Army upon graduation.

Maggie’s third tour of duty is taking her to Anchorage, Alaska with the 4-25th Infantry Division at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.  Her new unit is the only Airborne unit located on the Pacific coast.  Maggie’s duties in Alaska will be as the Army’s only female Brigade nurse and Officer in Charge of an on- post clinic, servicing thousands of soldiers while training soldier medics.

Maggie was asked to complete the Army’s Airborne School in Fort Benning, Ga. before going to Alaska.  While training at Fort Benning, her first jump resulted in a broken ankle.  She did not graduate with her jump wings; however, she got to come home and recuperate with her parents, Dan and Nancy Fitzpatrick, after her surgery.

“It only takes around 40 seconds from exiting out of the plane to landing on the ground. During the descent, there is so much to think about in order to ensure a safe landing…there isn’t enough time to look around and enjoy the ride, but there isn’t any other feeling in the world  like jumping out of a plane with nothing but you and your parachute. It was the biggest rush of my life,” she said.

Parachuting became part of her training as an Army nurse, in preparation for the possibility of needing to parachute into inaccessible areas to set up clinics in combat, if the situation should ever arise.

Will she jump again?  “Of course,” she said.

Maggie’s first tour of duty, in 2009, took her to Fort Bragg, N.C. for two years, where she worked on the base at their medical hospital.  In 2013, she moved to Germany where she was attached to the 212th Combat Support Hospital and worked at Landstuhl Army Medical Center.  It was there she worked closely with the wounded soldiers who had come straight from the war zone for treatment.

“It was the most rewarding job taking care of these men and women who were serving our country,” said Maggie. “It was not only our job to treat their medical wounds but also to be their support system so far away from home.”

Maggie spent the last nine months of her tour in Afghanistan. She was sent on a mission that involved training, advising and assisting Afghan medical officers in prison clinics for detainees.  “This was a challenging job and at times, put your medical ethics in check,” she said.

During four of her nine months in Afghanistan, Maggie’s brother, Captain Stephen Fitzpatrick, was deployed and happened to be in the same surrounding area. His mission included ensuring contracts were fulfilled in dealing with the transfer of equipment back to the United States and other locations.

While she said they could usually only get together briefly on Sundays, she emphasized, “it was great having him there for support.”

She continued, “In the Army, there is always someone watching you, supporting you and encouraging you to make successful choices. This has been one of the most exciting parts of my career, having someone care so much about my future alongside of me.”

Maggie stressed the importance of establishing a good support system.  “When you are having those very early days and very late nights, traveling frequently, away from your loved ones, and deploying, it’s critical to have your family and friends at your side and maintain communications with them to stay positive,” she said.

“If you ask anyone deployed, the happiest time of day is mail time. Care packages and letters from loved ones are what the soldiers look for in keeping up their morale while far away from home.  She suggested that great items to include in a package to men and women overseas are “little luxuries” not available in the desert—cookies, shampoo and cozy socks, to name a few.

Maggie notes changes her six years in the Army. “More and more women are going into military jobs where females have never been able to work before,” she said.  “Our men and women are starting to travel and train in countries that we never had a big presence in.  All I ask is that our soldiers are not forgotten for all of the things mentally and physically they have to sustain on a daily basis.”

Maggie has set a great example for young women in and out of the military. She received her Masters in Health Care Administration online from Trident University in 2013, and continues to work hard on a daily basis.

“There will always be opportunities for travel, training and deployments in the Army,” she said. “It’s these experiences that make you a more rounded soldier.  I will go with pride wherever the Army asks me to go.”

Maggie’s attitude toward life and her ongoing efforts, striving to improve her chosen path in life, is admirable, and Maggie should be commended for her years of service, past, present and future.

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