LIMA — After 36 years of service to her country, Roberta “Bobbie” Stemen retired from the United States Air Force just a few weeks ago. On Friday night, she gathered with friends and family in Lima to celebrate her service to the U.S. and reflect on her time working as a nurse in the military.
Bobbie was born and raised in Lima and always wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a nurse, but she wanted to become a part of something bigger than herself too. After high school, she packed up and enlisted in the Air Force, where she was stationed in Germany as a Combat Arms Instructor for four years.
After her tour was up, she went back to school while staying in the service as a member of the USAF Reserves. She loved the service so much that when she earned her nursing degree from Ohio State in 1993, she went to the recruiting office to re-enlist full time with the Air Force Nurse Corps on her graduation day, still dressed in her cap and gown.
From there, she married her husband Mike, who served as a Navy Corpsman around the same time as Bobbie’s first tour. Stemen and her husband had their two kids, which led her to go off active duty and return to Lima in 2000. She said that her family played the most critical role in helping her through the challenges of military service.
“Not everybody can serve, but so many people, when they support a service member, that’s their way of serving,” she said. “Even though we’re the ones that are deploying or gone, it’s our family members that are sacrificing just as much, if not more.”
She went back to the reserves and worked out of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton as a flight nurse, taking care of transported soldiers in every corner of the world. She was sent out on a number of deployments, including two to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2012. She was set for a third in 2014, but her clearance exam revealed that she had breast cancer. She was devastated that she couldn’t fly anymore, but it didn’t stop her from continuing to work at Wright-Patterson.
Stemen beat cancer and was cleared to fly again. She had earned a promotion to Colonel and was hired as the Commander for the 445th Aeromedical Staging Squadron out of Wright-Patterson.
Now that Stemen is officially retired from the reserves, she already misses it, but she said that her one saving grace is her full-time job working as a nurse at the VA hospital in Fort Wayne.
“I think the only thing that’s keeping my sanity is that I work at the VA hospital in Fort Wayne. It keeps me connected to that military sense of service,” she said. “These veterans, I talk to them as much as I can; I hear their war stories. From what they went through, it just humbles me.”
Stemen said that she is thankful for everyone who has served and is serving, as well as the outpouring of support from the community, and that her service will always be a part of her.
“They say, ‘Don’t be what your work is, don’t identify yourself as your work, because then who are you?’” she said. “So I have to (tell myself), ‘Okay, that’s not who I am, that’s what I did,’ but it is a big part of me, there’s just no way around it.”
Reach Trevor Hubert at 567-242-0398