Throughout her career, Colonel Linda Henderson led by example with her “Tough Love” leadership style.
From her humble beginnings in Washington County, Linda aimed high in a nursing career. On the advice of her high school counselor, she chose the prestigious Vanderbilt University in Nashville Tennessee, where she graduated in 1973.
With a heart for service and a desire to find her full potential, she looked for the right professional fit for several years following college. This search led her to join the United States Air Force in 1978, beginning as a first lieutenant. Previous nursing experience allowed her to skip the second lieutenant rank. Her first duty assignment was at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico in Medical Surgery and later as the Staff Development Coordinator. Linda rose in the ranks to Captain while at Holloman AFB.
Linda married in 1980 and they had a son 11 months later. Many adventures and challenges were in store for the family. Her husband received new orders for Bitburg Germany to fly F-15s and soon Linda received orders to a different base, Hahn also in Germany. The Moselle River divides the two bases; her base on the East and his on the West. The family settled in a house in the countryside between the two bases but the drive was nearly two hours to Hahn base. Thankfully, the property owners agreed to babysit Christopher their nine month old son. Linda worked in labor, delivery, postpartum and nursery. “I couldn’t believe I was doing that, but I actually enjoyed it very much,” she said. A year later, she joined her husband at Bitburg base.
The next Henderson assignment was to Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada where she was the Director of the OB/GYN clinic and later the Clinical Coordinator for all of the inpatient units. While at Nellis, Linda was pinned Major two years early “I am sure it was because of the work I was involved with in Germany,” she said. She had been in the Air Force seven years by this time.
Henderson was selected in 1988 for Midlevel Professional Military Education at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery Alabama, the Air Command Staff College, where she graduated in 1989. She remained as an instructor and was later selected as Commander of one squadron at the college. “I loved being a Commander! In the squadron I had Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Civilians, Foreign service officers… from all over the world really” she said. In 1991 Linda was promoted to lieutenant colonel.
Her distinguished nursing career in the Air Force took her to many other places and helped hone her skills in nursing and leadership. In 1992 she went to Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico where she was Assistant Chief Nurse and the Support Commander. Linda said “It was a wonderful learning experience because I did something other than nursing.” She served in this capacity until the summer of 1995 when she was selected for the Air Force Inspection Agency Team. The Air Force Medics along with the Joint Commission traveled to active duty hospitals and other medical units around the world to ensure they met the Air Force standards as well as the Joint Commission standards. “That was a wonderful experience” she said “I literally went all over the world.”
Linda was very moved by her experiences in Saudi Arabia, “I was given a cover for my head and a long robe for my body, which made me realize just how fortunate we are in the United States as far as women go,” she said “It made me realize what freedom really is about.” She further explained that her experiences in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain “made me realize the religious freedom we have here. We are blessed, we are very very blessed.”
While in Israel, Linda hired a tour guide who was born in Jerusalem to take the group to the Temple Mount, the Holy Sepulcher and Bethlehem. She beamed as she explained, “it was a wonderful spiritual experience… almost the most spiritual experience I have ever had because my faith is deep. That is what carried me through the military and carries me today.”
Linda’s last assignment was to England soon after her promotion to Colonel. She was assigned to Lakenheath Air Force Base as the Chief Nurse as well as the MedOp Commander. The hospital had about 650 people assigned and she commanded around 450 of them. Colonel Henderson said “It was a daunting assignment, a wonderful assignment… At that time in 1998 and 1999 Lakenheath AFB was taking part in the bombing of Bosnia. The medical side had a huge role in the Bosnia Campaign, we supplied a FAST Team (Forward Ambulatory Surgical Team) made up of five people, a general surgeon, orthopedic surgeon, anesthesia, operating room tech and an operating room nurse who did surgeries out of back-packs in Hanger. These teams were sent to Turkey, as well as other classified locations in the area. I really loved that assignment.”
Linda explained that being a part of something bigger than yourself is what makes you a strong American. “When you are only in your own little world and you only see from day to day, you can’t see the bigger picture of what it means to be American.” She said, “I am of the belief that every young man and young woman in the US needs to do some kind of National Service.”
“I don’t think people appreciate our country to the depths some of our older generation do… the military taught me to appreciate it more. I certainly didn’t appreciate it as much before I went into the military”
“When you understand what it takes to maintain that freedom… people are more apt to do whatever it takes to keep our country safe, clean, and moving in the right direction. I think a lot of that has been stripped away the last several years.”
After her retirement, Linda Henderson held several positions at Jackson Hospital, including Director of Radiology, Director of Nursing and also worked in Labor and Delivery. In 2008, she became VA Out Patient Clinic Director in Marianna where she was instrumental in bringing Tele-Medicine to the clinic. Tele-Medicine allows the veterans to be “seen” and evaluated by many different specialties that they would have otherwise needed to travel out of town for. She has implemented Tele Medicine in several VA clinics and trained personnel in its uses.
Interview by Leigh Paramore
Profiles of Courage Sponsored by Rahal-Miller