Tears rolled down the faces of George McEnroe’s wife and daughters as he held them at the airport this past October. McEnroe was flying to Qatar and knew it would be a long time before he saw them again.
McEnroe, RN, is a member of a specialized U.S. Airforce unit and is director of clinical quality at the Kaiser Permanente Vallejo Medical Center.
This year, instead of coming home late on the night his family decorates their Christmas tree, McEnroe, 55, won’t be coming home at all.
“It’s extremely tough,” he said. “It makes you appreciate everything so much more.”
Although the father of 2 will be overseas this holiday season, he is giving his fellow airmen a chance to be home with their families.
From the president to the World Cup
In the military, McEnroe is part of a 6-member surgical team that treats trauma wounds from gunshots, shrapnel, and blunt force for combat soldiers. The mobile unit travels alongside front-line servicepeople and performs surgery anywhere — an airbase, a field, and locations that are otherwise hours from any medical care.
“Knowing that we got a father back to his kids or allowed a kid to see his or her parents again carries a lot of weight,” McEnroe said.
The special unit includes a trauma surgeon, emergency room doctor, nurse, anesthesiologist, and an administrator. The team’s duties vary widely from assisting the president of the United States when he travels abroad to being the medical crew on the sidelines of the FIFA World Cup.
How it started
Originally an art major in college, McEnroe once worked with the popular boy band New Kids on the Block assisting with set design. But he needed help paying for his education, so he joined the military at 19. His first exposure working in health care was in the Labor and Delivery Unit.
“I was hooked,” McEnroe said of his initial military health care experience. “It was exciting, rewarding, and I felt like I was making a difference, which is pretty dramatic for a 19-year-old.”
“It’s important to remember that we have so many troops overseas in Africa, Yemen, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. There are people missing dads, moms, children and they are doing it to protect our country.”
One of the most memorable experiences he had was when a military policeman suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Although the officer didn’t live after multiple attempts to save his life, his organs were donated to help save others. It was a “life-altering” experience McEnroe said and sent him on his path to become a health care professional.
He earned his Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Missouri Southern State University and worked as a staff nurse in a trauma center there. He then became a trauma manager at the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center, clinical director of an ICU, and finally made his way to Kaiser Permanente as director of accreditation and licensing 15 years ago.
Appreciate the little things
Having been in Qatar for a little over 2 months, McEnroe is feeling the pain of missing his wife of 15 years, and 8- and 14-year-old daughters. Throughout his health care career, McEnroe has been on duty for monthslong trainings across the United States, but he never gets used to being away from his family.
“It makes everything that much more meaningful in your life,” he said. “Every time I talk to my daughters, it means even more to me.”
He talked about how tough it is on his wife, Casi, who is a single parent while he’s away, and how difficult the weeks leading up to his departure are. This is true for all military families.
“It’s important to remember that we have so many troops overseas in Africa, the Middle East, and many countries throughout the world,” McEnroe said. “There are people missing dads, moms, and children, and they are doing it to protect our country.”