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AECP commissioning new nurses.

JOHN D. Derr enlisted in the Army in 1984. At the time, he thought about a career in medicine but had little idea how much education would be involved in pursuing that career. Not a strong student in high school, Derr thought that a medical career was out of reach. As it turns out, joining the Army did not mean he had to put aside his interest in medicine.

More than two decades later, he is a second lieutenant and clinical staff nurse in the Intermediate Care Unit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. That is largely thanks to support he got from his participation in the AMEDD Enlisted Commissioning Program.

Each year, AECP gives up to 100 eligible enlisted active-duty, Army Reserve or National Guard Soldiers the opportunity to complete undergraduate or graduate degrees in nursing, and then be commissioned as Army Nurse Corps officers.

Through the program, Derr was able to receive pay at his previous enlisted rank during the two years he spent as a full-time student at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. AECP continues pay and benefits to participants for up to 24 consecutive months of enrollment. The program also funded up to $9,000 in academic costs per year.

Though not a traditional path to a nursing career, Derr said enlisting in the Army helped him fulfill his dreams of working in medicine. He began his Army career as a combat medical specialist, serving his first three years on active duty. Following his discharge in 1987, he attended Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Penn., as an international studies major. During his time at Wilkes he joined the Army Reserve's 11th Special Forces Group.

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After graduating from the Special Forces Medical Sergeant Course in 1994, he re-enlisted, serving in the 10th SFG.

Derr said he enjoyed the demanding nature of, and challenges posed by, the special-forces community. "We were able to do things that other people only dream about," he said.

Although he appreciated his position and responsibilities as a special-forces medic, when he found out about AECP, Derr realized his dreams of a second career were achievable. To be eligible for AECP as an active-duty Soldier, he had to have had from three to 17 years of active service at the time of commissioning. Reserve Soldiers must have less than 15 years of combined service upon applying for the program.

After getting his degree from the University of Pennsylvania and attending the Officer Basic Course at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, Derr was assigned to WRAMC.

There, he still enjoys the esprit de corps that he felt in special forces. He sees more challenging cases than registered nurses in civilian hospitals do, and said he finds it especially satisfying to help Soldiers who have been injured during service.

Derr said his journey to becoming a staff nurse at WRAMC shows that if you persevere, you can achieve your dreams, no matter what they are.

"Anything is possible if you put your mind to it," Derr said. "Just never lose sight of your goals."

If you are interested in learning more about the AMEDD Enlisted Commissioning Program, e-mail Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Wagner at aecp@ usarec.army.mil.

Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Wagner is the AECP program manager for U.S. Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky.
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Title Annotation:Focus on People; Army Extension Course Program
Author:Wagner, Timothy
Publication:Soldiers Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2008
Words:566
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