Many people think that joining the Army is something that you do when you are young as a way to jumpstart a career. However, just as there are hundreds of thousands of Americans proudly serving in the US Army, there are just as many different reasons as to why they decided to join.
Unlike many of her fellow veterans, Carolyn Pytlik wasn’t fresh out of school when she decided to join. Instead, she was recruited as a 43-year-old single mom to serve as a nurse anesthetist.
Born in 1948 and raised in Niles, Ohio as the second oldest of 9 children, Carolyn knew from an early age that if she wanted to make something of herself, she needed to have a plan. Her desire to be successful was partly inspired by her father. He was a navy sailor and Carolyn clearly remembers the day he was discharged from active duty after the end of World War Two.
He later went on to earn his Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Engineering. Carolyn worked hard in school and landed her first job when she was only 11 as a paper girl. This job reinforced the benefits of working hard and Carolyn is proud to point out that from that point on, she always had her own money. Although her dad unexpectedly died when she was only 17 years old, his strong work ethic and drive remained instilled in her to this very day.
When Carolyn finished high school, she was given a full scholarship to earn her nursing diploma at Trumbull Memorial Hospital School of Nursing and then a Bachelors Degree in Nursing at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio. During college, she met a young man who would become her husband and father of her three children.
After graduating from nursing school, she soon began working as a pediatric nurse and then became an intensive care nurse. Seeing the potential of this young nurse, a doctor Carolyn worked with recommended that she train to be a nurse anesthetist. She enrolled in a School of Anesthesia for Nurses and graduated as a Graduate Nurse Anesthetist. After passing her examinations, she soon started her career as a civilian nurse anesthetist working in hospitals in Northeastern Ohio and Chicago.
A New Recruit
Carolyn’s life took an interesting turn from nurse to soldier when she was recruited to join the US Army as a newly divorced single mom in her 40s. Highly skilled and trained, she entered the Army in 1990 as a captain and was given a generous bonus. Her MOS was nurse anesthetist and she was seen as a valuable resource for Desert Storm and Desert Shield. As a member of the National AMEDD Augmentation Detachment, Carolyn joined a number of other Nurse Anesthetists, Physicians, and Surgical Nurses in filling the need for services with whatever units required them. Her work with the US Army allowed her to travel to Massachusetts, California, Florida, Texas, and Kentucky. She even practiced anesthesia at Walter Reed Army Hospital and Travis Air Force Base in California.
Although she was assigned to a unit in Massachusetts, Carolyn was able to perform all her monthly drill requirements at the nearby Youngstown Air Reserve Base in Vienna, Ohio which allowed her to spend time with her young daughters. She proudly wore her green Army uniform in a sea of blue Air Force uniforms and saw herself as an Army of One as she coordinated the wellness projects and immunizations on base. She served in the US Army for 14 years before leaving. During this time, she also earned her Master’s Degree in Health Education from Penn State University.
Life After the Army
Since leaving the Army, Carolyn has retired from the medical field and spends her winters traveling around the world with her husband, visiting their grandchildren, and enjoying the summers up on Lake Erie. Now 73 years old, she is still actively involved in the local community’s health and wellness programs and has even maintained her real estate license for a number of decades. You can now often find her selling homes on Lake Erie for Sotheby’s International Realty..
Always a strong proponent of education, Carolyn funded her children’s higher education and all three of her children have Master’s degrees. She always encouraged her children to travel and one of her daughters even visited her 100th country by the time she was 34. She believes that her children are her greatest accomplishment because they have all followed and achieved their dreams.
Looking back, Carolyn is proud that she served her country and is honored that she got to be involved in both the US Army and Air Force. The experience has had a profound impact on her life. As a former military spouse, Carolyn knew the responsibilities associated with military service and the importance of having a support network when serving in the military. As a single mother, her fellow soldiers, friends, and her family became her military family and helped her serve the country most effectively. She values these friendships dearly and believes that the camaraderie she developed with friends in the military is unlike any other relationship she has ever had.
A life-long learner, Carolyn really enjoyed the new learning experiences and the travel that came along with her military service. She felt like there was always someone to learn something new from someone and that people were eager to share their expertise. The Army created an environment that encouraged people to be all that they could be. Education was encouraged and new career opportunities were presented on a constant basis. She is extremely proud of her successful career in anesthesia and for coordinating the first Wellness Program for the Vienna Air Force Wing located within the Youngstown Air Reserve Base.
Carolyn highly recommends joining the military for any women who are still on the fence about it. She would advise women to consider all the branches, including the Coast Guard before deciding which one is best. Each branch has a different character and prioritizes different skills. It is also important to have a goal in mind and explore how the military can help you achieve it. Finally, take advantage of every opportunity for education and training.
Carolyn Pytlik is proof that the Army and Air Force can provide not only a great opportunity to start a career, but also that a solid career in civilian life can be a great asset as an older recruit. She serves as an inspiration for older women who are considering military service.