A native Floridian, Roxanne Tweedy hails from Jacksonville and attended nursing school in Miami, seeking to follow in the footsteps of her mother. She wanted very much to join the Navy after graduation, but met “a very nice Air Force officer” and got married instead.
Tying the knot didn’t change her plans for military service, however – only her choice of division. More remarkably, she was among the first U.S. military personnel to be sworn into duty by her spouse when she joined the Air Force in 1967. The affair was even officially witnessed by a two-star general.
In the early going, the couple spent four-and-a-half years of active duty at Travis Air Force base and then another two in Bermuda. “That was a hard-duty assignment,” Tweedy said. “Had to go deep-sea fishing and sailing and stuff.”
The Tweedys got a deferred taste of the challenges of military life when husband Steve, an aircraft maintenance officer, was re-deployed back to Orlando to a unit that didn’t have any available nursing slots. Roxanne Tweedy went instead to Patrick Air Force Base, commuting 72 miles one way, and spending nights with late-ending shifts at her uncle’s home in Melbourne. Even that changed when the couple decided it was time for the family to grow.
“In September of ‘71, they were just starting to let you stay in and have a baby,” Roxanne Tweedy said. “In the beginning you couldn’t even be married and be in the military; then they let you get married. Then they said somebody had to stay home and be with the kids. I did not want to work; I wanted to nurse my babies. So I had four of them.”
There are sons Charles, who joined the Navy, and Addison, who was in the Naval reserves, and is now a missionary with his wife; older daughter Alyssa is a certified recreational specialist, and Johanna is an RN at Vanderbilt in Nashville.
Meanwhile, Steve went to Vietnam, and later to a rescue and recovery squadron before joining the minuteman missile program. As the children grew, the family was transferred to the Florida panhandle, and finally, the Tweedys were off active duty together, although it wasn’t for a lack of trying to avoid it. Roxanne Tweedy couldn’t find an opening in the reserve forces, and then was kept out later by a melanoma on her wrist.
She wouldn’t get another chance until it was time for Addison, a high-school ROTC participant, to register for the Naval reserves.
“Of course I’m gung-ho military,” Roxanne Tweedy said, “The young man said, ‘We need nurses in the Navy Reserve.’ I said, ‘Sign me up.’ He said, ‘I’m serious, ma’am.’ I said, ‘I’m serious, son.’”
The recruiting officer told her it was the fastest paperwork processing he’d ever done.
“They were recruiting older nurses and doctors because they needed them,” Roxanne Tweedy said. “I had one friend who was 50 at the time, but she was an OR nurse, and that’s a critical care specialty. And she knew when she went in, she would have to retire at age 60 and she would not get a [federal] retirement [benefit], but she served and she enjoyed it and she had a lot to bring to the table.”
So Roxanne Tweedy re-joined the service at age 45 in April 1990, and then eight months later was deployed to a 500-bed fixed field hospital in Operation: Desert Storm for 90 days.
“We had the air war, the ground war, and we were done,” she said.
Roxanne Tweedy continued to serve in the Navy reserves, which presented plenty of opportunities to provide care even in non-combat roles. When thousands of people clamored to get a view of the vessels at every port, she was the senior medical department representative, invariably helping someone who’d gotten out of breath going up the ladders or who’d hit his or her head on the ship. Eventually she was recalled back to Bethesda in 2003 as the head of the sterile operating department for STDs and health sciences, which she revamped on her way to four navy commendation medals.
Yet Roxanne Tweedy says that the most rewarding aspects of her career came from the intrinsic pleasures.
“I truly enjoy taking care of people, and my whole goal is for them to have the optimal outcome,” she said. “When you come out of surgery, you’re going to have a little pain and discomfort, but you’re not going to have scars, tissue damage, pneumonia, anything else.”
Roxanne Tweedy has put 45-and-a-half years of nursing in specialties as varied as labor and delivery, OR, and psychology and mental health, which she said prepared her for working with the surgeons who think they’re gods. She prides herself on running a clean OR – in more ways than one. No swearing, lewd talk, temperamental behavior or disrespect is tolerated on her watch, and she insists on it.
“They know, watch out, Nurse Tweedy’s in here,” she said. “They’ll start to say something and I’ll go ‘yellow light,’ and that’s all I have to say. Nurses [who] complain about not getting any respect, I say you don’t deserve it,” she said.
Nurse Tweedy – or Commander Tweedy, if she’s feeling Naval – insists that if patients can remember their doctors’ last names, they can learn their nurses’ last names. She laments health care settings in which nurses are overly familiar, and deems it unprofessional. Is she a stickler? Maybe, but she comes from a tradition where the career itself is only as valuable as those within it insist it ought to be.
“It’s important that a patient knows your name and what you’re going to do,” she says. “We need to educate patients on different positions that are vital to the hospital.
“Years ago, they dressed everybody in white to make people think they had a lot of nurses; research has shown that the more RNs you have, the higher the level of patient satisfaction and the fewer errors,” Roxanne Tweedy said. “I’ve never had a problem with a patient knowing who I am and what I am.”
To this day, she still works, but only as needed. She still feels like she’s got something to give.
“I enjoy it,” Roxanne Tweedy said. “I like teaching and I like teaching others. I’m thorough and professional, and I demand that everyone else in the room listen.”