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Officer Credits Career Achievements to Clearly Defined Goals, Confidence

Kenner Army Health Clinic, Lt. Col. Stacey Freeman, Health Readiness deputy commander poses in front of Kenner Army Health Clinic on Fort Lee, Va. She is responsible for more than 100 nurses within five clinics at KAHC. (Photo by Lesley Atkinson, KAHC Publlc Affairs)
by Lesley Atkinson

Originally published on Fort Lee Traveler.

"I want to be a general,” was the immediate reply offered by basic officer training course candidate Stacey Freeman when instructors asked her why she joined the Army nearly 20 years ago.

“That’s how I started my career,” Freeman recalled. “I knew what I wanted and marched confidently forward to make it happen.”

Now wearing the rank of lieutenant colonel and serving as the deputy commander for Health Readiness at Kenner Army Health Clinic, it’s fairly evident that Freeman hasn’t lost her moxie for a monumental military career. Hers’ is the type of story that needs to be told as the nation observes Women’s History Month.

The summation of childhood factors that shaped Freeman’s character include immigrating to America from Colchester, England, with her single mother and residing in low-income rental trailer parks in the nation’s heartland. She decided back in high school that the military was going to be her career of choice after a thought-provoking conversation with her guidance counselor
“My mom was working long hours at jobs that paid very little money,” Freeman said. “I knew it was my responsibility to make the best of what I had, including school where good grades offered the best ticket to a more desirable future.”

Both the Army and Air Force accepted her applications for ROTC scholarships. She chose the Army’s “full-ride” offer because it was the best option for her financial situation. She attended Tuskegee University in Alabama where she majored in nursing.

The next chapter of Freeman’s career path opened at Fort Jackson, S.C., where the opportunity to work with health professionals in the operating room opened a new artery of ambition. Her eventual application to the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences – the nation’s federal health professions academy – was accepted and 2 years later she was handed a master’s degree as a perioperative clinical nurse specialist.

“Of course,” Freeman noted, “my first thought at that point was joining the staff of a big surgical team at a major military hospital and propelling my career forward. However, the Army had other plans.”

She had been requested by name to fill a position at Fort Polk, La., a somewhat remote base outside of Vernon Parish that was settling into its upgraded responsibility as the Joint Readiness Training Center for soon-to-deploy military troops.

“That is where I learned it’s not about the location, it’s all about the job,” she said. “From that point on, I have never said no to an assignment. What I have learned is that success can be achieved even if the job doesn’t measure up to your initial expectations. Those are the places where I typically gained the most experience.”
Other windows of opportunity opened as a result of Freeman’s work ethic. She said she learned early on that excuses like “I’m not trained to do that” or “it’s not part of my job description” are cop-outs closely akin to laziness.

“At Fort Bliss (Texas), I contacted the professional journals for operating room nurses and volunteered to write and review articles,” she said. “Writing and reading are something I’ve enjoyed since a very young age, so why not put that to use in my profession?”

The same attitude – along with a desire to make herself the go-to subject matter expert of her profession through continuous learning – led to other unorthodox decisions and discoveries.

“In the OR at Fort Bliss,” she said, “I would scrub in (pass instruments and assist the surgeons) even though it was not part of my regular duties at that time. With staff shortages, I knew it was helpful, and I knew my counterparts were watching me. Later, they would mention how great it was seeing me fill in and help out. It clearly indicated to me that if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and do what subordinates do, they’re going to have a greater respect for you.”
A key element of advancement, Freeman also observed, is fully understanding what makes things work so individuals don’t evolve into the dreaded, ineffective boss who’s oblivious to what’s going on in the trenches.

“People can become so preoccupied with looking ahead that they neglect where they are now,” she said. “It’s another argument for always doing the job to the best of your ability. That’s when people know you have the right mindset for movement to the next higher-level position that comes available. Being passionate is what makes you marketable and competitive against other people.”

During the Fort Bliss assignment, Freeman also upped her management chops by completing a Master’s in Business Administration at Webster University in 2015 while simultaneously serving as the troop commander of over 1,200 Soldiers at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso.

The next move to the deputy commander position at Fort Lee placed her in charge of more than 100 nurses, five troop medical clinics – three here, one at A.P. Hill and another at Fort Pickett – the Army Wellness Center, and Education, Training and Operations Readiness at Kenner. Once again proving her point about not resting on one’s laurels, she dove into a doctorate program for Business Administration in Healthcare Management at Walden University and is projected to graduate this year.

By now, it should come as no surprise that additional opportunity is knocking. Freeman recently learned that she was selected for a command billet and a seat in the Army’s Senior Service College. The notification of selection for the Clinic Commander position in Wiesbaden, Germany, came from Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West, the Army Surgeon General, herself.

“Without a doubt, I have been given every opportunity a person could dream of over the course of a military career, and I am deeply grateful,” Freeman said. “I know it took a combination of factors to get me here, and I’m not really sure what makes me click like I do. I guess I just get that vision and refuse to let it go. Some people only talk about what they are going to do … I actually take action and do it.”