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Two-star general top U.S. Air Force nurse

| Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009

The touch of a nurse's hand can be a life-altering event for a young, wounded soldier. It can provide hope.

"I talked to a World War II veteran, and he was able to recall to the date he was wounded," Kim Siniscalchi said. "He was severely wounded.

"You get to the point you lose hope and become focused on your survival. A nurse reached out and touched his hand. That touch enabled him to retouch with people.

"He remembered that day."

While a nursing is a profession, it can also be an action - the tender care of nursing someone back to health. Those things have led to a full sense of accomplishment for Siniscalchi.

A major general in the U.S. Air Force, the Charleroi native has reached the pinnacle of her military profession. She is chief of the Air Force Nurse Corps and was promoted from colonel to two-star major general - bypassing the one-star rank.

She is the daughter of Lois Stetz and the late Steve Stetz.

The position of the Air Force's top nurse, by law, is a two-star position.

Lt. Gen. James Roudebush, Air Force surgeon general, pinned the two stars on her shoulders Dec. 8, 2008.

She is assistant surgeon general for the Air Force Medical Department and assistant surgeon general for nursing services.

With her position, Siniscalchi commands all nursing personnel in active, guard and the reserve units.

The former Kim Stetz recalled someone who made a difference in the direction her life took.

While in college, a professor saw that Siniscalchi was studying biology and encouraged her to go into nursing.

"I think there are people in our lives who you never know how they are going to affect your lives," said Siniscalchi, who attended Duquesne University. "Years later, you realize they had an impact on your life."

Siniscalchi participated in the Reserve Officer Training Corps on a scholarship. Before applying, she discussed the idea with her parents, who were supportive.

"It's about the ability to give back and serve," Siniscalchi said. "I thought at the time, 'You're young. This is something you can do for your country.'

"The military didn't start out as a career, but 30 years later É ."

Over the years, the service provided opportunities for advancement, education and travel.

Siniscalchi's career has taken her to such places as California, Virginia, Nebraska, Maryland, Massachusetts, Texas and Washington, D.C.

She began her Air Force career as a nurse intern at March Air Force Base, Calif., and has held such positions as pediatric, primary care and internal medicine and emergency nurse, clinical nurse, nurse recruiting chief, cardiac care and assistant charge nurse.

She met her husband, Joseph Siniscalchi, at a MASH party in Riverside, Calif., in 1980. She was a nurse intern at the time. A captain and pilot on alert at the time, he was dressed in his reserve suit.

Married a year later, the couple has a daughter, Lauren, 21, who is majoring in pre-medicine at Wittenberg University.

From 1990 until 1993, Siniscalchi was a part of the elite White House medical team that included two nurses each from the Air Force, Army and Navy. For awhile, she was the lone Air Force nurse in the group.

They provide medical care to the president, vice president, their families and all military personnel assigned to the 18-acre White House compound.

They traveled on Air Force One with the president. They also served on an advance team, spending weekends at Camp David, Md., and summers at Kennebunkport, Maine.

"I really loved President Bush. He was wonderful to work for. He and Mrs. Bush are an incredible team," she said of George Herbert Walker Bush and his wife Barbara.

Siniscalchi experienced history firsthand, traveling with the president.

She participated in the transition when President Bill Clinton took office, working for him until September 1993, when she was reassigned to Omaha, Neb.

There, Siniscalchi was reunited with her husband, who had returned from overseas, where he was commanding the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron.

Joseph Siniscalchi is now retired from the Air Force and works for L-3 Communications, a Dallas-based defense contractor that has an office in Washington, D.C.

Gen. Siniscalchi is stationed in Washington, D.C.

She also keeps in touch with the former neighbors and life-long friends Peggy Deutsch, of Charleroi, John Rebar, of Charleroi; Barb Helon, of Monessen; and Billy Bosh, of Charleroi.

Deutsch, Helon and Rebar attended her pinning ceremony.

"One thing that is special to me is being able to maintain friendships at home," Siniscalchi said of the Mon Valley.

Deutsch, who has followed her friend's career, said Siniscalchi continues to surprise her.

"She just seemed like an ordinary kid, a next-door neighbor. You never heard an unkind word come out of her mouth," Deutsch said.

"You know she was President Bush's private nurse. Who would have thought that. She was chosen out of hundreds of people."

Deutsch said the Siniscalchi's Valley roots are deep.

"Her daughter just spent the week here," Deutsch said.

Siniscalchi has traveled to Iraq to visit medical personnel. She said what military medical personnel are able to accomplish in the war zone is "incredible." Equally so, they are doing incredible work rehabilitating burn victims and amputees, Siniscalchi said.

"During Vietnam, it took 21 days to move the wounded stateside," Siniscalchi said. "Today, we're doing it in three days. That's the true testament to our medical personnel. The contributions our young medics are making today is the story that needs to be told.

"In Iraq, if you get the wounded to the hospital, the survival rate is greater than 99 percent."

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