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SOLANO COUNTY – Military personnel at Travis Air Force Base can get a degree in nursing through Angwin-based Pacific Union College—right on the base.

[caption id="attachment_23173" align="alignright" width="316" caption="Pacific Union graduates"][/caption]

In the 14 years the program has been active, 154 students have gone through the Med Tech/LVN to RN program and 24 more will be starting in November, said Debra Winkle, the director of the LVN to RN programs.

“It is my understanding that we are the only on-base nursing program in the USAF where the entire program is focused specifically on military personnel,” said Ms. Winkle.

The program was started for two reasons. First, to move to the rank of commissioned officer, nurses need a bachelor's degree in nursing. Two, the training for med techs who retire or choose to leave the military is frequently not recognized in the civilian world — unless they get an RN or BSN.

The med tech to RN program accepts 24 students in each 18-month cohort, and those 24 stay together through the program. The RN to BSN program is less rigid, with classes offered continually so that students can enter as needed. They graduate whenever they complete the required classes.

The program and curriculum are entirely overseen by the university. Ms. Winkle coordinates instructors for all the courses as well as getting students off base for their clinical, where they get civilian experience.

“I was hired partly to be involved in the off-site programs 14 years ago,” said Ms. Winkle.

Pacific Union College is a Christian liberal arts college, founded in 1882. It is a Seventh-day Adventist learning community.

“We have courses in the spiritual care of the patients because we believe in the whole care of the patient, and that area is often neglected,” Ms. Winkle said.

It is often difficult to get into nursing programs due to the high number of people seeking admission, she said.

[caption id="attachment_23140" align="alignright" width="432" caption="Travis Air Force Base graduates: (Back row) Anthony Sessoms, Jason Collins, Paul Wheeler, Cheri Romlin, Gregory Weicher, Robin Manolovits and Aimee Stark; (middle row) Allan Bane, Stephanie Lindsey, Amy Staubitz, Mary Tapia, Mabel Cabigas and Roheem Moore; (front row) Thomas Rangel, Joyce Bocade, Director Debra Winkle, Verna Vida, Kaleialoha Harper, Kimberly Durrett, Ernesto Brizuela; graduates missing in photo: Dalia Castillo, Eugene Curtis, Christina Grott, Vianca Ronquillo and Magali Gomez and Samir Shahin who have been deployed to Afghanistan"][/caption]

But at Travis, everyone who qualifies is accepted into the program, on a first-come first-served basis.

If a student is deployed, which has happened in increasing numbers since Sept. 11, said Ms. Winkle, the school will not drop them.

"Many schools will drop them out of the class when they are deployed, and I have a hard time with that," said Ms. Winkle.

There are three options for students who are deployed. They can opt to go into the next cohort when they return, they can go on-campus and take the faster courses there or do one-on-one work to catch up.

“We have made the commitment to work with deployment, and we take that commitment seriously,” said Ms. Winkle.

She said students at the base are dedicated, and only two have opted to go into the next cohort. Most work double-time when they return.

“It is taxing on them because they are doing two quarters,” she said. “I am amazed at the determination.”

Ms. Winkle had no previous military experience and said being involved with Travis has been like learning a new language.

“Even after 14 years, I still have to ask what a lot of terms mean,” she said. “But I am extremely proud to be a part of it and honored to be a part of the students’ lives.”