Today is Veterans Day. If you're one of those for whom this only conjures up an old army soldier with Korean War emblems, you need to change your thinking. They may be sitting at the desk next to you. Veterans number in the thousands and have served in wars and in the Reserves, been stationed far from home and given up lucrative careers, not to mention life and limb.
Last week, one such Veteran, Dina Dunnings, was honored by the Quilt of Valor Foundation. Dina is an essential member of the Silver Tips team and we are so proud to honor her service today as a Veteran. The Quilt of Valor presents a quilt to Veterans and in the last 15 years, over 200,000 quilts have been presented nationwide. Each quilt is awarded with the words, "Take this token of appreciation, Welcome Home and Thank You for your service, sacrifice and valor for our Country".
Dina's story is extraordinary and we thought you would be as fascinated as we were to learn how she made a decision to join the Military and the way it shaped her career and life decisions. I sat down with Dina last week and here's one Veteran's story:
Where did you grow up and go to school?
Born in Framingham, Massachusetts, I moved to Tarrytown, New York, when I was 4 years old. My father left the US Navy and started working at AT&T. I went through the Tarrytown Public School System. At the last minute I decided to not go to Mercy College, opting instead for Westchester Community College as I wasn’t clear about my direction and career path. I attended WCC for a year before moving to Massachusetts with my family. It was then that I decided to join the Military.
Tell us a little about your family.
My father, born and raised in Natick, Massachusetts, also served his country – he is a Navy Veteran. My mother was born and raised in Lewiston, Maine. I am the oldest of 4. I have twin sisters born exactly one year and one day from me, so we can be called Irish Triplets! My brother is the youngest, born 8 years after me. I was the typical oldest child - the one who was always competitive, athletic, mischievous. I was talkative, I was observant, and I craved learning different things.
How did you end up in the Air Force?
I had just moved back to Massachusetts, and didn’t really want to go back to school, but I also didn’t want to be a waitress or work in retail my whole life. I knew I needed to have an education to have a good career, but I was just not sure what career path I wanted to pursue. I chose the Military, and specifically the United States Air Force, as I was always one who enjoyed adventures, learning new things, but also needed structure and rules, camaraderie and teamwork. It seemed to be the right choice and it turned out to be the right fit for me.
In June of 1985 I reported to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas to begin my basic training. When I originally decided to go in to the Air Force, I wanted to be a Jet Mechanic, but the wait time was almost 2 years! When I enlisted I did so with no MOS (Military Occupation Specialty). I went in with the hops that I would get into the field I wanted.
What led to your interest in the medical field?
I became fascinated by the medical profession when I was just 4 years old. It was then that I ended up in Surgery with a Perforated/Ruptured Appendix. I was obsessed with learning about what happened to me, what caused me to wake up in a hospital room with a 4 inch incision and drains. My mom had been suckered into buying encyclopedias that year, one of them just happened to be a whole series of all things Science. I LOVED Science. I think, other than wanting to be a nurse, I wanted to be a Marine Biologist or a Zoologist. Sorry, got off track…so in these encyclopedia’s, there happened to be one that was more about medicine, diseases, etc. And they had this one section that showed in pictures, the step by step procedure for removing an appendix. I think by the age of 5, I could have removed an appendix all on my own.
What was Training like in the Military?
I did 8 weeks of Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. I was one of the oldest in my Flight, and the one less easily intimidated by my Drill Sergeant. Because of this, he took me under his wing. About halfway into my basic training I had to make choices as to what MOS I wanted. I had to list 5 jobs in the order of what I wanted the most. If there was a slot available, I would get that MOS. Jet Mechanic was my 1st choice, Surgical Service Specialist was my 2nd choice. I was told a week later that I would get my 2nd choice.
My surgical training was done at the School of Healthcare Sciences in Wichita Falls, Texas. I trained there for about 10 weeks, then I was sent to my first base to continue my training which happened to be Clark Air Force Base, in the Philippines. I spent 2 years there before being sent back to Lackland AFB, Wilford Hall Hospital, were I spent another 2 years. I was fortunate enough to work in pallet hospitals in the jungles of the Philippines. This is where entire field hospitals are brought in on pallets, opened up and rapidly transformed into operating suites and mobile units. I have worked the full range of surgical specialties, from trauma, to open heart and neurology, to obstetrics and plastic surgery, in both level 1 and level 2 trauma centers.
In total, I spent 4 years on Active Duty and another 4 years in the Reserves which included the period of Desert Storm.
What did you do after you left the military?
After I left the military, I continued working in the Operating Room. At the time I left, separated military where hired almost on the spot. We came with training, with discipline and a sense of duty and responsibility. The chief reason I left was to give my son a more stable family environment, where I didn't move around the world. I still miss the Military - the bonds, the work, the environment, the structure.
What other interests do you have?
I like being outdoors. I putter around the garden, I love being in the woods or on a lake or by the ocean. I like to go to concerts and I love football. I cherish the times I sit with my husband and chatter away or just sit quietly and read or just take it all in. I'm also creative and good with my hands. So I’m drawing, or coloring, crocheting or doing needlework. I like to volunteer and be of service to others which is an integral part of me. My next adventure I’m hoping, will be volunteering at the children’s hospital. I'm very partial to animals, all kinds, & I have 2 Maine Coon Cats, who think they are dogs, so they keep me entertained!
Your current job is so different from your past careers - what do you enjoy about it?
It’s funny, I went back to school looking to go back into the medical field after leaving the Operating Room and moving back to New York from Georgia. Never did I think I would be working for a Tea Company. I knew absolutely nothing about Tea. I was given an opportunity to join a company that allowed me to grow and allows me to be creative. I use my mind and think in ways I didn’t before. But it brings me back to everything I’ve always enjoyed - learning new things, camaraderie, teamwork, structure and rules. It works!
If you enjoy our colorful and artful social media postings and website banners, that's Dina's creativity at work. She also delves into numbers and complex regulatory requirements which keeps us on the straight and narrow. And then there are the special days when she brings in a home-baked cake or apple crisp or bread!