Growing up in war-torn Nicaragua in the early 80s, 1st Lt. Lizamara Bedolla vaguely recalls the sounds of heavily-armored vehicles driving past her front door.
It was after the violent ousting of Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza DeBayle, followed by the deaths of tens of thousands of Nicaraguans caused by rebel fighting that Bedolla’s parents decided to flee the country for the safety of their family.
After fleeing the country at the age of four, Bedolla, now an Army nurse who was recently promoted to first lieutenant, was raised in Houston after her family applied and was granted family-sponsored visas. While Bedolla has led a rewarding 16-year Army career, the road to commission hasn’t been easy.
“It was very dangerous,” said Bedolla, of the war in Nicaragua. “Sometimes we would have propane and electricity, sometimes we wouldn’t and it wasn’t safe.”
As refugees traveling to the U.S., Bedolla and her family were stalled in Mexico, spending several months waiting for their visas to arrive. Refusing to wait any longer, Bedolla’s father decided it would be safer crossing the border on their own.
“My dad tried to have us cross the border by travelling underground through (cross-border) tunnels in the nighttime,” recalls Bedolla. “We could hear (U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers) up above yelling ‘We know you’re down there’.”
As the group of immigrants travelled through the tunnels, Bedolla recalls singing in the manmade passages.
“I was singing throughout the whole journey, it was an adventure,” said Bedolla. “(Other refugees in the group) would tell my mom to tell me to stop singing… We ended up getting detained.”
As Bedolla and her family waited at a border detention facility, their visas arrived and they were granted legal entrance into the U.S.
After entering the U.S., the family rented a two-bedroom Houston apartment which later welcomed the addition of Bedolla’s two younger sisters. Away from the dangers of her native country, Bedolla began school. As a young child, Bedolla recalls watching a U.S. Army commercial on the family’s 13-inch black and white television and expressing to her mom, “That’s what I wanted to do when I grow up.”
A model student, Bedolla was seeking a break from school and felt that if she didn’t take an opportunity to explore the world, she wouldn’t get that chance again. As she neared high school graduation, Bedolla enlisted in the Army and shipped off to basic training soon after graduating.
As a young enlisted Soldier, Bedolla received training as an Operating Room technician and soon after deployed with the 10th Combat Support Hospital in support of combat operations during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“It was a high-stress environment,” said Bedolla. “There was nothing there, everything was literally tents and pallet floors.”
Following the deployment Bedolla served for a total of 12 years as an enlisted Soldier, gaining U.S. citizenship in 2005 and reaching the rank of sergeant before applying for the Army’s Enlisted Commissioning Program.
“One of my biggest drives was that I always told my mom I would finish my degree,” said Bedolla. “My initial plan wasn’t to become a nurse. When I started taking courses I wanted to get a general degree.”
According to Bedolla, the longer she served as an enlisted Soldier in the medical field the more she realized nursing was what she was looking for in a career.
“I loved the medical field, it’s dynamic, there’s always something to learn and you grow every day,” said Bedolla, now a wife and mother of two. “I had such great nurses (as an enlisted OR technician) that it pulled me to want to know more of that side of the medical field.”
After 16 years in the Army, Bedolla is now a staff nurse at William Beaumont Army Medical Center’s Surgical Ward, with temporary assignment as the officer in charge of the hospital’s Neurology Clinic.
“From her (noncommissioned officer) roots she understands Soldiers and what it means to take care of Soldiers,” said Maj. Tanisha Currie, officer in charge, Surgical Ward, WBAMC. “Her team player efforts and work ethics are part of the reason she was selected to fulfill the role at the Neurology Clinic.”
Although Bedolla has only served as a nurse for just over two years, Currie describes her as a rock-solid, very mature and poised Soldier.
“My experience as a nurse has been more than I could hope for,” said Bedolla. “(Nursing) has helped me gain much more empathy and sympathy than I thought was possible. Whatever my idea of empathy was 16 years ago, has completely grown while serving in the Army.
“There’s such a myriad of people that I’ve encountered and that’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned,” said Bedolla. “The Army has taught me a lot about tolerance, self-awareness, patience and has opened my eyes to the different people that are all over this country and abroad.”
From a small Nicaraguan city torn by conflict to living a childhood dream, Bedolla’s journey from refugee to Army officer is telling of the unique opportunities the Army provides. Bedolla’s plans for the future include serving in the Army as long as she can and continuing to set an example for her younger sisters, and children.
“I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and proud of what I do,” said Bedolla.
Author: Marcy Sanchez – William Beaumont Army Medical Center