© Mary T. Sarnecky
Clara Mae Leach Adams-Ender was born on a tobacco farm in Willow Springs, North Carolina, on 11 July 1939. Her parents were sharecroppers. She was the fourth of Otha and Caretha Bell Sapp Leach’s ten children. Leach was a bright, diligent child who at age four learned about an impressive lady judge featured in Ebony magazine. She subsequently aspired to become a lawyer and follow in that justice’s footsteps. However, Leach’s astute father had other ideas, insisting she become a nurse. This ultimately led Leach to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University where she earned a baccalaureate degree in nursing in 1961.1 The seeds of Leach’s character emerged in her youth—her ingrained sense of hard work, spirit of determination, facility in overcoming barriers, and resolute pursuit of goals.
During her sophomore year, Leach discovered the Army Student Nurse Program and enlisted to fund her collegiate education. So began her lengthy, notable service in the Army. Leach’s initial assignment in 1961 after attending the Orientation Course at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, was at Fort Dix, New Jersey’s, Walson Army Hospital in the Recovery and Intensive Care Unit. Another tour of duty came to pass in 1963 at the 121st Evacuation Hospital in Korea. Next Leach spent six months in the Officer Advanced Course and then transferred in 1965 to the Medical Training Center at Fort Sam Houston as a medical-surgical nursing instructor. While there, she successfully qualified for the grueling Expert Field Medical Badge, the first woman in the Army to achieve this distinction. In 1967, the Army chose Leach to matriculate at the University of Minnesota. There she earned a master of science in nursing degree. Having finished graduate school, her next assignment directed her to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing in Washington, DC, as instructor and later assistant professor. Adams taught adult nursing and played a key role in recruiting minority students to redress inequities in the institution’s racial mix. During this period, Leach entered into a brief marriage with childhood friend, Kelso Adams. The next stop along her career path took place at Fort Meade, Maryland’s, hospital as assistant chief nurse in 1974, followed a year later by attendance at the Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. There she earned a second graduate degree, a Master of Military Art and Science. Adams’ postings from 1976 to 1987 furnished her with even greater opportunities to contribute to the Army Nurse Corps mission while simultaneously expanding her repertoire of professional skills and knowledge. These sequential positions involved serving on the inspector general team at Health Services Command, Fort Sam Houston; as chief, department of nursing at the 97th General Hospital in Frankfurt; chief of nurse recruiting at Fort Sheridan, Illinois; chief, department of nursing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC; and special assistant to the chief, Army Nurse Corps, in the Office of the Army Surgeon General. During this busy period, she married Dr. F. Heinz Ender; the union counted many happy days until Ender’s passing in 2004. In 1982, Adams-Ender completed program requirements and graduated from the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.
In 1987, the Army nominated Adams-Ender as the eighteenth chief of the Army Nurse Corps. As one of her first deeds, she asked Colonel John Hudock to serve as her assistant chief; he was the first male Army Nurse Corps officer to hold that senior position. Hudock was especially adept in dealing with issues of personnel numbers and force structure, talents that would stand the newly minted partnership in good stead.2
A complex and crippling shortage of Army Nurse Corps officers took precedence among the many issues that Adams-Ender initially faced. To resolve this, she instituted an array of strategies to recruit and retain military nurses such as the Army Nurse Candidate Program, the Accession Bonus Program, and the introduction of incentive pay to address the critically low numbers of certified registered nurse anesthetists. She also conceived and implemented the Enlisted Commissioning Program and expanded Reserve Officers’ Training Corps scholarships. In addition, Adams-Ender staunchly defended the notion of the baccalaureate degree as the minimum entry standard for Army nurses, began the practice of testifying every year before Congress, placed Army Nurse Corps fellows in various Congressional offices, and supported the creation of innovative organizational configurations to enhance hospitals’ efficiency and quality of care. During this eventful time, Adams-Ender added another challenging role when she assumed responsibilities for heading up the directorate of personnel for the Army Surgeon General. Finally, Adams-Ender led the Corps through two major combat operations--Just Cause and Desert Shield/Storm--successfully responding to the voracious human resource demands these campaigns generated.
While almost all former chiefs typically retired from the service after their four-year term in the most senior Army Nurse Corps leadership position, such was not the case for Adams-Ender. In 1991, this versatile officer assumed command of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and served as deputy commanding general of the Military District of Washington. This noteworthy assignment was yet another example of Adams-Ender’s ability to navigate in circumstances involving unprecedented, multifaceted challenges. She retired after serving 34 years in the United States Army in 1993.3
However, Clara Adams-Ender’s life story did not conclude at this point. A few among many of her post-retirement activities included forming a management consultation business called Caring About People With Enthusiasm (CAPE Associates, Inc.) which she later served as executive director of its Legacy Fund, a non-profit foundation dedicated to assisting students of modest means to complete their education; serving on the board of directors at Andrews Federal Credit Union; mentoring military officers and others, particularly under the aegis of the ROCKS organization4; and contributing as a member of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS). Furthermore, Adams-Ender took great pleasure in traveling the world with her husband, Heinz, and reconnecting on a more frequent basis with her beloved siblings.5 Over the years, she received a myriad of awards and recognition for her contributions. Most recently, the American Academy of Nursing recognized her as a Living Legend and the Army War College Foundation Board honored her as an Outstanding Alumna.6 Brigadier General Clara Mae Leach Adams-Ender enthusiastically embraces life from her home in Lake Ridge, Virginia.
- Clara Adams-Ender with Blair S. Walker, My Rise to the Stars (Lake Ridge, VA: CAPE Associates, 2001), 13, 33-34, 56-58, 62-66. Colonel Joyce Bowles, “Clara L. Adams-Ender,” in Heritage of Leadership, Army Nurse Corps Biographies, ed. Brigadier General Dorothy B. Pocklington, (Ellicot City, MD: Aldot, 2004), 109-113. “Resume of Service Career of Clara Leach Adams-Ender, Brigadier General,” 31 August 1993, U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History.
- Clara Adams-Ender with Blair S. Walker, My Rise to the Stars (Lake Ridge, VA: CAPE Associates, 2001), 79-82, 87-216. “Resume of Service Career of Clara Leach Adams-Ender, Brigadier General,” 31 August 1993, U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History. Carolyn M. Feller and Debora R. Cox, Highlights in the History of the Army Nurse Corps (Washington DC: U.S Army Center of Military History, 2000), 40. Mary T. Sarnecky, A History of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), 171, 173.
- Mary T. Sarnecky, A Contemporary History of the Army Nurse Corps (Washington DC: Office of the Surgeon General, Borden Institute, 2010), 171, 173, 398. Clara Adams-Ender with Blair S. Walker, My Rise to the Stars (Lake Ridge, VA: CAPE Associates, 2001), 226-227, 230-236. Carolyn M. Feller and Debora R. Cox, Highlights in the History of the Army Nurse Corps (Washington DC: U.S Army Center of Military History, 2000), 64.
- "ROCKS" is an independent organization that encourages its volunteers to support “professional advancement for African-Americans in the Army.” Named after General Roscoe (Rock) C. Cartwright, its African-American members mentor junior officers and ROTC cadets predominantly enrolled in historically black institutions of higher learning. Mary T. Sarnecky, A Contemporary History of the Army Nurse Corps (Washington DC: Office of the Surgeon General, Borden Institute, 2010), 33-34.
- Clara Adams-Ender with Blair S. Walker, My Rise to the Stars (Lake Ridge, VA: CAPE Associates, 2001), 237-242.
- Clara Adams-Ender to author, e-mail communication, 17 September 2013.
Photo Courtesy of the Army Art Collection, US Army Center of Military History