© Mary T. Sarnecky
Connie Lee Slewitzke’s birth took place on 15 April 1931 in Mosinee, a small central Wisconsin town whose economics were based on timber production and paper manufacturing. She was the fourth of five children born to Amelia and Leo Slewitzke, a meat cutter and grocery store proprietor.
Slewitzke began her nursing studies at St. Mary’s Hospital School of Nursing in Wausau, Wisconsin. In 1952, she earned her diploma and commenced working for several years in civilian hospitals in the Midwest, California, and Washington, D.C. But Slewitzke soon became frustrated with a lack of career advancement and negligible retirement benefits. She yearned for an enhanced sense of professionalism, personal autonomy, and the opportunity to travel. These motivations led her to the Army Nurse Corps.1
Having been awarded credit for her civilian experience, Slewitzke accepted an appointment in the advanced grade of first lieutenant in October 1957. Her Army career began with a short assignment in recovery room nursing at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas followed by a two-year stint on the gynecological ward at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii. Subsequent orders directed Slewitzke first to Kimbrough Army Hospital at Fort Meade, Maryland, and then to the 44th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Korea where she served in mid-level supervisory roles. Next came an assignment to Sandia Base, New Mexico, as assistant chief nurse. After two years there, Slewitzke requested duty in Vietnam. In the combat theater, she served first with the 36th Evacuation Hospital in Vung Tau in the summer of 1967, and six months later as chief nurse of the 6th Convalescent Center in Cam Ranh Bay. During the latter posting, Slewitzke shouldered arduous responsibilities leading ten Army nurses and less than 100 enlisted medics who cared for a staggering census that often numbered 1,500 patients, many afflicted with malaria and hepatitis. Typically, her daily rounds involved interacting with patients and staff in endless rows of Quonset huts. Returning from the challenges of Vietnam, Slewitzke subsequently became supervisor of the Emergency and Walk-in Clinic at Fort Myer, Virginia, while simultaneously beginning coursework on her bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University of Maryland. In 1969 the Army assigned her to full-time study and she earned her degree in 1971. Slewitzke subsequently transferred to Europe where she served at Army Medical Command in Heidelberg as chief of the Nursing Division’s Administrative Branch. The Army next sent this soldier nurse to the Command and General Staff College where she earned the distinction of being the first female and first Army Nurse Corps class president in June 1974. Her succeeding assignment was to Health Services Command at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where she served as nurse staff officer and later nurse consultant. In July 1976, Slewitzke matriculated at the Army War College, for another exacting yet rewarding experience. While there she completed the requirements for a Master’s Degree in Counseling from St. Mary’s University. Her next successive senior leadership positions took place in two venues—Korea and Letterman Army Medical Center in San Francisco, California. In the United States Army Medical Command in Korea, Slewitzke served as chief nurse. At Letterman, she similarly led a very busy department of nursing for two years. In 1980 Slewitzke agreed to serve as assistant chief of the Corps.2 A bright, energetic, committed officer with an incomparable genius at detecting the essence of problems and effecting workable solutions, she seemed the obvious candidate to lead the Army Nurse Corps in 1983.
Thus Slewitzke was promoted to brigadier general and became the 17th chief of the Army Nurse Corps. Her four-year tenure was marked by a series of challenges, issues, inspirations, and accomplishments. Slewitzke’s assistant chief of the corps during her entire administration was Colonel Eily P. Gorman. Together, this dynamic team managed a multiplicity of concerns. They:
... capably dealt with issues of readiness, nursing shortages, retention problems, promotion delays, the physical fitness standards, and backlash against growing numbers of women in the Army. Slewitzke advocated for greater educational opportunities, more nurse autonomy, and increased input from Army Nurse Corps officers in the business of the AMEDD [Army Medical Department]. She promoted the ... Officer Structure Study, ... the introduction of information systems, the refinement of the standards of nursing practice, and quality improvement incentives. Additionally, she successfully lobbied for a general officer position for an Army nurse in the Army Reserve/Army National Guard, ... She created and sponsored the Army Nurse Corps fellowship in the Chief of the Corps’ Office, the preceptorship for newly graduated second lieutenant Army nurses, and the Workload Management System for Nurses. She began the program to collect oral histories of former chiefs of the Corps. She worked for across-the-board exposure to field nursing for all Army nurses, improved the Professional Officer Filler System and Mobilization Designee programs, expanded the Individual Mobilization Augmentee matrix, oversaw the widespread introduction of Army Nurse Corps officers into Forces Command roles, and assigned officers to key positions in the Army Reserve and Army National Guard. She actively monitored the activities and conditions experienced by Army nurses assigned to temporary duty in Central America and presided over Army Nurse Corps participation in Operation Urgent Fury. Slewitzke ... managed all of these pressing concerns while simultaneously interfacing with the whole of the Army, the other uniformed services, the civilian nursing community, and the retired Army nurse population and while attending to the routine, everyday leadership requirements inherent in managing a corps of thousands of Army nurses.3
Slewitzke retired in 1987 with over 29 years of patriotic service. However, her commitment to nursing, the Army, and the nation persevered. Post- retirement, Slewitzke became director of development of the University of Maryland School of Nursing and later of the Walter Reed Society. She subsequently turned her attention to assembling a coterie of fellow retired Army nurses who archived a repository of 17,000 historical photographs in the Army Nurse Corps historian’s office at the U.S. Army Center of Military History. For their contributions, the Chief of Military History honored Slewitzke and her collaborators with the Commander’s Award for Public Service. Finally, she served as vice-president of the Women in Military Service of America board, devoting countless hours to that endeavor.4 In retirement, Slewitzke resides in Northern Virginia.
- Connie L. Slewitzke, Interview by Beverly Greenlee, 1988, interview 88-8, transcript, US Army War College/US Army Military History Institute/Senior Officer Oral History Program, 1-2, 261. Lieutenant Colonel Carolyn Feller, “Connie L. Slewitzke,” in Heritage of Leadership, Army Nurse Corps Biographies, ed. Brigadier General Dorothy B. Pocklington, (Ellicot City, MD: Aldot, 2004), 102-107. Connie L. Slewitzke, telephone interview by author, 24 June 2013.
- “Resume of Service Career of Connie Lee Slewitzke, Brigadier General,” 31 August 1987, U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History. Connie L. Slewitzke, Interview by Beverly Greenlee, 1988, interview 88-8, transcript, US Army War College/US Army Military History Institute/Senior Officer Oral History Program, 12-16, 167-168. Mary T. Sarnecky, A History of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), 355. Mary T. Sarnecky, A Contemporary History of the Army Nurse Corps (Washington DC: Office of the Surgeon General, Borden Institute, 2010), 47-48.
- Mary T. Sarnecky, A Contemporary History of the Army Nurse Corps (Washington DC: Office of the Surgeon General, Borden Institute, 2010), 171.
- Mary T. Sarnecky, A Contemporary History of the Army Nurse Corps (Washington DC: Office of the Surgeon General, Borden Institute, 2010), 171. Connie L. Slewitzke, Interview by Beverly Greenlee, 1988, interview 88-8, transcript, US Army War College/US Army Military History Institute/Senior Officer Oral History Program, 383. “Resume of Service Career of Connie Lee Slewitzke, Brigadier General,” 31 August 1987, 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), 71. Lieutenant Colonel Carolyn Feller, “Connie L. Slewitzke,” in Heritage of Leadership, Army Nurse Corps Biographies, ed. Brigadier General Dorothy B. Pocklington, (Ellicot City, MD: Aldot, 2004), 102-107.