WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Boozman recognized the service and sacrifice of Gulf War veteran Colonel (retired) Mary Frances “Frankie” Sears in ‘Salute to Veterans,’ a series recognizing the military service of Arkansans.
Two days after graduating from Malvern High School, Sears started nursing school at Arkansas Baptist Hospital School of Nursing. She worked in numerous hospital units including intensive care, emergency and labor and delivery before receiving her certification as a nurse anesthetist.
Sears had a well-established career before joining the Arkansas Army National Guard when she was 39-years-old.
“I went in as a First Lieutenant. I always told everybody I was the oldest First Lieutenant in the Army,” Sears said.
She brought with her nearly two decades of nursing experience to the nurse corps, serving with the 148th Evacuation Hospital.
“Most of the females at the time were in the nurse corps. There were very, very few female officers who were not nurses,” Sears recalled.
Sears became active in the National Guard Association of Arkansas as a member of the Board of Directors. In various leadership roles, she helped grow the association into what it is today, while breaking through the glass ceiling.
“I don’t know if I was elected or selected to be the 148th Evac representative on the National Guard Association of Arkansas Board of Directors. It intrigued me” Sears said. “I was elected Second Vice President of the National Guard Association, then First Vice President and then I became the very first female in any National Guard Association or any of its territories to become President of a National Guard Association so that was quite a feat.”
Sears’ unit was mobilized for Operation Desert Storm and deployed to Saudi Arabia.
In the seven weeks the hospital was operational Sears, who served as the chief nurse of anesthesia, says there were more than 1,000 outpatient visits, 58 operations, nearly 300 patients and one death.
She fondly recalled a visit with the first patient to whom she administered anesthesia. The Texas soldier told her he couldn’t wear his pants because they had been cut by the medical team. Sears used a sewing machine that she bought at a local Saudi Arabia market to mend them so he could rejoin his unit upon recovery.
“He told me they fit a whole lot better than they did before,” she laughed.
Prior to the deployment in the Gulf War, Sears and her unit had performed medical readiness training exercises in Central and South America, providing underserved populations with medical care. That training encouraged her to bring that service to Arkansas. With funding from the National Guard and support from Arkansas Baptist Hospital, she planned and launched Operation Care, a two-day program that served the medical needs of thousands of Arkansans free of charge.
“Folks would tell me it couldn’t be done. It can be done. You just have to make up your mind. It can be done, and it was,” Sears said. “It was just a really great experience. I would say that other than going to Desert Storm, that was the highlight of my Guard career. It was a very fulfilling feeling.”
Sears retired in 1997 after serving more than 21 years in the Arkansas National Guard. She continued her work as a nurse anesthetist until her retirement in 2008 at the age of 71.
“I am proud to recognize Frankie’s dedication and sacrifice to our nation and share her accomplishments. She shows that one person can make a big difference. We are all blessed because of her service in the Arkansas Army National Guard. Honoring her military career by preserving her memories is important to our history,” Boozman said.
Boozman will submit Sears’ entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.