Ft. Knox, Kentucky, Sept. 26, 2018 —
For Lt. Col. Julie Hundertmark, her experience as an Army spouse and determination to finish school led her to become an Army doctor.
Twenty-nine years later, through deployments, overseas assignments, night school, four children, an Army medical school scholarship and residency, a marriage and mutual Army careers have not only survived, but thrived.
Kevin Hundertmark and Julie Hundertmark were next door neighbors and high school sweethearts. When he graduated from high school, he took a few college courses but decided to try something different. He wanted to join the Army.
A year into his Army infantry career, Kevin Hundertmark popped the question.
Even though he was in Germany, and she in college, working on her pre-medical requirements, they decided to tie the knot. They maintained a long-distance relationship, allowing Julie Hundertmark to stay and complete two years of college. Finally, Kevin Hundertmark received orders stateside, and they were reunited just before their first wedding anniversary.
Shortly after, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Julie Hundertmark had given birth and Kevin Hundertmark was shipped off to Kuwait in September 1990. With a new baby, Julie Hundertmark had no choice but to move back to Kansas. They were reunited in April 1991.
Ten years and four children later, they were stationed in Germany. Kevin Hundertmark had to make a decision to continue with his military service or get out and support Julie Hundertmark as she finished her pre-medical courses so she could apply to medical school.
"I dreamed of doing something in the medical profession since I was a child," Julie Hundertmark said. "Growing up in a middle class family, with no one in the medical profession, I didn't have anyone to guide me. My dad told me I could be anything I wanted to be. At first, I wanted to be a dentist. But after the birth of my first child, my heart was set on becoming a physician who delivered babies."
So after a lot of heart-to-heart discussion, the decision was made. "He agreed to get out of the Army for my career," she said.
They moved to Oklahoma City where she enrolled in college. Kevin Hundertmark had three different jobs at once, including delivering coffee, processing packages and delivering newspapers. He also served in the Army Reserves all while taking care of the children while she attended classes.
Figuring out a way to pay for medical school was an issue as Julie Hundertmark neared the end of her pre-medical undergraduate program at the University of Central Oklahoma. But a conversation with an Army pediatrician years earlier gave her hope.
"I was with one of my children at an Army clinic at Fort Irwin, where they were being seen by an Army pediatrician," she said. "I expressed my desire to be a physician someday. That's when she told me about the Army's Health Profession Scholarship Program, which would pay all of my tuition, book costs and provide a monthly stipend. I knew we couldn't afford medical school on our own, she showed me a pathway to my dream."
Julie Hundertmark connected with an Army Healthcare recruiter, applied for HPSP, and was accepted. She entered the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center program and graduated in 2005. She went on to complete her residency in Family Medicine at Martin Army Community Hospital at Fort Benning, Ga., graduating in 2008.
Shortly after residency, Julie Hundertmark was sent on her first deployment at a Forward Operating Base near Mosul, Iraq. She quickly became a mother figure to the young Soldiers stationed at the FOB and realized how her family medicine training had set her up for success.
Army life in the beginning had been difficult, but as she matured, she learned to like it, and credited those early experiences as an Army spouse as aiding her frame of reference, and giving her the ability to relate to the younger Soldiers and, later, the spouses and children of Soldiers.
"Being the wife of an infantryman opened my eyes," she said. "Now that I had become an Army physician, I could have better conversations with young Soldiers and family members, and view things from their perspective, and truly be an advocate for my patients."
"Because of my skillset, I quickly became the person that got the calls from units because I was the one they looked upon to help with community needs. 'Dr. H., we need someone to help us put together a women's health symposium for the deployed female soldiers', or 'Dr. H. can you help train the medics on common health concerns you encounter in the clinic', or 'Dr. H., our medics need to keep their EMT certification up-to-date, can you set up a lecture series?' etc., etc. I felt really needed, and I definitely felt like I was fulfilling God's calling in my life, despite the pain of being separated from my husband and family," Julie Hundertmark said.
Toward the end of her deployment, she was awakened one night by someone pounding on her door. She immediately thought that there must be a mass casualty, and she began to run through the life-saving procedures in her head that she would need to utilize as she quickly got into uniform before answering the door.
"It was Special Forces Soldiers, I didn't recognize," she said. "They asked me if I was Dr. Hundertmark, which I affirmed. I asked them if it was a mass casualty, and they said 'no, but we need you to come with us; we need your help delivering a baby'. I thought to myself, well, I have been here many months now; how did I miss a pregnant Soldier?"
She discovered the pregnant woman was an Iraqi civilian, the wife of an Iraqi soldier assisting the U.S. Special Forces. They were allowed to stay within the safety of the FOB for protection.
Despite the circumstances facing her, Julie Hundertmark felt prepared for the challenge.
"When I arrived at her quarters, I found a woman who was absolutely scared to death," Julie Hundertmark said. "Through a translator, I learned that she was not sure how far along she was, and that it was her first child. She hadn't received any healthcare over the past four or five months. She didn't have any medical records. She thought she was close to her due date, but wasn't sure. She was having contractions. I was able to check her and the baby, and reassure her that both she and the baby were okay. It was obvious she was near her due date, if not past it, but we weren't having a baby that night," she said.
"I discovered she had excess fluid around the baby, which could be dangerous for the child during delivery," she said. "I was also concerned about her having the baby there in her room. I relayed my concerns to her through the translator, and I will never forget her response."
"With tears in her eyes, she said, 'I would rather die here with my baby, with you trying to help us, safe within these walls, than to go to an Iraqi hospital and die at the hands of Al Qaeda'".
Over the next few weeks, Julie Hundertmark was able to arrange tests, medicine and monitor her condition. The Iraqi woman was able to safely deliver the child in a hospital in the nearby Kurdish area before returning to the FOB with her baby. Julie Hundertmark was elated and relieved.
She left Iraq shortly after this incident and was reunited with her family at Fort Benning, Ga. She was assigned as the Officer-in-Charge of one of the Army's first clinics designated as a Patient Centered Medical Home.
Shortly after her assignment to the clinic, Julie Hundertmark became the champion of PCMH for the Army in the southern medical region, and found herself working with 53 other clinics implementing PCMH.
"I got to be at the grassroots level of this initiative and train others," she said. "It was a privilege implementing this important program and allowed me to continue to focus on advocating for my patients."
Hundertmark currently serves with the U. S. Army Medical Recruiting Brigade in Fort Knox, Ky., as the Recruiting Integration Officer, representing the U. S. Army Medical Corps. She provides direct support to the recruiting mission and to field recruiters across the United States who are searching for the best physicians to serve Soldiers and their families.
The physician recruiting mission is challenging, with competition from civilian entities who can offer higher rates of compensation. Julie Hundertmark's advocacy in dozens of face-to-face encounters each year at national medical conventions and other physician engagements has become key to the MRB recruiting strategy.
"I think having a physician on staff does help translate the experience from something that is one-dimensional to a three-dimensional interaction and gives prospects the real aspects of Army service," Hundertmark said. "I think just being able to talk about what I do and what I love about the Army makes it easier to convince prospects and makes them want to experience the Army for themselves."
"Lt.Col. Hundertmark is a force multiplier in this formation," said Col. Edward Mandril, commander of the Medical Recruiting Brigade. "She spends weeks on the road each year assisting our recruiters at national conventions, regional and local events, seminars and presentations. She recently was featured as a Main Stage speaker at the American Academy of Family Physicians Residents and Students national conference in Kansas City, Mo. Her earnest testimony about her life in the Army and in Army Medicine has influenced hundreds of potential physicians and community partners."
Julie Hundertmark struck a good balance between being an Army wife and mother, and an Army physician. One of her children has followed in her footsteps as an HPSP recipient and future Army physician; others have plans to serve in the Army or are Army spouses. Her husband has been able to continue his career in the Army Guard Reserve program.