As a young non-commissioned officer, U.S. Army Sgt. Elizabeth Fortkamp enjoys an enviable position. One of her biggest supporters happens to be her battalion commander, yet as far as Fortkamp is concerned, the feelings of professional respect in her unit have always been a two-way street.
Fortkamp, a senior medic with the Fort Knox, Ky.-based Company C, 201st Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke, is a five-year Army veteran presently serving in eastern Afghanistan on her second deployment.
Raised in a large family in Coldwater, Ohio, she is the fifth of seven children. Fortkamp cites that circumstance as one of the most influential reasons for joining the Army
“Coming from a large family, I wanted to get out and be my own person,” she said.
Three years spent as a certified nursing assistant at an Ohio nursing home before joining the Army convinced her she wanted to remain in the medical profession.
“I’ve always loved medicine and helping people,” said Fortkamp, adding that “seeing what’s wrong and being able to fix it” from a medical perspective always intrigued her.
As the senior enlisted member for the 201st BSB medical clinic at Forward Operating Base Salerno, Fortkamp supervises a team that fluctuates between three to six soldiers depending on patient numbers and mission assignments. That supervision consists of sick call duties, organizing training opportunities for the companies of the 201st BSB, and looking for ways to increase the skill sets of the soldiers working under her.
Having also been assigned to the 3rd BCT, 1st Inf. Div., on their last Afghanistan deployment in 2008–2009, she doesn’t hesitate to offer up advice to young soldiers preparing for their first deployment.
“Plan for the worst but hope for the best. If you can alleviate stressors affecting your soldiers, do it,” said Fortkamp.
That commitment to others hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Absolutely one of the best medics I’ve ever worked with,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Dave Brown, 201st BSB commander and a native of Dover, Del.
“She has a positive attitude, never backs away from a challenge, and is always teaching and making things better,” Brown added.
The ability to share her military and medical knowledge, as well as her enthusiasm and encouragement, have loomed large in the professional development of junior soldiers in her unit.
“She definitely lets us get our hands dirty,” said U.S. Army Pfc. Brandon Cupp, a combat medic with Company C., and a native of Des Moines, Iowa, serving on his first deployment.
He said Fortkamp encourages her Soldiers to rotate through many of the medical sections at FOB Salerno to supplement their skills.
This can include helping out at the Combat Support Hospital, staging combat lifesaver classes for the benefit of soldiers, conducting medical Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services before going out on missions, and accompanying the flight medics of TF Tiger Shark when they go out on missions.
“My medical knowledge has expanded greatly” under Fortkamp, he said.
Much work remains on this deployment, but Fortkamp does allow herself the luxury of thinking of her mid-tour leave in September and the end of her deployment later this year. Spending time with family and friends, getting married, and being reunited with her dog Zoe are just a few things she looks forward to. Her free time is spent exercising and with her new hobby, crochet.
Her Army enlistment will expire in April 2012, and while the military is losing a committed professional, she’s looking to help sick and injured civilians by pursuing a nursing degree, possibly in emergency medicine. She cites the teamwork, unit leadership and quality soldiers that she works with for making it possible to take care of the people her clinic is entrusted with.
“You couldn’t ask for a better command,” said Fortkamp. “If you need something they’ll get it for you,” she said.
But as grateful Fortkamp is for the environment and leadership team she works under, with mutual feelings expressed from above, the more revealing story may be in how she’s perceived by her peers and subordinates.
Army non-commissioned officers are entrusted with mentoring, counseling, teaching, leading and inspiring their Soldiers to reach their potential, while also looking out for their Soldiers’ daily welfare.
If such factors when fulfilled signify success, then at least one soldier considers Fortkamp’s example to be an open and shut case.
“Anything we soldiers need, she’s there for us,” said Cupp.