By Debra Holtz
When the gravely injured ABC News anchorman, Bob Woodruff, was rushed into the emergency room of the Balad Air Base in Iraq, Debra Muhl was one of the first medical personnel to reach him.
“I whispered in his ear, ‘Bob, we’re going to take very good care of you, please hang in there,’” remembers Muhl, who shaved Woodruff’s head and prepped him for surgery.
Woodruff suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was hit by a roadside bomb while accompanying a joint U.S. – Iraqi patrol. Eleven months later, Woodruff called Muhl to thank her for helping save his life, and he included her in his book about his recovery, In an Instant.
As an Air Force Reserve operating room nurse and aero medical evacuation nurse, Lt. Col. Muhl has been all over the world: Somalia, Egypt, Bosnia, Germany, Oman, Kuwait, Iraq and, since October 2007, Afghanistan. She has transported seriously injured troops out of combat zones and accompanied flag-draped caskets of those killed.
“Each time, I would say to either the injured or, yes, even the dead, how very proud and thankful I am for their service to our country,” Muhl says.
When Muhl enlisted in the Air Force in 1975, few women joined the military. “Women have had to prove themselves mentally, physically and emotionally to their male military peers and supervisors,” she says. “It was and, at times, is still an uphill road.”
Perhaps the biggest change has been for women in war zones. “We now carry loaded weapons and know how to use them,” Muhl says. On a recent takeoff from Kandahar Air base in Afghanistan, Muhl’s c-130 aircraft was fired at and the cabin lights had to be turned off, so she donned night-vision goggles to tend to her three seriously injured patients.
Muhl says it is difficult for women to maintain their femininity without appearing soft, particularly because it’s so dirty in the field. “I always brief new females going to war that they should bring something that makes them feel nice,” says Muhl, who is writing a book titled I Never Went to War Without My Lipstick.