Lani Pineda (2001)
Every year North Thurston Public Schools focus’ on a theme for the district calendar – this year’s theme is courage. When looking for the definition of courage, look no further than River Ridge High School alumnae, class of 2001, Lani Pineda, who has served multiple deployments as a Nurse in the United States Army.
While attending River Ridge, Pineda was immersed in various clubs and athletics including: Student Body Government, Student Senate, Public Relations Officer, and she played for the girls basketball team. “I think most people in high school would remember me for break dancing and running the assemblies, especially when I was able to get Sir-Mix-A-Lot to come to our school for an assembly,” Pineda recalls, “I was actually voted ‘Most Involved’ my senior year.”
It is clear her passion and dedication followed her from high school, through her studies at Baylor University and on to her career in the United States Military. Pineda is currently serving as an ICU/Critical Care nurse in the United States Army. “I just love being a nurse and knowing that I can affect people’s lives, not only by helping save them, but also by being there for them, both emotionally and spiritually,” Pineda says. Throughout her military career, Pineda has found herself deployed to several foreign countries including Germany, Iraq and Afghanistan. During her time in Afghanistan, Pineda was part of a Medical Evacuation team on UH-60 Blackhawks, “I started flying in the back of the helicopters in Afghanistan, picking up and treating our wounded warriors in the battlefield, as well as, any coalition forces and local nationals who were injured by the war,” Pineda describes. “I really felt my calling when I was flying.”
While serving a deployment in Iraq, Pineda was assigned to lead 250 volunteers in an “Iraqi Kid’s Day” event that allowed local children an opportunity to come on base and participate in some hands on learning. There were multiple booths set up to engage the local children and families; the pilots had a booth where the children were able to try on flight gear, the fire fighters set up obstacles for the kids to spray with the fire hose and the dentists had a station to teach the kids proper techniques for brushing their teeth. “We even had a ‘deployed talent’ booth with a face painting station, balloon animals, DJ, etc. It was great!”Pineda reminisces, “I felt it really bridged the gap between our military mission and the locals. It emphasized that we were not there to hurt them, but to help them. It also opened the door for a lot of military personnel to get to know more about the people we were aiding and just how much those kids reminded them of their own kids back home in the States.” Pineda remembers “Iraqi Kid’s Day” as one of her greatest accomplishments in her career.
With her feet back on U.S. soil, Pineda is now charged with the difficult task of training others. As the new En-Route Care Branch Director at the U.S. Army School of Aviation, she in charge of training flight medics, nurses, and advanced medical providers to continue the same mission she once served overseas.
Along with the support and inspiration of former teachers, mentors and coaches, Pineda credits her decision to enlist to her father. “My father was the one that inspired me to join the military as he was a Sergeant Major in the Army. I started off in the U.S. Air Force then chose to transfer branches to the Army to further follow in his footsteps,” Pineda explains. “My father really instilled the pride of serving your country in my sisters and me, and honoring those who served before you and alongside you. As a nurse in the military, I have been able to experience this pride first-hand,” Pineda explains. Going to River Ridge also helped further her drive to join the military, “Being around a military community in the Olympia/Lacey area and having Fort Lewis /McChord right down the road really solidified this for me. I couldn’t imagine a life without the military being part of it.”
Pineda has some advice to students interested in joining the military, “Do your research and ask people’s past experiences. As much as I love the military, I know it’s not for everyone. Most of the jobs out there are far from what Hollywood portrays. Once you’re in, I’d say to “grow where you’re planted.” There is a purpose to everything and we all have a part in serving the overall mission. Lastly, depend on your “battle buddy” - the lasting bonds I’ve made are some of the best gifts that my career could have ever given to me.”
--Written by Reilly Fairbrother