Veterans in Profile Claudia Lywood

To honor and celebrate the many veterans who serve the Boston Children's community every day, the hospital profiled four staff members. Their stories, and their connections with the armed forces, are as diverse and unique as the roles they play in the hospital today. Claudia Lywood is the Ambulatory Clinic Supervisor for the Sports Medicine team.

Claudia Lywood

When she was abruptly shaken from her sleep by a loud bang at 4 a.m. one cold morning in 1996, Claudia Lywood, ambulatory clinic supervisor for Sports Medicine, had good reason to wonder what she had gotten herself into. As she hurriedly dressed and prepared for another day of basic training, Lywood -- then newly enlisted in the army -- could not help but compare herself to actress Goldie Hawn.

Specifically, she could not help compare herself to Judy Benjamin, the titular character played by Hawn in the 1980 comedy Private Benjamin. Benjamin, a long-sheltered and pampered woman who gets bamboozled by a beguiling recruiter into joining the army, quickly finds herself at odds with her new living arrangements. "I can't sleep in a room full of 20 strangers," she complains to her incredulous officer at one point in the film, "and look at this place -- the army couldn't afford drapes?"

Unsurprisingly, those remarks soon land her in the bathrooms cleaning toilets with a toothbrush. And while Lywood never gave her commanding drill sergeants reason to inflict the same punishment, she found her transition into military life to be just as bewildering as Benjamin's. "She was like a fish out of water," Lywood explains, "and that was me." It took a long time to get used to the two -- sometimes five -- mile early morning runs, the road marches and the drill sergeants constantly telling her when to eat, sleep and visit the bathroom. "I wouldn't do it again," she says, "but I wouldn't trade it; it was a good experience."

Lywood, a Jamaica-born Boston native and third of six children in her family, enlisted in the army shortly after high school in hopes of receiving tuition money for college. "My parents were totally fine with it," she recalls. "I wanted to go to college, we didn't get financial aid and there were six of us, this was a means to an end." In short order, she moved to South Carolina for basic training where 4 a.m. marches quickly became part of her normal routine.

Despite her lack of a mechanical background, Lywood's recruiters assigned her a job refueling aircrafts. "I was eager to go in and get my money to go to college, so I just said put me wherever," she remembers telling them. After training, she spent two months in Virginia learning skills for her new job before moving on to her primary duty station, Fort Hood, TX. Almost two years later, in 1998, she got the news that her unit would soon deploy to Bosnia and Herzegovina to support a peacekeeping mission.

"That was scary, I didn't know what to expect," she says. "I knew nothing about Bosnia." As unlikely as it was that she would see direct combat, Lywood would be far from safe. She was told that the public buses she and others in her unit would use to travel between their barracks and the airfield where they refueled helicopters and airplanes could become targets for suicide bombers. "That was a bit scary, especially because some of the locals didn't want us there and we were traveling in uniform," she says.

If the experience was stressful for Lywood, it inspired just as much anxiety for her parents and family back home. Because she and other military personnel weren't allowed to use the phones freely, Lywood and her family had to make due with only weekly chats. "They weren't happy when I told them I was going," she recalls. "They were quite nervous about the whole thing but they would be fine once they were able to talk to me." When her deployment came to a quiet end six months later, Lywood and her family breathed a collective sigh of relief.

When she was discharged weeks later -- she had only signed up for three years of active duty -- Lywood discovered that her time in the military had left an imprint. Although National Guard duty and classes at Framingham State College occupied most of her time, she soon found herself with more free time than she had had since first enlisting. "It was weird coming home," she says. "I was so used to having someone tell me what to do every minute of every day for three years." Other parts of her experience proved to be just as hard to leave behind, as her parents soon realized when she would respond to them with "Yes ma'am" and "No sir". "That drove them a little bit crazy," Lywood admitsWhen it came time to look for work, her cousin's wife, Renee Taylor, surgical coordinator for Orthopedics, referred her to Boston Children's, where Lywood started work as a page operator. Ten years later, she is still with the hospital, now armed with her degree in sociology. And while she's proud of the lessons her service taught her -- about leadership and about herself -- she's cautious about recommending it to anyone. "I think it's more mentally challenging than it is physically challenging," she explains. "It's really tough; they will break you down and build you back up, but it's not for everybody."