Veterans in Profile Hannah Calkins

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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. Hannah Calkins is a report writer for the Physician's Organization.

The Calkins in TunisiaAt a height of three stories, the United States embassy building in Dublin, Ireland most closely resembles a truncated concrete honeycomb. Grey beams cut across large swaths of glass to create haphazard and dizzying hexagonal formations, while the flat roof gives the impression that someone has expertly employed a machete to separate the structure from the rest of the honeycomb. "It's possibly the ugliest building you will ever see in your life," Hannah Calkins, MLIS, says.

Ugly as she may have found it, Hannah spent a big part of her childhood at or around that embassy. On Halloweens for instance, the embassy staff would transform their offices into miniature, haunted houses. Most of their child visitors were the sons and daughters of diplomats and embassy officials; they would follow the building's perimeter, opening the door of each office-turned-haunted-house and sometimes crawling through scary tunnels to collect their confectionary rewards.

If you asked the members of the Calkins family today where they're from, you'd get at least four different answers. Hannah likes to say she's from Wisconsin, where her family relocated to after Dublin, when she was 9. Her sister Betsy would tell you Massachusetts and her older brother Davy, someplace else entirely.

In reality, Wisconsin - and Dublin before that - is just one place in a long list of places the Calkins have lived in over the course of a decades long military career.

When Dave met Amy

This is the way Hannah knows the story:

Dave Calkins in VietnamHe, the youngest of eight children, came from a small, rural town in Illinois in search of a way to pay for college and to see the world. He enlisted at the age of 17 - the earliest the law would allow - and was sent to the Army Language Institute in Monterey, California after basic training, where he discovered a previously unknown aptitude for languages.

After a tour of duty in Vietnam, he earned a teaching license, only to cut his new career short when the draft began. Because the military didn't allow him to return to his previous position, he re-enlisted, endured basic training for a second time and began classes again at the language institute.

She had come from Massachusetts looking for many of the same things: a chance to pay for school and to see new and exciting places. They met in a Russian language class, where they were seated next to each other; her last name began with a BU and his, with a CA.

Dave and Amy in voice interception operations practice at the Army Language Institute.

The way they describe it, Hannah explains, is that she, Amy, was the kind of person who would argue if she got a 99 when she believed she deserved a 100 and he, Dave, was the kind of person who constantly cheated and sent her notes. It didn't take long for her to start writing him notes back.

On Hannah's fourth birthday and on the eve of the official start to the first Gulf War, military personnel informed the family that they had 24 hours to pack what they could and leave the country...

By the time Hannah was born in 1987, Dave and Amy were living in Romania. Dave was stationed on embassy duty, while Amy had left a career in military intelligence to raise the newborn Hannah and her older siblings Betsy and Davy.

When violence broke out in the country, and revolutionaries deposed Romania's president, the family was evacuated to Tunisia. Almost four years later - on Hannah's fourth birthday and on the eve of the official start to the first Gulf War - military personnel informed the family that they had 24 hours to pack what they could and leave the country.

Days later, Amy, Davy, Betsy, Hannah, and William found themselves in military-provided housing in Annapolis, where the scratchy texture of a government-issued blanket became one of Hannah's first memories of the United States. Dave, who had been on embassy duty within the defense attaché's office, could not join them right away. "For a bit actually, we were there without my dad and almost lost our next assignment because he didn't know if he was going to get out of the country in time," Hannah recalls. But Dave was able to leave Tunisia in time and kept that assignment: embassy duty in Dublin.

Dumbwaiters and Line Dancing

The first things Hannah noticed about Ireland were the green fields, the cold and the rain. And at their new home, a dumbwaiter became a source of endless interest and curiosity between Hannah and her siblings. "We tried to put our little brother in it but our mom wouldn't let us," she says, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

"Go figure."

In the mornings, she would sit, squished in between Davy and Betsy in the back of the family's Volvo, while Dave drove them to school on his way to the embassy. At school, Hannah soon discovered she was the only non-Catholic in her public school. "I wasn't old enough to understand what that difference meant," she remembers. "All I knew was that I was the one kid in the class not doing what everyone else was doing all the time."

Their subsequent discovery that Hannah had, in fact, never line-danced only confirmed their suspicions...

It wouldn't be the last time she was acutely aware of being out of place. When the family relocated five years later to a small town in Wisconsin, it was the general consensus among of the kids in Hannah's third glass class was that she was...weird. Their subsequent discovery that Hannah had, in fact, never line-danced only confirmed their suspicions. "I'll be honest: I didn't think I had an accent," she says. "But they all tell the same story about this super weird kid who showed up with a super bizarre accent and hair down to her knees."

Hannah's siblings: Betsy, Davy and William

Years later, when it came time to think about college, Hannah was eager to follow her parents' and Davy's footsteps. She applied for and received an ROTC scholarship through the Navy and, when the semester began, started form of basic training: drills on Tuesdays, physical training on Mondays and Wednesdays, and remedial training on Fridays if you failed the physical exam - all at 6:30 a.m. During the day, she supplemented her regular course load with military classes like Land and Sea Navigation and mandatory study time. "It was not what I expected," she says. "I don't think it's what anyone expects."

At the end of her first year, Hannah left the program. For months, she had felt uninspired and the feeling only grew when she contemplated another seven years of training and military life. "It took a really long time to make that decision," she says. "I knew that you don't have a lot of avenues to change that plan when you're in the military; you have to see it out to the end. I think I would have done an OK job, but I don't think that being a military officer is something that you just want someone doing an OK job and skating along in."

"It was not what I expected. I don't think it's what anyone expects."

Dave and Amy, not eager to see another of their children involved in a war, welcomed the decision and, ultimately, it was to them that Hannah turned in search of another model of civic engagement.

Getting the whole story

Since their move to Wisconsin, Dave and Amy had become schoolteachers and immersed themselves in local and national politics. In 2011, they protested the state's controversial collective bargaining law. When members of the local VFW chapter criticized school district policy allowing students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish, Dave spoke passionately in defense of the practice at a town hall meeting. Davy, then an Air Force Captain serving in Iraq in fulfillment of his ROTC scholarship, sent his own letter of support in which he drew on his experiences with the men and women under his command.

"They do a good job of standing up for what they believe in and I feel like it gets lumped in together that, if you're in the military then you're Republican or that you love war or that you automatically approved of what the government was doing," she says.

Hannah discovered a calling of her own when she travelled to northern Somalia to help update the English-language curriculum of a university that had closed when war broke out in the 1990s. Among other things, she worked to adapt the school's curriculum, which was based on European curriculum, to better fit the school's mostly Muslim student body.

For Hannah, the experience solidified something she had already learned from living in so many different places. "It's really hard to see the structure of assumptions that go into culture, especially the one you grow up in," she says. "Even in everyday life, when you've been shown so many times that what you're used to is not what other people are used to, it's a lot easier to step back and realize that sometimes you don't have the full story."

We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

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