JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
Editors Note: This piece is one of several stories being shared in 2017 by the Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs Office in honor of the 70th Anniversary of the Air Force and those who selflessly have and continue to serve our nation.
She always knew she wanted to help people. That notion led her on a path of service and duty to country.
Retired Col. Judith Hughes served more than 27 years in the Air Force and still remembers what she needed to make the commitment.
“The Air Force offered a six-month nursing internship, said Hughes. “I really wanted to be a good nurse. Six more months of practice appealed to me, so I decided to join the Air Force thinking I would do my commitment and come back to nursing as a civilian.”
The Air Force provided her the opportunity to help others. During her second year as a nurse in the Air Force, Hughes helped take care of an Airman who had been diagnosed with cancer. She said the experience had a profound impact on her.
“Every time we walked into his room, we had to wear a gown and a mask,” said Hughes. “Because of that, we did everything at one time so we wouldn’t have to go in his room as frequently as others.”
“One day after work I felt bad and I needed to spend time with this young Airman. It wasn’t easy for his parents to travel. It was before cell phones and the payphone at the end of the hall. There wasn’t constant contact with people.”
A single sentence from the Airman reassured Hughes she had chosen the right calling.
“I got off of my 12-hour shift and I went and put my gown and mask,” said Hughes. “I brought in a deck of cards and sat with him. It has got to be horrible not being able to see anybody smile, to see us. He said to me, ‘Lieutenant Henry, you smile with your eyes.’ I will never ever forget that. It made me realize how important it was for me to be taking care of people. That was what made me go into nursing and it was a really great fit.”
Hughes retired Oct. 24, 2014 after serving and providing aid to people through 14 different assignments. However, hanging up the uniform didn’t stop her from continuing to support the military.
“When I was the 628th Medical Group commander [here], I saw the special partnership we have with our community in Charleston,” said Hughes. Today, Hughes says serves on two boards of directors; the Palmetto Military Support Group and the Charleston Research Institute, which is partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
From deploying to Bagram Airfield as chief nurse, to leading Airmen as a commander, to working with multiple agencies supporting the military after her retirement, Hughes continues to serve.
Hughes is optimistic her children will continue the family history of service as well.
“Both my children want to join the Air Force,” said Hughes. “My son is enlisting and my daughter plans to become a physical therapist. I’m thrilled my children are continuing the legacy of serving.”