Tomah Health Acute Care Director Jessye Buswell knows what it takes to be a good leader. For the past 14 years, she has served in the U.S. Coast Guard currently serving as a Marine Science Technician First Class or E6. Her military service has been the blueprint, which she uses to care for patients and staff in her role at Tomah Health. “My supervisors taught me how to lead and serve. I bring back this model and my years of experience here to the hospital,” said Buswell.
That leadership also led Buswell to receive the highly regarded Maj. Richard I. Bong Award during the Armed Forces Week Dinner Banquet in Milwaukee May 15. “I was thrilled to have my husband (Matt) there as he has been with me along this journey even before I joined the Coast Guard. It was wonderful to have him by myside during this celebration,” said Buswell.
“I am humbled to be nominated for any award that is highlighting something I have done in the Coast Guard. It is an honor,” she said of the recognition. “It’s even more rewarding knowing I was nominated by my supervisor, peers and other members in my unit as they are seeing the work that goes into being a reservist and felt that I am deserving of something that is named after Richard Bong. It is hard to come up with words, as he was truly a remarkable person.”
Known as the “Ace of Aces” for his rank as the top American flying ace during World War II, Major Richard Ira Bong was born in Superior, Wisconsin, and credited with the downing of an impressive confirmed 40 enemy aircraft over the course of his career as a fighter pilot. In December 1944, Bong received the Medal of Honor from General Douglas MacArthur for his service.
The Milwaukee Armed Services Committee presents the Maj. Richard I. Bong award annually to Wisconsin service members who have displayed outstanding traits of leadership and professionalism through their contributions to their Guard or Reserve military unit and to the community. “I knew of him (Bong) but not his complete story. It is incredibly humbling now knowing is story and getting an award named after Major Richard Bong.”
Buswell received the award for her leadership during an incident in January when a tug sunk in the Kinnickinnic River – one of three primary rivers that flows into the harbor of Milwaukee. “What made this difficult is that the river is frozen, this tug has sunk in the ice and there were 40,000 gallons of diesel on board that would now be in the Milwaukee harbor,” Buswell recalled.
Called in to oversee the recovery was something Buswell said was an amazing opportunity. “I just came off maternity leave and I was able as a reservist to come in and respond to the event as a trained pollution responder. I felt honored to be trusted and assigned to lead a section of this recovery by the active guard,” she said. “I think this response action was what lead me to being nominated for this award.”
Buswell had conducted vessel recovery in the south after hurricanes and an oil pollution response following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but the Wisconsin event was different. “Things like this often do not happen in Milwaukee. We were able to off load 40,000 gallons of diesel and prevent any spread into the environment thereby eliminating the threat to the Milwaukee Harbor ecosystem.”
Jessye said the incident and her service in the Coast Guard reflects how she leads others especially in her role at Tomah Health. “I think that modeling leadership after some of the people that I respect the most in the military means a lot to me personally. I often recall this motto ‘Be great at home so you can be good at work’, as I try to lead this way and ensure that I am caring for our staff so they can perform their job well.”
Buswell also knows the importance of having a supportive team at Tomah Health. “I would not be able to be in leadership here and be a reservist in the Coast Guard if I did not have the support of the hospital,” she said. “It is everything to me and I am thankful that I am supported so I can work in the military and work in health care. I love both careers and its perfect when both of my careers can come together.”
During a time when military recruitment is struggling, Buswell sees the service as a way to fulfill goals and dreams. “I get to work with people from all over the country. The people have all different backgrounds, and it is really about the people you work alongside, as that is what makes you give up a weekend a month and missing family time,” she said. “If I did not enjoy it, I do not think I would do it. I have gained lifelong friends and have learned so much from being in the military and from my supervisors.”
As for her future, Buswell has her eye on an advancement to the rank of Chief Petty Officer -the most significant advancement in the career of an enlisted Coast Guardsman. “I have been trying for four-years to advance. I believe I have a good chance this year. The chief is the anchor of the crew, masters of their craft and they are the servant leader that I aspire to be. That is my immediate goal.”