Victoria Zamarripa
Colonel, United States Air Force

 

Nearly 100 people gathered in December, 2003, to celebrate Victoria Zamarripa Day at Uvalde City Hall. Mayor George Garza proclaimed the day in honor of the U.S. Air Force colonel. Zamarripa, a Uvalde native, began life in a migrant family and, through education and perseverance, reached top leadership positions and touched many lives. She retired from the military in January, 2004.

“I’ve known Vickie for many, many years,” Garza said, explaining why he suggested the ceremony. “I’ve always admired her stick-to-it-iveness. She’s proved that you can attain anything you want if you just stick to it.” Garza said that he hopes other people will look at Zamarripa and try to follow her example. “She is truly a role model for all young people,” he said. Zamarripa, the seventh of 10 children, spent the first 15 years of her life traveling to California and Minnesota for the summer harvest months.

She said she learned the value of education at an early age. “My mother made it clear that we had a choice,” she said. “We could work 13 hours a day for the rest of our lives or go to school and change our lives.” Zamarripa chose the latter course. She graduated from Uvalde High School in 1974, then attended Southwest Texas Junior College to become a Licensed Vocational Nurse. Her first nursing job was at Uvalde Memorial Hospital, where she said she learned a lot of her technical nursing skills. After six and half years at UMH, Zamarripa began attending The University of Texas at San Antonio, where she earned her bachelor of science in nursing degree in 1981.

After her graduation she joined the Air Force as a second lieutenant. She has since earned a master’s degree in hospital administration from Webster’s University and holds triple certification in trauma, critical care and nursing administration. Throughout her military career, Zamarripa has touched thousands of lives, across all boundaries. Her impact on people was evident in the audience at Tuesday’s reception. Former supervisors, employees, friends, family and those who just wanted to help honor her crowded the council room at City Hall. Military uniforms, including Army and Navy, along with Air Force, abounded.

Retired U.S.A.F. colonel Jane Waller, who served as Zamarripa’s supervising officer in Washington, D.C., summed up the feelings of many there. “Vickie has such a real knack for engendering a sense of community wherever she is in the world,” Waller said. “There are people in Peru and so many other countries who still feel that she is part of their community because of the way she touched their lives.” A major portion of Zamarripa’s nursing career was spent, through her own request, at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio. “No one wants to go there, because that’s where the most critical-need patients are,” she said. “But that’s where they need nurses most.”

While at Wilford Hall, Zamarripa became friends with Dr. P.K. Carlton, who later was appointed Surgeon General of the Air Force. At the time they met, Carlton was the director of Wilford Hall and Zamarripa was squadron commander for the Intensive Care Units. Even though each was in a management position, they both believed in the importance of continuing to provide hands-on care to patients. They met while attending rounds. Through her friendship and professional relationship with Carlton, Zamarripa became involved in his pet project - developing a disaster-preparedness plan for other nations. She co-founded the course that has since been taught in 32 countries.

In 2001, Zamarripa was in Washington, D.C., helping to refine the course when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has since undergone chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. This past August, Zamarripa was promoted to the rank of colonel. She currently is the deputy director of the Defense Institute for Medical Operations, Office of the Air Force Surgeon General at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio. She will retire from that position on Jan. 9, 2004. Having cancer has changed Zamarripa’s perspective on life, she said. “When I became extensively ill on Aug. 18, one of my doctors told my mother I only had 18 hours to live,” she said. Another doctor told her that it wasn’t up to men to make those predictions; it was only up to God.“I learned that when you have so little hope, you can’t give up,” she said, wiping her eyes. “We just have to take each day, every day one day at a time.” She thanked everyone who helped arrange and who attended the ceremony. “I have been most blessed to see the support of you all. I am profoundly grateful, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.”