The Walter Reed Army Medical Center staff is preparing to move this summer to Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County and National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, as part of the Base Realignment and Closure. Luana Kiandoli has worked at Walter Reed since 1980 as a medical technician. She reflects on her three decades at the 102-year-old institution.
Luana Kiandoli began her career in science with the military in the 1960s, working in the labs for the Women’s Army Corps.
Kiandoli, 68, is now Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s chief medical technologist in the nephrology department. After 30 years with WRAMC, she said she is used to seeing young people return from war but added, “It’s nothing that’s easy to get used to seeing.”
When serving with the Army Corps, she recalls working in a lab at Fort Hood, Texas and seeing soldiers preparing for the Bay of Pigs invasion.
“That was kind of frightening,” Kiandoli said. She added, “It was the first time I saw a group of troops … actually going to war.”
She tears up when she talks about the wounded warriors she sees now at WRAMC.
“I think there’s a disconnect between what happens here and what people see on the outside and hear on the outside,” Kiandoli said.
“Even though they get a lot of care, these kids really do get hurt,” she said. “And war is not something that really hits home until you see something like that.”
When she started working at Walter Reed in 1980, Kiandoli said she was stepping into an organization seeped in a “history of discrimination.”
But Kiandoli said she was still drawn to work at the medical center for its strengths in microbiology, parasitology and tropical disease.
“My specialty was tropical disease,” said Kiandoli, who had graduated at the top of her class for the study of intestinal and blood parasites at the Centers for Disease in Control in Atlanta.
Kiandoli was hired to work in WRAMC’s microbiology department but was instead assigned to the hematology department, where she said the “grunts” worked. All of the microbiology staff consisted of Caucasians, while the the hematology staff was “99.9 percent African American,” she said.
Kiandoli had worked at the State Department and the World Bank. She had taken on supervisor roles. She said she felt overqualified for the job.
In the six years she worked in hematology, Kiandoli also worked overtime to “keep competent” in other areas before moving into her current department.
In her current role, Kiandoli also oversees and mentors medical residents and fellows. Over the decades, she has helped organize cultural events, serving on the center’s first ethnic committees.
Before Sept. 15, Kiandoli will start working at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, (renamed Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Bethesda Maryland).
Kiandoli expressed her displeasure, saying the move will be “very disruptive.”
She said she is most concerned about lab space. Currently she has full reign over a lab with three long counters with microscopes, a refrigerator and other equipment she shares with the medical fellows and students.
“I think there’s probably a need for the services to be consolidated,” she said. “I just personally wouldn’t like to see it happen so soon.”