From Washington, D.C.

Senator King and Maine American Legion Commander discuss her decades of service

Sun, 12/26/2021 - 6:30pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Office of U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) recently released the December edition of “Answering the Call: Maine’s Veteran Voices,” Senator King’s monthly series in which he shares the stories of the extraordinary lives, selfless service, and incredible sacrifice of Maine’s veteran community.

In the second interview of the series, conducted in partnership with the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, Senator King spoke with West Gardiner resident Debra “Deb” Couture, who spent 25 years in the Navy as a medical planner and is now Commander of the Maine American Legion. During the interview, Deb shared her deep passion for service, how she broke barriers as the first woman in many roles, and the sense of family she found during her time in the Navy.

“It was a true privilege to speak with Deb Couture for the second episode of ‘Answering the Call: Maine’s Veteran Voices.’ During her 25 year career in the Navy, Deb has tirelessly worked to keep our men and women in uniform safe – shaping the policies to protect servicemembers from evolving threats, and making sure they had the best medical resources possible,” said Senator King. “As the first person, let alone woman, to hold many roles, Deb has broken barriers, and paved the path for a stronger and better armed services. I’m deeply grateful for her decades of service and sacrifice, and appreciate her continued work to support Maine’s veterans as Commander of the state’s American Legion.”

Debra Couture spent 25 years as Navy medical and strategic planner. Deb grew up in a Maine military family, her father served in both WW2 and Korea, and sustained significant injuries during his service. After going to the University of Maine at Orono where she studied administration, she married her husband, Greg, and became a military dependent spouse. In 1987 Deb decided she wanted a more active role in the armed services, and enlisted in the Navy’s Medical Service Corps as a medical planner.  

In 1990, Deb was mobilized for Operation Desert Storm. Attached to a Naval Hospital in Connecticut, she helped prepare the hospital for significant casualties that fortunately did not occur. After Desert Storm ended, Deb continued her work. She spent time in Naval hospitals across America helping them to put together their medical planning policies. After 9/11, and when it became clear the U.S. was going to war in the Middle East, Deb was reassigned to the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in DC to help shape the Navy’s medical policies. Here, she worked for the Deputy Surgeon General, pulling together evaluations of casualties and injuries – crafting protocols that would protect America’s service members.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, Deb was sent South as part of the Navy Construction Battalion – also known as the SeaBees – to help the rebuilding efforts, but also to support military members and their families who had been impacted by the disaster. After the Katrina efforts, she stayed with the SeaBees, becoming the first medical planner for the unit. This role took her across the globe to active combat or past combat areas including Iraq, Kuwait, and South Korea. She focused her work on conducting post deployment health assessments for service members at the end of their deployments, and worked with medical planners to ensure bases had sufficient plans in place to take care of those stationed there.

Deb then went on to CENTCOM in Florida, where she helped plan medical operations for the War on Terror, and became certified as the only SeaBee Combat Warfare Medical Officer in Navy history. At the end of her career, she moved to the Pentagon where she helped make sure service members were medically ready to deploy. She retired in 2012 after 25 years of service. Now, Deb continues her service as the Commander of the Maine American Legion.

The Veterans History Project is an effort by the Library of Congress and the American Folklife Center to collect, preserve and distribute the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. The interviews and primary documents from the project are then used by researchers, historians, students, and filmmakers across the country. Senator King joins many other Members of Congress who’ve participated in the project.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator King has been a fierce advocate for America’s servicemembers and veterans. Just last week, the Senate passed the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, which included King-backed provisions to raise service member pay 2.7% and expand parental leave. Senator King recently introduced the Save Our Servicemembers (S.O.S.) Act, which would work to improve Department of Defense’s servicemember suicide prevention efforts. Last year, the Senate unanimously passed legislation cosponsored by Senator King that will designate 9-8-8 as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Veterans Crisis line. Senator King has also worked to create a first-of-its-kind Senate fellowship program for wounded American veterans, and has worked to improve the services for Maine veterans across the state, including at the Togus campus in Augusta.

To listen to the December edition of Senator King’s podcast click HERE.