Nurse’s heroism earns her prestigious award

September 21, 2021
Two armed soldiers holding rifles and wearing helmets while standing behind an SUV
MUSC College of Nursing instructor Angie Powers, DNP, is no stranger to dangerous situations. Photos provided

Angie Powers, DNP, was known as a front-line health care worker long before the term was a part of our everyday lexicon. As a medic and nurse in the U.S. Army Reserves for nearly three decades, Powers has had the unenviable task of fighting to save lives while simultaneously trying to keep hers. Now an instructor at the Medical University of South Carolina’s College of Nursing, though she still serves in the reserves, Powers was recently awarded the National Infantry Association Order of Saint Maurice – Legionnaire for her heroism, courage and character in the face of life-threatening adversity. 

“I was completely surprised by this,” Powers said during a rare moment of calm between classes. “To receive this award is such an honor.”

Notable past recipients include former Navy Lt. and U.S. presidential candidate H. Ross Perot as well as former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Rarefied air. 

The stretch of service that most likely contributed to her receiving the award was during a tour she served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. Just shy of her 30th birthday, Powers was deployed to the war-torn country with the task of protecting her team as well as the Iraqi military police on the front lines. Though she volunteered for the position – the person previously in the role had stepped down because he felt it was too dangerous – the truth was she was one of the rare medics who also had a great deal of experience with weapons, due to her job at her home unit as a drill sergeant teaching basic combat training.

She remembers many a pitch-dark night, usually around 2 a.m., getting the call that a person of interest was going to be apprehended. A group of five U.S. soldiers would accompany the Iraqi MPs in case anything went wrong – and it often did.

A group of nine people wearing formal attire inside during a reception 
Powers, center, received the award during her most recent reunion of her colleagues in Las Vegas.

Powers remembers taking constant mortar fire, car bombs exploding, threats coming from any- and everywhere. It was an extremely dangerous, high-intensity job, but she tried not to think about that and, instead, focused on taking care of her team. If somebody was injured, she’d treat them as best she could until they could be transported out to a combat support hospital. In a way, it helped to keep her mind off the imminent danger.

“It was my job. It was just what I was trained to do.” she said modestly. 

Powers’ path to the military isn’t much different than others you might have heard. She grew up in a poor, small town in Maine – and she wanted the quickest way out. The Army was that way. Never in a million years did she think at 46 she’d still be serving. During this time, Powers has steadily risen in the ranks – she’s currently a major – while taking part in dangerous missions like the one in the Middle East as well as humanitarian deployments to El Salvador after Hurricane Mitch and most recently, Texas, a state hit particularly hard by COVID. 

“I miss a lot of holidays, birthdays, you name it,” she said. “Because when you get called up, you go where you’re told. Sometimes we don’t get a lot of notice.”  

Powers joined MUSC in 2019, her first foray into academia. It’s a job that provides a nice balance to the chaotic nature of the military. In addition to receiving the Order of St. Maurice, Powers was recently honored by the Charleston RiverDogs, becoming the first female on the club’s Wall of Honor.

“Out of all my accomplishments, being honored at a baseball game is probably the thing that impressed my son the most,” she said with a laugh.