In this recurring special feature, Nonahood News recognizes and honors those everyday heroes who have served or are currently serving our country and making a difference in our community. Those who reside in the Lake Nona and surrounding area are our Nona Heroes.
MeLisa Gantt served in the United States Army for 28 years (five years in the reserves and 23 years as active duty). When asked why she chose the Army, she mentioned how furthering her knowledge was her ultimate priority: “In my personal opinion, although the Navy had the best locations for assignments and the Air Force had the best amenities on their installations, the Army had the best education opportunities, which was more important to me.”
In 19 years, she was promoted from Private First Class to Lieutenant Colonel. She explained how one’s progression rank can be difficult to explain as there are a variety of factors, including time in grade, time in service, job roles, education level, military schooling and your military evaluations.
“I entered the military in 1988 as an Operating Room Technician (the person who passes the instruments to the surgeon during surgery) in the Army Reserves. During that time, I worked as a secretary at the Pentagon during the day and went to college at night. I eventually quit my job to go to school full-time, and in 1993, after receiving my Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing from the University of Maryland at Baltimore and my ROTC commission as a Second Lieutenant, I went on active duty,” Gantt recalled.
“Since I had surgical experience, I was assigned as an Operating Room Nurse [Gantt is board certified] at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. In 2000, as a Captain at Moncrief Army Medical Center on Fort Jackson in South Carolina, I was selected [for] a full military scholarship to pursue my Master’s of Science in Nursing at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida,” she stated. “After graduating in 2002, I was then assigned to Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington, where I ended up deploying to Kuwait with 47th Combat Support Hospital in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. When my assignment at Madigan ended now at the rank of Major, I was transferred to serve as the director of operating room services at Evans Army Community Hospital at Fort Carson in Colorado.”
Gantt continued, “In 2007, I was selected again for another full military scholarship to pursue my PhD in Nursing at the University of Central Florida here in Orlando. After receiving my PhD in 2010 now at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, I was assigned AGAIN to Walter Reed. However, at that time Walter Reed was preparing to close and merged its staff with the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland…now called the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. At that same time, the military was opening the brand-new Fort Belvoir Community Hospital (one of the military’s newest flagship evidence-based design hospitals) and was looking for someone to serve as the director of research to start up a new research department. Since I had a PhD and had experience in conducting research, I was selected for the position.” Gantt went on to explain how that was the most stressful on-the-job training, and it prepared her for her current role today.
She then recounted, “In 2013, I was deployed to serve as the deputy director for the Joint Combat Casualty Research Team in Afghanistan. Upon my return, I was transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany to serve as the director for the Center for Nursing Science and Clinical Inquiry and research consultant to the commanding general for the U.S. Army Regional Health Command in Europe. There, I was responsible for overseeing all of the military healthcare research conducted in Belgium, Italy and Germany, which was by far my favorite military assignment. In 2016, I decided to retire from military service and returned to Orlando.”
Gantt fell in love with Lake Nona back in 2008 while she was attending UCF for her PhD. “Back then, VillageWalk was about 70 percent complete, and the Medical City was in the first phase of construction. The vision for the community meshed well with my love for education, research, technology and wellness. So, I made up my mind that I would retire here and purchased a home in VillageWalk. Unfortunately, since I was still in the military, I was transferred in 2010 and didn’t return until my retirement in 2016. Now, I’m finally able to bask and fully reap the benefits of living in this wonderful progressive community,” stated Gantt.
She described how a valuable lesson at a former job actually led to her joining the military: “In my early 20s, I was working as a secretary at the Pentagon and had the opportunity to work with some great military personnel. My most impactful moment was when I worked in one of the Joint Staff offices when General Colin Powell was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I was a horrible secretary and am surprised that I was never fired. However, in that environment I learned about being disciplined, having a strong work ethic, and being professional … even if you didn’t agree.”
Reminiscing on her nearly three decades spent serving, Gantt thought back to some of her best military moments, including her deployments to Kuwait and Afghanistan, as well as her stint in Germany. She shared, “In those assignments, I learned how important it was to experience the world through a different point of view. When you live and eat with people who are different than you, you quickly learn that you actually have more in common than you originally thought. You also learn what makes people tick and the root cause as to why people are the way they are. Having that knowledge and experience I believe makes me a more informed citizen, more compassionate, and a better contributor to society.”
Gantt mentioned that after she retired from the military, she started her own business called the Gantt Clinical Research Institute, LLC (www.ganttclinicalresearchinstitute.com). She went into detail about how her organization provides clinical research education and consulting services to novice researchers, as well as supporting other organizations that don’t have formal research training programs in place. “As a researcher, I still conduct research and have received over one million dollars in federal funding for my work in the area of complementary and alternative medicine initiatives for military healthcare. I am currently conducting a study at Womack Army Medical Center located at Fort Bragg in North Carolina that is testing an innovative sound technology called Binaural Beat Technology. This technology is marketed with the claim that it has the ability to change one’s brainwave patterns. So, I put it to the test and my previous study published in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship showed that the technology did indeed work in reducing stress. Now, I’m assessing its efficacy on sleep quality.”
Gantt is also a member of the UCF College of Nursing Dean’s Advisory Board and is excited for the college’s proposed move to the Lake Nona Medical City campus. She is also a member of the board of directors for the Mother’s Milk Bank of Florida, where mothers from around the state donate their breastmilk, and once the milk is screened and pasteurized, it goes to babies in neonatal ICUs.
If you would like to nominate someone for our next Nona Heroes feature, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or complete the form here: http://nonahood.to/nonaheroes.