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From enlistment to doctor: An Officer’s journey in America’s Navy

LT Lisseth Calvio is a Navy clinical psychologist and recipient of a 2011 Latina Style Distinguished Military Service Award.

Personal photo, LT Calvio (left) with Rear Adm. (select) Raquel Cruz Bono at the 2011 Latina Style awards ceremony on September 8, 2011 in Arlington, VA

When I was only four years old, my mother and I immigrated to the United States from El Salvador as the Salvadorian Civil War raged on. I grew up living the immigrant American lifestyle, which meant learning how to fit in while at the same time never forgetting what was left behind. I was able to obtain opportunities for a good education, away from the perils of war. I was raised with a sense of patriotism for the United States that involved gratitude for the opportunities and life that I would otherwise not have had. Being American meant having the freedom to achieve my ultimate best. With this goal in mind, I graduated at the top of my high school class and enlisted in the Navy as a nuclear power mechanic.

As an 18-year-old, I could not have imagined what my life would become and all the twists and turns that were to follow. After a year of enlistment, I was awarded a Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps scholarship to the George Washington University. I graduated with honors and served as a surface warfare officer onboard the USS Belleau Wood and USS Pearl Harbor out of San Diego, California. After three years as a SWO, I was awarded a scholarship to the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) where I earned my doctorate. At USUHS, I deployed with the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. I completed my internship and residency at the National Naval Medical Center where I worked with wounded warriors from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, a difficult yet rewarding assignment. Afterwards I was stationed at the U.S. Naval Hospital, Yokosuka, Japan, where I was able to experience the sunrise from the top of Mount Fuji, ride an elephant around Angkor Wat, and climb the Great Wall of China.

Fifteen years later after I joined the Navy, I find myself completing an individual augmentee assignment as a clinical psychologist at the Role 3 Multinational Hospital in the “sand box” of Kandahar, Afghanistan. Over the past 15 years, I have faced numerous challenges, but I can say that serving at a NATO trauma hospital in Afghanistan is perhaps one of my top achievements. I was able to care for service members with a range of experiences, from those who are having difficulty adjusting to deployment, to those having severe combat stress reactions. I also took great pride in running a program that provides support to the hospital staff. Our staff treats multiple traumas a day and strives to save the lives of both our service members and Afghans. It is an absolute honor to care, not only for our wounded, but also those who save the lives of our wounded heroes.

Joining the Navy was a hard decision. The hardest part was leaving my family and friends in New Jersey. Yet, I’ve incorporated my family into my travels and accomplishments. My parents have been there for every graduation, and I’ve had the opportunity of flying them to meet me around the country and the world.  Also, my parents can’t help but see the joy and fulfillment that serving the United States has brought me, and they could not be prouder.

Every day, I am reminded of why I joined the Navy. I wanted to serve with the best, help my country, and as an immigrant, I wanted to show this great nation how thankful I am to be a part of it. It is truly an honor to serve. Furthermore, my story illustrates how great this country can be… I am a United States Naval Officer, doctor, OEF veteran, and immigrant, and proud to be all of the above.

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