Vietnamese joins US Navy's floating hospital

By Phan Duong   May 10, 2020 | 05:00 am PT
Hospital corpswoman Nguyen Vi Anh was initially recruited into the U.S. Navy after a courageous stint in boot camp.

Anh, 30, a staff member at Balboa Naval Medical Center, has been assigned to 272-meter USNS Mercy, one of two hospital ships operated by the United States Navy.

Around a month ago, the world’s largest floating hospital docked in Los Angeles amid fears the city would become a Covid-19 hotspot like New York. The USNS Mercy subsequently received and treated patients from other hospitals to make space for new coronavirus patients.

Anh provides meals to patients and other staff from 4.30 a.m. to 8.30 p.m. daily.

"I work 14 to 16 hours a day, sleeping during most of my free time," she said.

Joining the U.S. Navy over a year ago, Anh could not hide her excitement nor trepidation after learning she would be stationed on USNS Mercy. 

The vessel recorded its first Covid-19 patient 14 days after she first boarded on March 23. As of mid-April, seven more cases were confirmed, trapping 100 medics in quarantine. Fortunately, the outbreak was contained and though many of Anh’s colleagues had returned home, she opted to stay.

Anh on USNS Mercy docking in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Vi Anh.

Nguyen Vi Anh is onboard USNS Mercy, docked in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Anh.

Years ago, vicenarian Anh, from southern Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province in Vietnam, decided to study abroad to widen her world view. Graduating from the Ho Chi Minh City University of Architecture, she left Vietnam in 2014 and attended a course in mechanical drafting at Houston Community College. After four years, earning an associate’s degree, she did not hesitate shifting to a different major.

"I once talked to an army recruit, who told me about his career," Anh recalled. Inspired by his positive attitude, she aced a theory exam and entered boot camp alongside 100 other recruits in December 2018.

Anh completed eight weeks of training under massive pressure, often amid extreme weather conditions.

It was the coldest winter in a decade, with temperatures at minus 30 degrees Celsius, causing her to suffer frequent nose bleeds.

Anh graduated the course on military medicinee with the highest score. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Vi Anh.

The graduating hospital corpswoman Anh receives her certificate. Photo courtesy of Anh.

"Crossing the snow, I told myself I would remember this for the rest of my life. Now, the memory helps me overcome most of life’s difficulties."

After the first three weeks, Anh gained more confidence in preparation for the final test.

"Battle Stations taught me the merits of team work, fully aware you can’t survive boot camp alone," Anh stated.

Though dozens of recruits failed, 1.53 meter high, 48 kilogram Anh passed.

On graduation day, surrounded by sailors from diverse cultural backgrounds, she called her mother and brother in Vietnam, whom she had not talked to in eight weeks.

"I am proud of you and support you," Anh’s mom told her.

Anh and her husband visited her hometown in southern Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province in 2017. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Vi Anh.

Nguyen Vi Anh and her husband in her hometown in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau in 2017. Photo courtesy of Anh.

Exiting boot camp, Anh immediately joined a 19-week course in military medicine.

"To reach my goals, I leave no room for laziness," she stressed, adding she was assigned academic manager during the course.

The industrious Anh studied around the clock and graduated with a GPA of 99/100.

Last July, she started working at one of the largest U.S. naval hospitals in San Diego.

As a hospital corpswoman, Anh gets to travel to many places, including Japan, Italy, South Korea, Singapore, and Germany, etc. This Fall, she will join another course, taking a further step in her stellar military career.

"I may not be rich, but I’ve had countless experiences. In future, when I look back, I will surely be satisfied."

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