The Journey of a Nurse Corps Officer

By Lt. Angelina Brannon, head, emergency department, Naval Hospital Beaufort

LT BrannonI never used to believe that dreams came true or that hope would someday become reality, but I have learned that while life determines the family we are born into, it is our personal courage and will that determine the course we ultimately navigate in life. 

Statistically speaking, the odds were stacked against me from the start.  My mother immigrated to the United States when she was just 13 and spoke no English.  By the time she was 16, I was born.  Growing up in El Paso, Texas wasn’t easy and by the time I was 18, I had become the mother of beautiful baby boy.  I realized then that I had some very important choices to make.  On Jan. 13, 1998 I enlisted in the United States Navy, a decision that forever changed my life.

When I arrived at Recruit Training Command Great Lakes, Illinois I was in for a huge surprise.  Not only was this was my first time away from home, but it was also the first time I was in a structured environment.  Fortunately, I acclimated well to recruit training and came to appreciate the respect, order, and discipline that we were taught.

As the weeks progressed I received bad news from home, and was ready to quit. After talking to my training commander, a salty chief boatswain’s mate, one of the things he said was, “if you quit now, you will be a quitter your whole life.”  These words resonated to my core because I was no quitter. 

Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Brannon receiving an award while stationed at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, where she served as a surgical technician, 2002-2004.  Brannon worked hard to excel at Portsmouth and became actively involved at the command, which eventually led to her being selected as Junior Sailor of the Quarter in 2004. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Brannon)
Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Brannon receiving an award while stationed at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, where she served as a surgical technician, 2002-2004. Brannon worked hard to excel at Portsmouth and became actively involved at the command, which eventually led to her being selected as Junior Sailor of the Quarter in 2004. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Brannon)

After graduating from recruit training and Hospital Corpsman “A” School, I reported to my first duty station at Naval Hospital Pensacola, Fla. I was assigned to the OB/GYN department where I had a great leading petty officer (LPO) and assistant leading petty officer (ALPO) who paved the way to success by introducing me to Master Chief Fraker’s Study Guide.  I began studying, and was promoted to hospital corpsman 3rd class in 1999. 

Growing up, I’d never had a mentor, someone to guide me and teach me, but in the Navy I found myself surrounded by professionals, corpsman and officers, who inspired me and nurtured my will to succeed.  I knew then that I was either going to be a master chief or an officer one day. 

On May 3, 2007, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Brannon was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps.  The commissioning was the culmination of Brannon's dream to successfully navigate her career as a hospital corpsman and become an officer. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Brannon)
On May 3, 2007, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Brannon was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Brannon)

After Pensacola, I went to Field Medical Service School (FMSS) at Camp Johnson, N.C. and “C” School at the Naval School of Health Sciences in Portsmouth, Va. to become a surgical technician before heading on to my next assignment at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md. in 2001.

Being at a large MTF was definitely not easy, but I was committed to excel.  At Bethesda, a senior enlisted member gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever been given – find the one person who is where I want to be and do as they do. 

In 2004, I was selected as Junior Sailor of the Quarter. My hard work and dedication was also reflected in the letters of appreciation and letters of commendation that I received.  I also began focusing on my academics, taking CLEP tests for college credits and taking classes at a university. 

At this point, I decided to take advantage of two opportunities to advance my career and applied to both the Independent Duty Corpsman (IDC) program and the Medical Enlisted Commissioning Program (MECP), hoping to be accepted to one of them.  When I applied for MECP, I had six years of total service and several people attempted to discourage me based on my time in service, but I figured that it didn’t hurt to try.  Not only was I accepted into the IDC program, but in 2004, when the MECP board results came out, my name was on the list. 

The feeling was surreal!  I had always admired and respected chiefs and officers, hoping to one day become one of them. I chose MECP, amazed that I had been given an opportunity to go back college, earn my bachelors in nursing, and become a naval officer. 

In the fall of 2005, I began nursing school and on May 3, 2007, I was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps.  I had always envisioned wearing khakis one day and was overwhelmed that the day was finally here.  

The journey from corpsman to officer is one that is completely achievable with hard work and dedication, because nothing worthwhile comes easy.  Faith is important too, because faith breeds hope and hope brings change.  I encourage anyone looking to go down this road to find great leaders and mentors who can guide you.  Take advantage of the educational opportunities that the Navy gives you and don’t let anyone discourage you from applying to programs and following your dreams.

Today, I am the head of the emergency department at Naval Hospital Beaufort, S.C., and I wouldn’t be here right now had I not made the commitment to enlist in the Navy on Jan. 13, 1998.  I owe a debt of gratitude to the Navy, because all I ever needed was a chance and the Navy gave me that chance.  As I move forward in my career as a nurse corps officer, I hope to be as good a mentor to the corpsmen I encounter as those who encouraged and inspired me when I was a junior Sailor.

Lt. Brannon, department head for Naval Hospital Beaufort's emergency department, triages incoming casualties during a recent mass casualty drill. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Brannon)
Lt. Brannon, department head for Naval Hospital Beaufort’s emergency department, triages incoming casualties during a recent mass casualty drill. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Brannon)