By Warren Marlow
As we celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Month, we take a look at the life and career of Maj. Mary Ugaddan, who emigrated from Manila, Philippines. Ugaddan currently serves as the First Army’s chief nurse and chief of clinical operations (the First Army is the oldest and longest-established field army within the U.S. Army, and is now a mobilization, readiness and training command). After leaving her home country for the U.S. in 2000, she joined the U.S. Army five years later as a medical officer.
Ugaddan was finishing up nursing school at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., while also overseeing the arranging of hospital recruiting visits to the university. It was in this capacity that she met an Army recruiter. She signed up after being impressed by the service’s values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.
With the Army highlighting those attributes, Ugaddan thought, “That’s the environment I want to be in and it felt right, so I went for it.”
She feels that most soldiers live by those Army values and show respect. That respect, she said, has kept her in the Army for 17 years.
“My family has been taken care of and I’ve seen good camaraderie and soldiers taking care of one another and being there for one another,” Ugaddan said. “My experience has been great.”
While it may have been the branch’s values that initially impressed her and inspired her to regularly display integrity, Ugaddan’s early focus was initially just to practice the nursing for which she had gone to school.
“I didn’t know a lot about the Army since nobody in my family had been career military,” she said.
But as her career progressed and Ugaddan developed as an officer, the larger picture came into view.
“I came to see that Army nursing was not just clinical, but there is a leadership portion to it,” she said. “We are molded to become leaders, not just nurses.”
For example, Ugaddan and her fellow practitioners are taught medical planning and are expected to execute operations that sometimes require the personal courage to quickly make crucial decisions under stress.
“That has really expanded my perspective from just a clinician’s role,” she said.
Working with the First Army has given her visibility on the needs and contributions of the Army Reserve and National Guard, which along with the active-duty component of the Army, make up the “Total Force” – that is, active duty and Reserve military forces that, combined, have the ability to meet the nation’s military needs at a moments notice.
“It’s offered me a greater appreciation of the Reserve Component, and I’ve learned that First Army bridges that gap to ensure we have a Total Force that is responsive at any time for our nation,” Ugaddan said.
Building those partnerships and seeing a unit grow during its time with First Army observer coaches and trainers is one of her favorite aspects of the job.
“I like the camaraderie and being exposed to multi-component operations,” she said. “Being in First Army, from our foxhole, we could see the unique problem sets such as taking care of the MFGIs, overseeing quarantine operations there and vaccinations. It provides a broader scope than how you would do COVID from a clinician’s role.”
The challenges that came with the COVID-19 pandemic were difficult even for veteran medics, but sound planning and regular communication helped mitigate it. Employing the values of duty and selfless service were among the keys to accomplishing the mission, according to Ugaddan.
“Between the surgeon and HHD First Army, we developed our battle drills,” she said. “To know that everybody was willing to work at the onset really helped us. Our philosophy has been a more conservative route where we would rather have people stay at home even if we don’t know if it’s COVID and we weren’t quick to have people come in. That helped us to limit the potential outbreaks and we did not have an outbreak in our headquarters.”
As she has progressed in rank, the Army values have continued to define her.
“Now that I’m in a supervisory role, they have shaped how I handle things and make decisions,” Ugaddan said.
She hopes to broaden her career to include the mental health field, as she saw its importance while twice serving in Warrior Transition Units.
“I want to pursue advanced nursing practice, want to keep learning and keep growing,” Ugaddan said. “There’s more I could help with and impact, and mental health is one of those that we’re so short on, so I’m hoping I can help with that.”
But wherever her path leads, Ugaddan will continue to be shaped by the Army values that first convinced her to be part of the team.
-This story was originally published on DVIDShub.net in 2021. It has been edited for USO.org in 2022.
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