USNS Comfort brings aid to Latin America with Dominican alum

Ensign Justin Valdez ’15, who in October 2018 is aboard the U.S. Naval Hospital Ship Comfort on a two-month medical assistance mission to Latin America, continues to work at the “First and Finest” United States Navy hospital in the country, thanks to Dominican’s nursing program.

A transfer from San Jose City College, Justin was drawn to Dominican’s School of Health and Natural Science by the reputation and tradition of its nursing program and the fact that it has a high graduation rate, Justin also is arguably the best cross country runner in school history and was a Capital One Academic All-American First Team in NCAA Division II for the Penguins

The rigors of the nursing program coupled with his participation as a student-athlete at Dominican prepared him for the demands of being a Registered Nurse at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in Virginia.

“I learned prioritizing. Trying to live with organized chaos,” Justin said in December of 2016. “There are so many different roles and responsibilities. My time at Dominican set me up to be able to handle it in the military and succeed.”

At Dominican, Justin was Dominican chapter president of the American Assembly for Men in Nursing and a two-time Pacific West Conference Cross Country Scholar Athlete of the Year.  He spent his last semester as an assistant coach for the Penguins’ cross country team, helping coach the women’s squad to the 2015 NCAA Div. II West Region Championships where he competed in 2013.

While balancing a heavy schedule, Justin turned to his cross country coach, Teressa DiPerna, and one of his nursing professors, Luanne Linnard-Palmer, to help guide him through athletics and academics.

“They have been my two role models who have been mentoring and supporting me, even to now,” he said.

Justin also received advice from Danielle Delacruz ’14, another Dominican nursing program graduate. She applied to become a nurse corps officer and suggested Justin apply, too. Danielle is currently an RN at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton outside San Diego.

Being a nurse hasn’t stopped Justin from running. Upon a recommendation from a Pac West Conference coach, Justin joined the Skechers Performance Division as a sponsored athlete. And, mere weeks after joining the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in March of 2017, Justin was recruited to compete on the U.S. Navy Men’s Team in the Armed Forces Marathon in Washington, D.C..

On both fronts, as a nurse and an athlete, Dominican served Justin well.

“Once you hit the floor, you’re a leader. You’re a nurse and you are expected to teach others,” Justin says. “You’re not just taking care of patients – veterans, active duty personnel, and their families – you are serving something greater than yourself. That’s why I chose the military. I wanted to serve.”

Justin is serves America well in a time of need. He was assigned to the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort that deployed to Puerto Rico in 2017 to support relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Justin was one of 522 medical personnel that were shipped to Puerto Rico.

Currently, he is aboard the USNS Comfort, which passed through the Panama Canal en route to Honduras, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.




January 3, 2017