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Navy optometry tech finds path to service at NH Bremerton

Female soldier wearing a black mask The eyes have it for optician support... Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Cruz Gabriela Gallardo, Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Bremerton's Optometry Clinic and Optical Support Unit leading petty officer ensures their top priority of providing direct support to the fleet - including units based at Joint Base Lewis McChord - remains constant during the current pandemic outbreak. (Official Navy photo by Douglas H Stutz, NHB/NMRTC Bremerton public affairs officer).

With approximately eight years in Navy Medicine, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Cruz Gabriela Gallardo has found her calling as the leading petty officer for the Optometry Clinic and Optical Support Unit at Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Bremerton in Washington.

Before her Navy career, she was uncertain as to her path after graduating from high school in El Paso, Texas.

“I saw joining the Navy as an opportunity to get away, travel and go to school. Didn’t really know what I wanted to do in life. I am the only female in the family to join the service and now my cousins are following my path. Extremely proud,” said Gallardo, noting that she became interested in a career in Navy Medicine as a way to help those in need.

“I love helping people,” Gallardo continued. “I was always taught to help those in need and to give back any way I could. I always wanted to make a positive impact on people’s lives and in the community I am in. When my recruiter talked to me about the corpsman rating and what they do, I signed up.

Gallardo’s personal story is a tale of overcoming long odds and persevering over the improbable.

“My mom came from Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua in Mexico, with two kids to raise. When we first got to El Paso, I went to third grade. I didn’t speak any English whatsoever, so school was a little hard for me. Eventually I learned and got better at speaking it. My brother and I were always in some kind of trouble, so the faster we learned to speak/understand English, the better. I joined the military because my family couldn’t pay for school and I really wasn’t an easy kid to take care of. I wanted to get away, see new places, and learn something new. I was tired of being in the same place. And here I am. The military has taught me a lot about myself and it made me change the way I viewed things. I think I’m doing pretty well so far,” said Gallardo.

Navy Medicine initially took her to school – Hospital Corpsman Skills Basic course - followed by specialty training at Optometry “C” School to become an optician. After graduating Optometry tech school she received orders to U.S. Naval Hospital Rota, Spain; then reported to Naval Branch Health Clinic Bahrain before being assigned to NMRTC Bremerton.

Opticians like Gallardo perform all phases of fabrication with single vision and multifocal spectacles from prescriptions. Those opticians like her holding senior leadership roles also perform administrative and managerial duties in optometry and ophthalmology clinics.

As with everyone else at her command, the main focus for much of 2020 has been supporting the effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“In optometry, we are wearing masks and thoroughly sanitizing everything even more after every patient. We have patients screened by the drive-through screening process before entering the building. Staff follows all hygiene protocols that are set in place. Just knowing we are part of the solution and we are doing our part to help with this pandemic is gratifying,” noted Gallardo.

“Our Optometry Clinic has a lab attached to it. We fabricate about 300 to 400 glasses a day and we support 47 tenant commands across all branches of the armed forces. We are the only fabrication lab in the Pacific Northwest and a lot of people need glasses. It is always awesome that we can do them here in a one or two day turn around. Might not seem like a big deal but it definitely is,” Gallardo exclaimed.

Gallardo attests that the best part of her career in Navy Medicine is being able to lead junior corpsmen.

“Helping them develop into great corpsmen and leaders. Being able to give them the tools they need to succeed and move on,” stated Gallardo, adding that being part of Navy Medicine means being a team. “We help each other succeed and get better at what we do. We are part of an elite group of selfless individuals who are willing to risk our own well-being for our patients and peers.”

The Navy surgeon general has prioritized operational readiness and with the core mission of producing force medical readiness and medical force readiness, Gallardo attests her duty contributes towards the readiness requirement, even during the pandemic outbreak.

“Our duty is to help the fleet and make them ready to deploy. With the lab being here, patients receive glasses, and gas masks in a timely manner,” said Gallardo.

Gallardo summed up her Navy Medicine experience with, “Navy Medicine has taught me more than just medicine. It has taught me to be willing to change and adapt to anything that has been set in place.”

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