Published on June 20th, 2016 | by The Kitsap Scene


A Degree and Advancement on the Same Day by Naval Hospital Bremerton Corpsman

By Douglas Stutz
Naval Hospital Bremerton

Advancing in rate for any Sailor makes for a notable day, as does receiving a bachelor’s degree by any college student.

Accomplishing both on the same day marks a rare double fulfillment of professional achievement and scholarly success.

Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Vi J. Potal of Naval Hospital Bremerton’s Branch Health Clinic (BHC) Bangor made both a reality by finding out he made hospital corpsman first class as he was preparing for his commencement ceremony to accept his Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from University of Maryland University College.

“Finding out that I picked up HM1 on the same day that I was to walk my commencement ceremony for my degree was surreal. It was definitely a memorable day,” said Potal, explaining that on the way to his graduation ceremony, he received a text to come into work because there was an important development to be discussed. Once he reported, he was ushered into see the BHC Bangor officer in charge, and then was informed he advanced in rate.

The day before, Potal had learned that in the Navy quotas for the March 2016 Cycle 331 exam, that the odds have dropped 2.5 percent. Out of 4,244 eligible hospital corpsmen 2nd class Navy-wide, only 342 – 8.06 percent – were going to advance.

“That meant that the final multiple to advance would increase, so finding out the following day was a great surprise,” said Potal, with half of his six years in the Navy being assigned to Naval Hospital Bremerton.

After missing the last exam by two points, Potal applied himself to diligently cram for the exam three months out instead of his usual two-month preparation time, on top of his normal work load at the clinic and college studies.

“Juggling school, the Navy, and having a personnel life (also) was difficult. Time management was such a key factor that sometimes it wasn’t even the course or work load that stressed me out. It was how best to manage my time to complete my research papers, as well as preparing for the last Joint Commission accreditation visit.”

Potal’s dual success astounded no one in BHC Bangor leadership.

“We were not at all surprised he picked up first. Potal is a great Sailor. He’s only been in for six years and has already shown tremendous ability. He just missed making it on the last exam cycle by two points, and we knew with his determination that he would make that up this time around. He handles BHC Bangor Pharmacy duties, a bunch of other collateral duty and gets his Sailors engaged and the entire clinic involved in so much. He is a solid performer at everything he does,” commented Chief Hospital Corpsman Andre Bernal of NHB’s Branch Health Clinic Bangor.

Potal’s Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology became a singular focus for him after deploying from October, 2014 to April, 2015 to NATO Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit (MMU) Kandahar, Afghanistan, and viewing up close the impact of PTSD on others.

“Psychology and understanding how the minds works has always intrigued me, but after being deployed, seeing the impact of PTSD firsthand and what it does to our Sailors, Soldiers and Marines stuck a chord. Right then and there I knew I wanted to help those in the military with PTSD. Receiving my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology gets me one step closer to that goal. I intend to apply for the Navy’s

Enlisted to Medical Degree Preparatory Program. The program would be the initial step in helping me become a psychiatrist,” Potal said, who served as the leading petty officer for the Role 3 Pharmacy Department during his time down-range.

According to Potal, there is a direct correlation between studying for a college course and preparing for a Navy advancement exam.

“I feel that if you’re in school and in a rhythm with studying for classes it is easier to apply the same study habits into preparing for the advancement exam. Every advancement exam I’ve ever taken, I purposefully took a class to reap the benefits of my study habits,” stated Potal, citing the command’s Enlisted Advancement Program (EAP) as providing a strong foundation and useful curriculum to those Sailors who got involved.

“My advice to others going up for rate is to go to HM1 (Shaun) Aragon’s EAP course! Others can back me on this. They’ve either advanced or significantly increased their score to put them in a positon to advance in the next cycle,” said Potal, who holds himself as an example for others to emulate in their pursuit both professionally and scholastically.

“Being able to share what I’ve learned through the entire process with my junior Sailors and seeing them go to college is gratifying. I’ve always asked, ‘what are you after your military career is finished?’ Any Sailor going to school helps answer that question,” added Potal.
Yet perhaps the most gratifying aspect of the entire day for Potal, a Ewa Beach, Hawai’i native and a 2007 graduate of James Campbell High School, was sharing the news with his family.

“Delivering the news to my mom that I advanced to HM1 after she instilled the work ethic and values that I know make this as much her success as it is mine,” related Potal.

Featured Photo: Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Vi J. Potal is pinned by HM1 Shaun Aragon during Naval Hospital Bremerton’s Frocking Ceremony for 43 Sailors on June 3, 2016. Not only did Potal advance in rate, but he found out he passed on the same day as he was preparing for his commencement ceremony to accept his Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology (Douglas Stutz / Official Navy photo)

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The Kitsap Scene is an online news magazine covering everything in Kitsap County.

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