Thursday, July 19, 2018

Face of Defense: Army Doctor Describes His Rise From Poverty to Follow Dreams

By Amy Perry, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee

FORT LEE, Va. -- “You’re not smart enough to be a doctor.”

That statement, spoken by Daniel Cash’s mother when he was 10, echoed in his mind for years, motivating him to prove her wrong.

Now a doctor and a lieutenant colonel serving as the deputy commander for clinical services at Kenner Army Health Clinic here, Cash said a childhood accident was the impetus for his desire to practice medicine.

“When I was 10, I crashed a moped into a house when the accelerator got stuck, and I almost died,” he said.

He was rushed to the hospital by ambulance and monitored for 24 hours. In those days -- the early ‘80s -- CAT scans weren’t readily available at most medical facilities, so Cash said he was fortunate they kept him for monitoring because he had an undiagnosed subarachnoid hemorrhage -- bleeding in the space between the brain and its outer tissue.

“I’ve been told I went a little crazy in the hospital, and they had to do an emergency burr hole in my head to release pressure,” he said. “After I recovered, that’s when I knew I wanted to be a physician. However, my parents didn’t think school was important, and when I told them, that’s when they said I wasn’t smart enough.”

Reflecting on the moment, Cash said he didn’t think the comment was meant to hurt him but had more to do with their life situation. Since his parents didn’t push education and his family was very poor, advanced schooling was hard to fathom – and a run at a medical degree clearly pie in the sky.

“It was an issue of poverty for sure. The way they saw it, I would never have enough money to pay for school,” he mused. “That made education a luxury … and they didn’t care about that. It was all about work.

“I don’t think my mom even remembers what she said,” Cash continued, “but when you’re a child you always remember a putdown. That kind of thing sticks with you.”

Paycheck to Paycheck

Painting an even broader picture of his childhood, Cash said his family was continuously in need of an immediate paycheck and at times struggled to keep a roof over their head. When he was 14, the family moved from their home in South Carolina to Homestead, Florida, where his father had a job lined up as a correctional officer. He was fired two months later.

“We relocated to Fort Lauderdale, where my father continued to look for work because there were no jobs available in Homestead,” he said. “We were homeless for 2-3 weeks, and we sort of lived in a park; then we lived in a shelter for two months before my parents got enough money for a place to live.”

Despite his tough childhood, Cash -- the fifth of six children -- was the first in his family to graduate high school. While he was anxious to begin his medical school journey, the first order of business was to get a job and earn some money. A year later, he applied for financial aid for advanced schooling and was told he had “made too much money” as a landscaper to qualify for the assistance. So, he put his dreams back on hold and returned to the blue collar grind.

“Over the next 9-10 years, I worked at the same job,” he said. “In the evenings, I ran orders for places like Pizza Hut and Dominos, hours after an already full day of landscaping.”

During those years, Cash met and married his wife, Enereida, an immigrant from Panama. When their daughter was born, his college aspirations returned with a fervor. He enrolled at a community college and worked a full-time job while also juggling his undergraduate coursework. He managed to earn a bachelor’s degree in 3 years by increasing his credit hours each semester. After he graduated, he was accepted into medical school.

Nagging Doubts

“Throughout this process, my wife was pitching in big time. She was working full time while also taking care of our daughter,” Cash said. “She worked as an au pair, so it was great because our daughter could go with her and grow up and play with those kids.”

Despite earning mostly A’s and a few B’s and maintaining at least a 3.5 grade point average, Cash said he couldn’t shake the nagging suspicion that he wasn’t good enough to follow such dreams.

“The thought still lingered in the back of my mind; that I wasn’t smart enough to be a doctor,” he said. “Going through it, I wondered ‘am I really able to do this?’ In a lot of ways, I still saw myself as the blue collar worker landscaping under the hot sun and doing back-breaking work. How could I become something totally different?”

A lucky break from the draining effects of constant work and seeking loans to keep his dream alive came in the form of the Army’s Health Professional Scholarship Program. It would pay for his medical school on top of a monthly stipend. He signed on, and reaped the reward of the free ride through the remaining three years of medical school, after which there would be a three-year service obligation.

Cash did his residency at Fort Bragg, North Carolina’s Womack Army Medical Center. Other highlights of his now 13 years of military service include a squadron field surgeon gig while deployed to Iraq; a stint as 108th Air Defense Artillery Brigade surgeon; and several postings as a family practice or primary care physician in Army clinics.

In It to the Finish

In reflection, Cash realized he had never been in doubt that he had signed up for the long haul.

“I did a lot of stuff [hard labor] over the years and didn’t have much to show for it,” he said. “I didn’t want to do my time in the Army and not have anything to show for it.

“So, I tell anyone who comes through Kenner and is thinking about getting out to remember things like the great military retirement plan,” Cash said. “You’re going to be working most of your life. What makes it easier, in my opinion, is working toward something. To be able to retire after 20 years is worth it, and some can have a full second career after that.”

There are moments along the path he has traveled, Cash said, when it felt like a dream.

“I wondered how I was doing it -- how I was attending school, making good grades,” he said. “But here I am, 13 years later, and I’ve been working up the chain. I’ve done … pretty well.”

Now, Cash knows his mother and entire family are proud of what he has made of his life. To this day, his younger sister uses him as an example where she works.

“My sister graduated high school after me, the second one in my family to do so,” he said. “She’s now a police officer, and when she arrests someone and they try to make excuses about being poor and having to make a living, she tells them about me and how I became a doctor. She doesn’t let anyone use being poor as an excuse. She says, ‘If [he] could do it, anyone could.’”

Family Success

And it seems as though Cash’s daughter, Maria, will be walking in his footprints. She’s set to attend his civilian medical school alma mater -- Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine -- at the end of July. She’s also using the same military scholarship program her father did but will contribute her skills to the Air Force.

In her formative years, while he was going through undergraduate coursework, medical school and his residency, Cash said she was always interested in what he was learning about.

“One day while in first grade, Maria came home crying because other kids made fun of the drawing she made for show and tell,” he said. “She drew a picture of a brain with all the optic nerves coming out, the circulatory system and a bladder with the kidneys. The kids were laughing because the bladder is where the urine comes out.

“I told her she shouldn’t be upset because the children did not understand all the stuff she did,” Cash said.

When Maria told her father she wanted to be a doctor, Cash says he told her, “You can be whatever you want to be. You can do anything.”

World War II Survivor Marks Guam Liberation

By Army Sgt. Nicholas Holmes, Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region

FORT LESLEY J. MCNAIR, D.C. -- Irene Perez Ploke Sgambelluri was 10 years old in 1942 when her father, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class John Ploke, a pharmacist’s mate, was taken into custody by Japanese forces in Guam during the early days of America's war with Japan.

Sgambelluri and her family spent the next three years living under Japanese occupation. On July 16, she participated in a full-honors Army wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The ceremony, featuring soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment and the U.S. Army Band commemorated the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Guam, the Battle for the Northern Mariana Islands and the war in the Pacific.

Sgambelluri’s father was captured in December 1942.

‘I Will Never Forget That Day’

“He said he had to surrender or we would all be killed,” she recalled during an interview with Guam’s KUAM News. “He took off his shirt and tied it to a branch, and we walked out holding my hand. I will never forget that day, never. The Japanese soldiers took him, stripped him naked, dragged him and took him to the prison in Hagatna.”

A few days later, Sgambelluri and her family discovered that all the imprisoned men, including her father, were transferred to the Zentsuji prisoner of war camp in Osaka, Japan.

“The place was empty,” she said. “We asked the interpreter where the prisoners were, he said, ‘They were all shipped out to Japan.’”

It was more than three years before she would see her father again.
Following the ceremony, Sgambelluri expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to honor the memories of the brave men and women of the military who lost their lives.

Exercise Sea Breeze 2018 Concludes in Ukraine

SHIROKY LAN, Ukraine -- The 18th iteration of exercise Sea Breeze concluded July 17 following a closing ceremony in Odessa, Ukraine.

Sea Breeze is a U.S. and Ukraine co-hosted multinational maritime exercise held in the Black Sea and is designed to enhance interoperability of participating nations and strengthen regional maritime security.

“Our sailors and Marines worked on the water, in the air, on land and under the sea,” said Navy Rear Adm. Shawn Duane, vice commander of the U.S. 6th Fleet. “Twenty-nine ships from 18 nations participated, and many tactical skills were practiced and perfected.”

For the first time during Sea Breeze, the staff embarked the command and control ship USS Mount Whitney during the at-sea portion of the exercise.

More than 150 staff members from various countries made up the Sea Breeze 2018 maritime operations center aboard Mount Whitney.

“The reason we wanted to go afloat this year was that it keeps people singularly focused on the exercise with no distractions,” said Navy Capt. Matt Lehman, commander of Task Force 65.

Real-World Training

Participants were familiar with some of the training the exercise offers, officials noted, and bringing the planning and execution aboard Mount Whitney added an additional layer of real-world training.

“This year’s exercise presented new challenges and new areas to improve that will allow us to make next year’s exercise even more complex,” said Coast Guard Lt. Ryan Newmeyer, Task Force 65 maritime planner. “As we increase the interoperability between our Black Sea partners and NATO allies we need to continue to adapt to the changing environment, and embarking staff aboard the USS Mount Whitney is just one way of doing that.”

Ships from the United States, Bulgaria, Turkey and Ukraine and participated in different scenarios while underway. Maritime interdiction operations, air defense, anti-submarine warfare, damage control tactics, search and rescue and medical training are some areas the exercise focused on.

“The purpose of the at-sea phase of the exercise was to work with NATO and non-NATO navies to conduct serialized events in a variety of warfare areas,” Newmeyer said.

Navy Cmdr. Craig Trent, executive officer of the guided missile destroyer USS Porter, lauded the effort the nations exuded for this year’s Sea Breeze.
“The success of this year’s exercise is a very positive step in building our partnerships and strengthening each other’s capabilities,” Trent said. “Each year our exercise grows in complexity, and we intend to carry this trend forward.”