For Steven Pong, serving in the U.S. military has been a lifelong goal. As he grew up with stories of his father’s experience as a Second Lieutenant in Taiwan, joining the armed forces was always part of his plan.
“All my life I’ve wanted to be an army officer and follow after my dad,” he explains. “I want to follow in his footsteps and continue the tradition and honor of serving.”
Given this dream, it was only natural that Steven joined UCI’s ROTC program during his freshman year. Now, three years later, Steven is finishing his MSIII training and is already considered a rising prospect for MSIV.
However, his interest in the military isn’t the only thing that defines Steven. He also aspires to enter the medical field and serve those who need it the most.
Steven first became interested in medicine while he was in high school. In an effort to explore different specialties, he started out by working as a pharmacy technician. However, after a year, he decided that he could contribute more as a first responder and underwent EMT training the summer before his freshman year at UCI.
During his time at UCI, Steven has worked as an EMT for interfacility ambulance transport and 911 emergency ambulance transport in Los Angeles and Orange County. Steven also serves as the Training Supervisor of the Anteater Emergency Medical Services (AEMS), a student-run organization that offers emergency medical support across campus and emergency medical training, education and preparedness to UCI’s undergraduate population.
Between his EMT training, his work with AEMS and his coursework as a biological sciences major, Steven has amassed a considerable amount of hands-on experience and medical knowledge on administering basic life support, emergency care and trauma response.
Despite his training and experience, the outbreak of COVID-19 caught Steven by surprise. With the first cases popping up in December 2019, Steven recalls how UCI’s biological sciences community immediately began researching the disease to get ahead of the situation.
“Everybody was very confused,” he recalls. “There wasn’t much known about it except that it was a strain of coronavirus. However, as a medical provider myself, I knew it was about to become very prevalent, very soon.”
As new information about the virus began to emerge and panic mounted, Steven realized that many members of the general public were getting overwhelmed by the news and the seemingly contradictory messages offered by different health authorities. To ensure that people were as informed as possible, he dedicated himself to educating those around him.
He says, “I wanted to help other people that didn’t have medical and biology backgrounds understand what was happening.”
However, Steven wanted to do more to help. As Winter Quarter at UCI came to an end and the expectation of a remote Spring Quarter loomed, Steven realized that he would have a considerable amount of free time on his hands. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to threaten millions of Americans, he refused to stand idle.
At this time, Steven came across a post by the North American Rescue asking for volunteers to serve at the Ryan Larkin Field Hospital (RLFH) in New York. He immediately contacted the Ryan Larkin clinical operations staff. Soon after, Steven set off to New York to serve alongside other essential medical workers.
Steven joined a team of current and prior military medical and special operations professionals. From physicians to registered nurses to combat medics, volunteers of all skill levels had responded to the call to serve in the U.S.’s worst COVID-19 hotspot.
For two months, Steven served as a medic. Working 12-14 hour shifts, he treated patients by monitoring their vitals, administering oxygen, taking blood draws and completing other nursing services. Steven recalls, “We worked multiple days in a row, which was very tiring. At that time, Spring Quarter started for me, so I was juggling over 14 hours of shifts a day and then jumping into another three to six hours of school and barely getting enough sleep to ride on the next day.”
Aside from the sheer exhaustion that came with his work, Steven also had to face the very real possibility of contracting the deadly virus. While the physicians assured him that infection rates were low for healthy individuals of his age, working in the heart of the epidemic was still nerve-wracking.
He admits, “It definitely took a lot of courage to volunteer for something like that, especially being 20 years old and fairly inexperienced.”
However, Steven’s ROTC training had prepared him for the challenges he faced and gave him the strength to push past his fears:
We’re taught that fear is something that you can conquer—that it’s a choice. The ROTC program instills LDRSHIP core values, which stands for loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. A lot of these values came into play when I was considering going to New York.
Steven also explains that his mentors at UCI’s ROTC program offered him much-needed support as he embarked on his mission. While program coordinator Captain Justin Nichol shared concerns over the workload and Steven’s ability to balance his volunteer efforts with school and his other responsibilities, he also commended Steven’s dedication to selfless service.
“Captain Nichol gave me a ‘dad speech,’” Steven laughs. “But that’s how things are; we really take care of each other, and we’re all one big family. It’s always been like that and always will be.”
With Captain Nichol’s approval and help, Steven was able to travel to New York with the full support of his ROTC family.
Now that Steven is back home in California and has been officially declared COVID-free, he has time to reflect on his volunteer experience and what it means for his future plans.
It really gave me a new perspective on life and how rewarding it is to be in the medical field. Being able to help people at their lowest of lows—it’s just the most amazing and rewarding experience ever. Walking them out of the hospital doors to send them home just…words cannot describe how amazing that feeling is. It has really lit the fire inside of me to pursue healthcare.
Steven reveals that instead of joining active duty right out of college, he now plans to enter the U.S. Army Reserve so he can fulfill his service while he attends medical school. With his final year as a UCI student and ROTC cadet ahead, Steven is focused on the next leg of his journey.
“Going into my fourth year, my main priorities are to do well in ROTC, maintain a high GPA, take the MCAT, apply to med school and take the steps I need to enter the medical profession.”
Interested in learning more about UCI’s ROTC program and how they can support your success? Then visit their website here. If you have questions about the program, then check out the article “FAQs About UCI’s ROTC Program” or contact the program coordinators here.