Ana Reynoso, a 2013 Oakdale High School graduate with dreams of going into the film industry, earned a top Naval honor when she was awarded the Blue Jacket of the Year (BJOY) for her meritorious service at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
Reynoso, who graduated from UC San Diego School of Medicine, made the choice to join the US Navy in 2019 to follow her dreams of conservation and becoming a dive medical officer.
However, after being stationed at Walter Reed, Reynoso discovered her passion for helping people and has since changed her career path to that of one in medicine.
The award came as a complete surprise to Reynoso as she hadn’t been recognized previously as a Blue Jacket of the Quarter, and it’s rare to receive the BJOY without first having been recognized at the quarter. However, as one of the top 10 percent in her initial training class, which enabled her to select Walter Reed as her first duty station, it’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to see why Reynoso was impressing the right people with her work ethic.
“My command loves to surprise its sailors,” Reynoso shared via email how it happened. “I was brought to the Tower of Walter Reed and the command leadership announced the news to myself, my direct department leadership, and various other leadership from the hospital. The Commanding Officer, Executive Officer, and Command Senior Enlisted Leader congratulated me and briefly spoke of my work, then presented a military challenge coin representing Navy Medical Readiness and Training Command. It is rare for people with only two years in the Navy to be selected at a command this size. I also was never selected when going up for blue jacket of the quarter, so I had no expectation of being selected for the year. On the other hand, three of my mentors are Senior Sailor of the Year laureates. They were selected three ranks above me, a much more competitive pool. So in the end, I knew I was given the best resources and opportunity.”
Recently, Oakdale City Council recognized Reynoso for her distinguished award and her mother Catherine Rhee accepted on her daughter’s behalf.
In true fashion, Reynoso was humbled by the attention she received from winning her award, saying, “I will admit I did not like growing up in Oakdale and when you’re growing up it feels like no one cares about you. I say this because I think there are a lot of young people that still feel the way I did. My response to this is, I am a 25-year-old woman. I have been around the world and met a lot of people. Some people will remember me, most won’t. But the people in Oakdale will remember you for many years, and they really do care about you. I thought I had left and moved on with my life, but next thing I know my hometown is cheering me on from across the country.”
Rhee admitted, “I didn’t realize how big of a deal this was until I talked to a friend in the Navy but I am so proud and overwhelmed.”
The Blue Jacket of the Year is a junior enlisted sailor selected through a highly competitive process throughout a command that fully embodies the Navy core values of honor, courage, and commitment.
Rhee never expected Reynoso to go into the Navy but said that her daughter has always had a passion for conservation and saving the environment. Now, she’s shifted that dedication to helping others at one of the most prominent military medical centers, which also serves as the President of the United States’ medical facility.
Reynoso’s path to Walter Reed may not have been a straight line but she’s thankful for all the dips and turns that have led her to her current place in life.
“What I enjoy the most about my current career path is that it is full of surprises,” Reynoso said. “I am in a far better place than I could’ve ever imagined for myself five or 10 years ago. I would even say I am glad I failed at obtaining some goals, because something better ended up coming around. The phrase ‘Luck favors those who try’ is no more true than in the Navy for me.”
Reynoso admitted, growing up in a small town had its challenges but traveling the world has given her a new perspective on her childhood experiences. One teacher in particular helped shape her future self.
“I personally owe a great deal to Ms. Springer’s speech class at Oakdale High School,” she said. “Looking back, a lot of my speeches were not good, even cringe-worthy. However, I think her class gave me the ability to try anything. You can prepare endlessly for a speech, but the best preparation is just getting up there and doing it. You have to come to terms with the fact that you’re going to look ridiculous in front of people before you see improvements. I wouldn’t say I am a confident person. Rather I am a person who tries, because I know it has worth whether I am confident or not.”
Reynoso offered a bit of advice for those looking to follow a similar path.
“Be an enlisted corpsman for a Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) unit. Graduate from UC San Diego School of Medicine. Commission in the Navy as a Dive Medical Officer.”
Then, she added a few nuggets of wisdom earned from experience, “Don’t skip classes in college, but don’t beat yourself up if it happens. Failing doesn’t mean it’s over, failing means try again. Remember beauty isn’t everything, but don’t forget you are beautiful. Always have ‘Thank You’ cards on hand. Have many mentors and always follow up. Some people won’t like you. Maybe for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reason, but always be friendly and kind. Save your money. Chances are it’ll be out of fashion in 10 years anyway. Always tell the truth. It is better to accept the consequences of your actions, than the consequences of lying. Congratulate others more than yourself. It is possible to be both humble and proud of yourself. Listen to understand, not to respond. Ask for help from people that disagree the most. Being able to forgive is one of the most underrated skills. Learn to be a good follower, it’ll help you in the future when you become a leader.”
Reynoso shared one final bit of wisdom before signing off, saying, “Hard honest work is always rewarded one way or another. Even if you never obtain any of your short-term goals or feel behind the curve on your long-term goals, good things come to those that work hard. I think my greatest attribute is that I consistently try hard. I don’t think there was ever a time I was the highest excelling person in a room, but I personally keep excelling.”