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Commander visits alma mater during Miami Navy Week

Rear Adm. Guido F. Valdes, commander of Naval Medical Forces Pacific and a double alumnus of the University of Miami, visited the University as part of Miami Navy Week and its signature outreach program.
Three decades ago, Rear Adm. Guido F. Valdes, commander of Naval Medical Forces Pacific and chief of the Medical Corps, received a glossy brochure in the mail. At the time, Valdes was just a young student completing his Bachelor of Science in biology at the University of Miami and had recently been admitted to the University’s Miller School of Medicine.

The brochure contained an opportunity to join the United States Navy to become a medical officer. The offer included his attendance of four years of medical school, two weeks of training a year, and active-duty training at a military medical facility.

“And so, I said, ‘Where do I sign?’ ” Valdes recalled.

The rear admiral, a double alumnus of the University and native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, visited his alma mater for two days as part of Miami Navy Week and its signature outreach program, which set sail through South Florida this week.

On Monday, Valdes arrived at the Coral Gables Campus, met with President Julio Frenk, and toured the University of Miami athletics facilities. Valdes, who attended the University from 1984 to 1988, reminisced on his years as a student attending athletics events and sharing time on campus with several student-athletes. He even picked up a few fun facts while on the tour—including the origin of how the University’s beloved mascot, Sebastian the Ibis, received his name.

Valdes’ visit was a particularly special moment for the community, Frenk noted during their meeting, because he is an alumnus and a respected member of the Navy.

To conclude the day, Valdes spoke with veteran and ROTC students from the Veterans Student Organization and veteran alumni of the University.

“It was nice to have to opportunity to speak with the rear admiral. We talked about various places we’ve both been stationed and what it means to us to be a double ’Cane,” said Dan Brennan, a student in the Miami Herbert Business School pursing his Master of Business Administration. Brennan served for 11 years in the U.S. Army before returning to obtain his master’s degree.

On Tuesday, Valdes dropped by the Medical Campus, where he spent the afternoon touring the Gordon Center for Simulation and Innovation in Medical Education with Dr. S. Barry Issenberg, professor of medicine and Michael S. Gordon Chair of Medical Education; Dr. Amar Deshpande, professor of clinical medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology; and Angel Brotons, director of clinical training operations.

Valdes was also greeted by Dr. Henri Ford, dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School, and Dr. Nicholas Namias, chief of the Division of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery.

“I told them, ‘I feel that the University of Miami prepared me very well for what lay ahead, albeit unknown,’ but that’s what we always say,” he said. “You learn for the known, but you train for the unknown, right? You trained because you want to be ready for what’s coming. And I think that working here and being exposed to the caliber of professionals that worked here, and continue to work here, was great preparation.”

In addition to his trip to the University, Valdes spent time during Miami Navy Week at the Miami VA Medical Center, where he did one of his first rotations as a University medical student 30 years ago.

The son of Cuban immigrants, Valdes was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He arrived in Miami when he was 13 years old and has maintained close ties to the city ever since, noting that much of his family still lives in Miami. “You can never run away from your Cuban family! They’ll find you,” he joked. “We are a very close family.”

Upon graduation from the now Miller School of Medicine in 1992, Valdes completed a transitional internship at the National Naval Medical Center Bethesda and an emergency medicine residency at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth.

Throughout his distinguished career, Valdes held various positions within navy medicine. He was general medical officer at Branch Health Clinic Gaeta, Italy. He also was staff emergency physician at U.S. Naval Hospital Naples, Italy; U.S. Naval Hospital Rota, Spain; and the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. In addition, Valdes was executive officer at Naval Hospital Pensacola, commanding officer at Naval Health Clinic Corpus Christi, and deputy commander at Naval Medical Forces Atlantic. During his time in Italy, he met his wife, Barbara, who was serving as a Navy nurse.

Valdes also served as the officer-in-charge of Fleet Surgical Team Six, force surgeon for Riverine Group One, and executive officer for the Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit in Kandahar, Afghanistan, during Operation Enduring Freedom.

“[Being in Afghanistan,] you see a lot of bad stuff. At the same time, it was very rewarding to be able to save lives and send some people home at least in one piece. For me, that was the most rewarding and fulfilling deployment I’ve had,” he said.

Currently, Valdes serves as commander of Naval Medical Forces Pacific, overseeing 10 Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Commands on the West Coast and Pacific Rim. He is also the director of the San Diego Medical Market, overseeing the delivery and integration of health care at Naval Medical Center San Diego and Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton. He is qualified as a Fleet Marine Force Warfare Officer and has garnered multiple awards for his service.

Miami Navy Week features more than 60 events throughout Miami-Dade and Broward counties, bringing more than 50 sailors to South Florida. Navy Week was designed to educate people in cities throughout the U.S. about the Navy, including what life is like for sailors, the types of jobs that are available, and why the Navy is important to communities like Miami. This Miami Navy Week also highlighted the importance of STEM education through volunteer activities with local community partners.

In addition to Valdes’ visit to the University, the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard performed on Thursday evening at the Miami Hurricanes women’s basketball game as part of Miami Navy Week festivities in South Florida.

“I do wear the uniform with pride. Those of us who wear the uniform, we know what we represent,’’ Valdes said. “And we try to represent that as well as we can to the community. And I think that hopefully, we’ll leave Miami folks here with an opinion of the Navy or knowledge about the Navy that they didn’t have before.”

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