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University of Hawaii Celebrates First Commissioning of Midshipman

19 December 2023

From Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeremy Boan

UH established its Naval ROTC program in fall 2021; Midshipman 1st Class Mahinalani Vongsy, a native of Hawaii, transferred to UH just as it was starting the program.
Midshipman 1st Class Mahinalani Vongsy receives her ensign shoulder boards from her parents during a commissioning ceremony aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial.
PEAR HARBOR (Dec. 15, 2023) Midshipman 1st Class Mahinalani Vongsy receives her ensign shoulder boards from her parents during a commissioning ceremony aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial, Dec. 15, 2023. Vongsy was the first midshipman to be commissioned through the University of Hawaii Naval ROTC program. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeremy R. Boan)
Midshipman 1st Class Mahinalani Vongsy receives her ensign shoulder boards from her parents during a commissioning ceremony aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial.
231215-N-UL352-1044
PEAR HARBOR (Dec. 15, 2023) Midshipman 1st Class Mahinalani Vongsy receives her ensign shoulder boards from her parents during a commissioning ceremony aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial, Dec. 15, 2023. Vongsy was the first midshipman to be commissioned through the University of Hawaii Naval ROTC program. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeremy R. Boan)
Photo By: Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeremy Boan
VIRIN: 231215-N-UL352-1044

The Naval ROTC unit at the University of Hawaii celebrated its first commissioning of a midshipman Dec. 15 during a ceremony onboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial.

UH established its Naval ROTC program in fall 2021. Midshipman 1st Class Mahinalani Vongsy, a native of Hawaii, transferred to UH just as it was starting the program.

“I'm really grateful to be the first person to be commissioned from the UH ROTC program. Having someone who's kind of local here and has family here is really good for the community,” said Vongsy.

Vongsy is the daughter of parents who both retired from U.S. military service. Her mother, a Filipina immigrant, was a naval officer and her father, a second-generation immigrant from Laos, was an enlisted Army soldier.

“I think just seeing my parents and how they lived, getting to travel and love their jobs, that's really what made me want to go into the military and then into the Navy specifically,” said Vongsy.

At its inception, UH ROTC had a small number of students and staff faced with the challenge of starting a ROTC program with no group experience. According to the unit’s commanding officer, Vongsy took responsibility upon herself to make sure her fellow midshipmen were organized, timely, and informed while also helping those who were struggling.

“We didn't ask her to do that, she did it of her own initiative. But we saw very early on that she has an above average amount of maturity and willingness to take responsibility,” said Capt. William Ellis, commanding officer of the UH Naval ROTC. “She was an early candidate for leadership positions in the battalion, including serving as battalion commander. We owe her our gratitude for being a selfless peer leader, especially in the beginning, when we were all figuring it out as we went along.”

Vongsy participated in an internship at U.S. Pacific Fleet in summer 2022. She and her fellow midshipmen participated in a variety of activities and training events, to include small-boat handling, anti-terrorism force protection drills, and shipboard damage control training.

“I think the internship is just really good at exposing you to all the facets of the Navy, including the Marine Corps, getting underway, and even shore side,” said Vongsy.

Vongsy will be assigned to the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG-67), where she will work to become a surface warfare officer. Her goal is to eventually transfer into the medical corps.

“I think surface warfare kind of just prepares you to see the most of the Navy and gives you an idea of everything that you'll need to see as an officer,” said Vongsy. “What I’m looking forward to most going to the Shiloh is just meeting new people. I really like to meet people, to see where they're from and why they joined the Navy.”

Vongsy’s parents will each play a special role in the ceremony. Her mother will be the commissioning officer, and her father will receive her first salute. According to Ellis, being the daughter of immigrants makes Vongsy a great role model for other students who might not think the military is a welcoming place.

“She brings a healthy diversity of background. She’ll have her own unique perspective on issues the ship faces or how the crew gets along with each other,” said Ellis. “She’ll be one voice of many, but that chorus can almost always come to better solutions.”
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