By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Born in the Philippines and raised in Texas, Navy Vice Admiral Raquel Bono is the Washington state director for COVID-19 Health System Response Management. She is the first, female, medical, three-star general in the U.S. Navy and is currently a senior fellow with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
In a news release about her appointment last month, Gov. Jay Inslee said, “Vice Admiral Bono… brings an impressive medical background, a long and distinguished military career, and a deep understanding of complex medical delivery systems. Her expertise will help us ensure that we can meet the needs of Washingtonians who are sick, or will become ill from COVID-19.”
Bono was the former chief executive officer and director for the Defense Health Agency. She led a joint integrated support agency that enabled all branches of the U.S. military medical services to provide those engaged in combat. She served in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm as head of casualty receiving for a fleet hospital in Saudi Arabia.
Bono will advise the governor, his staff, and state agencies on actions needed to address the capacity and strain across the health care system.
Bono retired from the military last fall. Despite having no ties with the Pacific Northwest, “Rocky,” as she is referred to by some colleagues, is the perfect person to lead the efforts to address the coronavirus outbreak, according to her younger brother, A.B. Cruz, who also is a U.S. Navy Admiral. Cruz said their parents stressed two things to them as children—service to country and education. In addition to their service in the Navy, their brother, who passed away, served in the Texas National Guard.
Bono comes from a family of physicians. Both her grandfather and father were physicians. She recalls as a young girl, telling her father she wanted to work in the hospital as a nurse. Her father asked why she didn’t want to be a doctor. She didn’t know at that time that she could be a doctor. Her father told her, “You can be anything.”
Their parents immigrated to the United States from the Philippines to San Antonio, Texas, where they were raised.
“Our parents stressed giving back to this country and service in some capacity,” said Cruz. “Academically, she’s brilliant,” Cruz recalled of growing up with his older sister. “She’s been the hardest-working, most studious person I’ve known. It was hard to be living under the same roof as her,” he joked. Cruz said that it would always seem that when he would bring home a report card that had all As and maybe a B+. She would have all As. The next quarter, he would have all As and she would have all A+s.
In addition to being a great student, Bono was a competitive swimmer in high school and was recruited to swim collegiately. Cruz recalled her sister’s dedication, waking up early in the morning to swim, go to school, swim after school, and staying up late to get her homework done.
“That’s when I saw what true self-discipline means,” said Cruz. “She has always been particular and meticulous in whatever she does.”
Bono attended the University of Texas at Austin for her undergraduate studies. She went on to attend medical school at Texas Tech through a sponsorship provided by the Navy. Cruz attended the U.S. Naval Academy and went into the service, where he spent his active duty in surface warfare and then specialized in special warfare which included work with the Navy Seals and combat crewmen.
Bono is a diplomat of the American Board of Surgery and also has an Executive MBA from the Carson College of Business at Washington State University.
Cruz noted that Bono consulted with him about taking the position offered by Inslee. She flew to Washington state on a Sunday and started on Monday, hitting the ground running.
“This crisis was ‘ripe’ territory for her expertise and leadership abilities.”
Cruz, who is now a lawyer and president-elect of the Board of Governors for the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, says that leading the effort against COVID-19 suits Bono because she’s experienced in providing leadership while working in crisis situations.
“She’s never shied away from a challenge and she’s always willing to help.” He added that her strength is addressing issues with medical delivery of resources, logistics, facility and lining them up in an optimal way in addition to caring for the patient. “The biggest thing,” Cruz added, “it’s a crisis and she’s a great leader.”
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.