main story image for facebook sharing


Women's History Month: VADM Raquel Bono and RADM Elaine Wagner

Navy leaders and pioneers

"From the Revolutionary War to current conflicts, women have played a crucial role in the security of our nation and the success of the U.S. Navy. Join us as we celebrate Women's History Month by profiling women leaders and pioneers across the Navy."

Women's History Month Vice Adm. Raquel Bono graphic.

Vice Adm. Raquel C. Bono, Director, Defense Health Agency Medical Corps
Q: Why did you decide to join and serve in the Navy?

Bono: It's really interesting.

I joined the Navy to go to medical school because of the health professions scholarship program. But I decided to stay in the Navy when I learned after my first deployment to the first Gulf War, what it meant to serve. It was during that deployment I developed an appreciation for what it meant to be part of a larger effort, and how important that was and continues to be even if I'm just one person. That's what's kept me in the Navy.

Q: Let's talk a little bit about your role models or maybe the mentors you've had along the way who have influenced you and helped guide you. Any ones you want to highlight and what their contribution has been?

Bono: Absolutely.

You can't do this and continue to serve and find ways to contribute to the organization unless you have people who are helping you, coaching you and mentoring you. My first mentor was my father, a retired O-6 also in the medical corps in the Navy. He gave me the initial push, the initial drive to see what I could accomplish.

And then in the Navy, I had such great mentors, like Admiral Bonnie Potter, the first female chief of the medical corps. She was the one who taught me that any time I spent in the Navy would be time and experience I would always be able to translate to a life or a job outside of the Navy. It developed a very strong message she imprinted on me.

And then Admiral Bill McDaniel, who was my CO when I served at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth. He believed in me, in my leadership skills and gave me an opportunity in my first department head job. Vice Admiral Don Arthur, the surgeon general of the Navy, was not only a strong advocate for me, he taught me about the larger picture of how Navy medicine and "Big Navy," and how it fit into the overall fabric of government and society and even world events.

Admiral Harry Harris, who is currently the commander of PACOM, was always been just a staunch supporter. He is someone I can always turn to for real, sound and critical advice about where I should apply myself and where I can continue to make meaningful contributions. There've been so many others. These are the ones who stand out in my mind.
Three photo collage VADM Bono (L-R) at baseball field with Sailors; giving speech; speaking with Chinese Sailor

Q: Any of those or any different ones who still mentor you now? I realize you're a vice admiral, obviously, you have your own level. But, do you still find people that you reach back, maybe retired or still active-duty, that you say, "Hey, what do I do in this situation?"

Bono: All the time.

Even today, I'll reach back to Maj. Gen. Elder Granger, who was the deputy director of (the TRICARE Management Activity)TMA and I was his chief of staff. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, he and I and Rear Adm. Chris Hunter - who was also the deputy director of TMA - were comparing notes. They're both retired, but they're both very active in health care delivery in a lot of different areas outside of the military.

Q: That's excellent. You mentioned earlier about your father being a mentor, and I think that kind of leads into our next question. Can you tell us about someone, perhaps in your family or otherwise, who has influenced you or challenged you to become more than you ever thought you might?

Bono: That's my dad.

I tell this story so many times: My father's also a surgeon, and he was in training when I was quite young. But I still remember waiting up for him when he'd come home from the hospital. And because I was the eldest, I get to stay up and wait for him. So he and I would have dinner together, and I would tell him, I wanted to become a nurse, so I could go to the hospital and see him. And that's when he said, "Well, why don't you want to be a doctor?" And I said, "I didn't know girls could be doctors." And that's when he told me, "You can be whatever you want." He said, "You just decide." And you know, he emphasized that.

I mean, I was seven years old when he told me that, but all through the rest of my life, he's always the one to show me I didn't have to settle for something just because somebody else told me. I could always aspire beyond their direction and encourage myself and be strong enough to lean forward and to reach for those goals. Ever since that time he calls me his intrepid explorer, because he taught me from an early age not to let conventional thinking or thought prevent me from reaching higher goals.
Three photo collage VADM Bono (L-R) coming off helo onto flight deck; all hands call; giving speech

Q: Let's talk a little bit about some of your past assignments. Can you tell us, which past assignments are the most memorable to you and maybe why? Maybe if you've got some story from one of those that you can share?

Bono: First off, I've been one of those people who's never had a bad assignment.

I mean I've just enjoyed every one of them. They've all taught me something different. A couple of the highlights are my tour as a CO in Jacksonville (Florida) at the hospital there was probably one of my most defining assignments. That's where I found that even when the situation is one you cannot control - and there are a lot of them - even when circumstances would otherwise have a negative influence on people or frustrate people, what I learned is when you come together collectively, and look beyond the challenges it becomes incredibly easy to bring your efforts together and move past those challenges. In the process, what was really defining about that was by setting our sights forward, we were able to address those challenges.

My first deployment to the first Gulf War: That was very memorable, because it's where I really developed a sense of a much bigger purpose out here. That was a real profound lesson for me and my goal was to contribute to it and, if I couldn't find a way to contribute to it, then I shouldn't get in the way of that either.

My tour at PACOM taught me so much about the interconnectedness of societies and governments across the globe that the world really has gotten flat. The United States and the United States military, are not an isolated entity. We're very much interconnected with other societies.

The most recent one before this job was another memorable one: Transitioning Joint Task Force CAPMED into the National Capital Region Medical Directorate. That was a real study in making change happen. I'm not going to say it's easy or hard or smooth, because a lot of it wasn't. But, I think, the defining lesson was how you could take seemingly disparate and opposing views and actually find the middle ground. I think that was a real strong and powerful lesson for me. Every one of my assignments have been great, and every one of them has given me some kind of life lesson and professional lesson.

Q: What does being a leader in the Navy mean to you?

Bono: It's so many things.

I think being a leader in the Navy means making a difference for the people who are in the Navy, including their family. Making a difference in their lives in terms of their health care and their ability to contribute to the overall mission.

Often, we think about leadership as something where you have direct command and control over somebody. But I've always thought the most effective kind of leader is somebody who can create an environment where people can align and synchronize their behaviors and their activities. I've found being an effective leader is really more about how well you can influence others. And you can influence people by creating the environment, by enhancing a person's natural abilities, to be directed toward an organizational goal. The leader provides that top cover and maneuver space so people can take chances. For me, being a leader in the Navy and the military and the Military Health System is really about creating that environment and that maneuver space for others to perform at their very best and to bring the organization closer to their goals.

Part of the reason I stayed in the Navy was not only because it meant that I could serve - I grew up with that from my parents - I stayed because the military provided venue where I could progress and advance based on my performance. I never felt like there was some kind of quota that I was meeting, that I met just by being here. But I always felt my ability to advance and progress was due to the recognition of my performance and my contribution to overall goals. I think anybody who's looking for an opportunity to prove themselves or to contribute, the military is one of those organizations that not only gives you the opportunity, but also gives you the tools to become more proficient at your skills and competencies.

It's an organization that invests in its people and allows you to develop the portfolio you need, not only to be successful while you're in uniform, but, as Admiral Potter told me, beyond. I think that's something society and others may not see very well sometimes. People who feel they are under-represented, they may not appreciate what an incredible opportunities serving the military might be.