E1 to O6 Commanding Officer, over forty years of service

by Jaciyn Matanane, U.S. Naval Hospital Guam Public Affairs
Stripes Guam

AGANA HEIGHTS, Guam (May 2018) - A family of eight hundred, led by U.S. Naval Hospital Guam (USNH Guam) commanding officer, Capt. Dan Cornwell, scheduled to retire after serving over forty years of honorable service, on June 29, 2018.

Cornwell, the son of Dan and Opal Cornwell, and a native of Martinsville, Illinois, enlisted in the United States Navy in 1975 and commissioned in 1988. He joined the Navy to see the world, and he has.

“I’ve been around the world a couple times, served in two conflicts, did my best every step of the way, trying to make a difference,” said Cornwell. “I could not have written a better end to this novel, starting out as an undesignated recruit onboard the USS Enterprise the fall of 1975 and ending up in the command suite of the Navy’s newest hospital, having the opportunity to lead a team that makes a difference every day and impacts hundreds of thousands of lives.”

As a junior Medical Service Corps officer, he reported to his first command, Naval Hospital San Diego. Then, he was called to serve in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Bahrain, as a Lieutenant Junior Grade Officer. Serving in the desert, one would think would be memorable, for Cornwell, it was his tour to Fallujah, Iraq, 2007-2008. He had the opportunity to work with a great team in renewing the city’s Public Health System, from renovating the community hospital to restoring sewer lines.

“We brought back a sense of normalcy,” said Cornwell. “I called upon my friends to support our efforts when we opened a new clinic. My friends sponsored toy drives, bringing in more than 10,000 beanie babies and stuffed animals. We were a world apart, in the middle of a war zone, but many things in life are so similar, seeing the joy in children’s faces when given a toy, and the relief and comfort from the adults seeing the clinic open and available. That period of time was life-changing for me and many others.”

Prior to Fallujah, Cornwell was selected for out-service training for the Masters of Healthcare Administration Program at Baylor University. After graduation, he reported to Branch Medical Clinic Makalapa, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, as assistant director. He travelled, grew in his career, and grew as an officer, assuming positions in support of the Navy mission and Navy Medicine in Italy, Arizona, Iraq, Illinois, California, Diego Garcia, Texas, Washington, Maryland, Rhode Island, Indianapolis, Hawaii, and Guam. He went from E-1 to O-6.

His final command, Cornwell reported as commanding officer, U S Naval Hospital Guam in June 2016. As commanding officer, he instilled family, partnerships and loyalty. He always asked his sailors and civilians to “do their best.”

“The two things that I have taken from Capt. Cornwell as a leader to emulate my career is his focus on being a part of the Navy family and his motto ‘service before self,’ said Cdr. James Hagen, former Director for Administration, U S Naval Hospital Guam. “He genuinely cares for all his staff, from the new sailor checking in to their first command, to the most senior civilian, and he made that evident on a daily basis.”

He is friendly and personable. He walked the halls, smiling, greeting patients and staff, and many times, had a contagious laugh. Despite the grown-up responsibilities, it was important to live life and have fun.

“I was Dan’s sponsor in 1989 when we were ensigns at Naval Medical Center (NMC), San Diego. As his sponsor, it was my responsibility to make sure he got settled in to NMC and of course ensure he was introduced to the ‘social’ life in America’s Finest City,” said fellow sailor, best friend, and now retired Captain, Mike Hendee. “One evening I brought him to a party, and while standing there minding our own business, a drink was ‘magically’ knocked over and spilled all over the floor. It was at that moment when I first heard the famous Cornwell cackle. After he was done laughing, he looked right at me and said, ‘let’s get out of here before someone catches us!’ It was then that I realized I had met my brother from another mother and it became one adventure after another.”

Inspired as a young officer, Cornwell developed passion for his job and for the Navy, and it was clear that he was on a path to become a great leader. Aside from his wife, Rachel, and his five children, Olivia, Sydney, Jack, Henry and Charlie, his parents were his inspiration and motivation to achieve.

“My parents inspire me, always, but over a lifetime one meets many individuals who inspires and motivates you to the next level,” said Cornwell. My parents were and are amazing, growing up in a small farming community you understand sacrifice, hard work, and happiness. Inspiration comes in many shapes and sizes, from the 90-year old veteran who paved the road before us and provided the very freedom that many take for granted, to the 17-year old recruit ready to conquer the world and keep us free and safe.”

Cornwell’s parents are both deceased, with his mother’s recent passing in March 2018. Although they are physically gone, they will always be a part of his life. Before his mother’s passing, she was able to write about her son.

“He asked me to go with him when he signed up for the Navy,” said Opal. “He went from a high school graduate to a Navy man in less than a week. He went from a big brother of five to a big brother of thousands. Proud of the career he has had and is having and very proud of the family he and Rachel have created.”

During his tenure at USNH Guam, his accomplishments include the establishment of a mobile clinic on Naval Base Guam, “bringing the provider to the patient” and the re-establishment of the USNH Guam Fitness Center, with a mission to “keep the Guam military family ready, healthy, and on the job.” These may seem like great accomplishments, but he has an even greater accomplishment, and that is his family.

“I have a beautiful family who I love, and most of the time they love me too,” Cornwell said with a laugh.

As much as he is happy to have his family, his family is just as happy to have him. His wife, Rachel, admires his ability to function at home after a long day at work.

“In spite of all that he has to do on a daily basis, he still finds the time and energy to be a fantastic father to our five kids and that’s a gift no amount of money can buy,” said Rachel. “I know he probably didn’t imagine having kids so late in life, but let me tell you, he’s a natural. I love watching him with our kids. It is one thing to see him running a hospital, but it is another thing to see him running around playing flag football, soccer, taking the kids swimming, or even just watching him help the kids with their homework. I hope someday they realize what an amazing and dedicated father they have. He’s my hero and in his legacy lies a path worth following.”

USNH Guam is his family too. He stressed that every day, from asking Sailors to take care of each other, reminding Sailors to call home and talk to “mom” every once in a while, to command family fun days and picnics.

“If I learned one thing from Capt. Cornwell, it's that commands, especially smaller ones, need to be viewed as a family,” said former Executive Officer, USNH Guam, Capt. John C. Nicholson. “If you believe in the members of the command family, care for and support them as you would a family member, and trust that they have the family's best interest at heart, the members of the command will rise to any challenge and never cease to amaze. I definitely saw this at USNH Guam.”

A well-rounded leader, prepared to stow his uniform, but will always have the Navy in his heart. Cornwell takes with him a Legion of Merit and Bronze Star and will continue to wear his Good Conduct Medal with lots of pride. He will continue to touch the lives of many.

“Captain Cornwell is the definition of a great leader,” said previous assistant Director for Nursing Services, USNH Guam, Cdr. Laura McMullen. “What makes him so special is that he genuinely cares. He cares about our country and his organization, but most importantly, he cares about people. I count myself blessed to have had the honor and privilege to work with him and learn from him, and know that I am a better officer because of him. The Navy is richer for his four decades of service.”

Fair winds and following seas Captain, we have the watch.

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