By Annette P. Gomes, Warrior Care and Transition
ARLINGTON, Va. The pursuit of life, liberty and happiness is a well-known phrase in the Declaration of Independence and an inalienable right Pfc. Rong Zhang holds near and dear to her heart. In 2013, Zhang and her husband moved from China to California in pursuit of the American dream.
"[We moved because] I wanted a better life for me and my family and to set an example for my daughter that hard work and perseverance will pay off," Zhang said. "I want her to be an outstanding individual, so I thought that process should begin with me."
Zhang, who obtained a degree in textile and design while living in China, wanted more out of life than what she had; a chance encounter with a woman who had recently joined the U.S. Navy would grant her that wish.
"I struck up a conversation with a woman who would later become a good friend. She shared her experience in the Navy with me and took me to a military recruitment center where I decided the Army would be a good fit," Zhang recalled.
Zhang enlisted in the Army in 2017 and found that the Army's requirements for its Soldiers to continue to improve and maintain certain levels of physical fitness and academic qualifications, gave her motivation to continuously improve herself. The combination of opportunity and driving force pushed Zhang to keep working hard.
In August of 2017, just eight weeks into her advanced training, Zhang received life changing news.
"When I received the news I had cancer, I thought I would be dead in a few years or a few months and I wasn't going to get to see my daughter grow up," Zhang said. "I also was not going to be able to take care of my parents when they needed me so I wanted to go back to California for treatment. I wanted to be with my family when I die,"
Zhang says her physicians and immediate medical attention made the difference between life and death. She was treated at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia. Doctors informed her there was an 80 percent chance she would recover following the chemotherapy treatment.
After a brief stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Zhang was transferred to the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Belvoir, Virginia to continue her recovery. Fort Belvoir Transition Coordinator, Jesus M. Febo-Colon, says Zhang not only survived, but she has thrived and has been a guiding light herself for many Soldiers and cadre.
"While fighting her Cancer, she remained fully involved with the return to duty program, remain in the Army work assignments. She was detailed to our 12th Aviation Company here at Fort Belvoir as a supply specialist and excelled on all tasks assigned to her," said Febo Colon. "Her high level of dedication, professionalism, and motivation are second to none. She has been assigned duties normally assigned to a Sergeant - in spite of her limited experience in the field," Febo-Colon said.
Zhang received her last chemotherapy treatment in January of 2018, but shortly after she would face another family crisis. Her five year old daughter, Vivian, was diagnosed with ventricular septal defect, which resulted with her having a hole in her heart.
"It was difficult to deal with [my daughter's condition]. I wanted her to be a normal kid. I questioned what I did, but the feeling quickly subsided. We now focus on her medical attention," she said.
Besides returning to duty, Zhang set several goals for herself including obtaining a degree in accounting and strengthening her English language skills as it is her second language. However, there's one goal that is particularly near and dear to her heart.
"My biggest goal is to have my parents emigrate to the U.S. from China," Zhang said. "This country has provided me so much and I just want to provide a better life for them here in the land of opportunity."