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How one man overcame a health issue to fulfill his dream of becoming a soldier


Time now for StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative, recording and sharing the stories of service members and their families. Ocean Subiono wanted to be a soldier from a very young age. He joined his high school Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program as a freshman. He wanted to become a helicopter pilot. StoryCorps - he spoke with his father, Russell, about what happened when he tried to enlist.

OCEAN SUBIONO: I was 17 at the time, and I made it, like, 95% of the way through. The final step is for you to go and sit down with one of the military doctors, and they give their final stamp of approval and that's it, right? After that, you can go sign your enlistment contract and swear in. But the military doctor, he took one look at my face and he said to me, what's wrong with your eyes? I have what's called congenital ptosis. It's a disorder that doesn't allow your eyelids to fully develop. So my eyelids look droopy. Up until that point, I had never thought, oh, my eyes might be a problem 'cause I have 20-20 vision. But that military doctor decided that he wanted me to be sent out for extra testing. In that moment, I didn't really understand what was going on.


O SUBIONO: I didn't understand that my processing had stopped. But I was medically disqualified from military service for all branches.

R SUBIONO: You hadn't applied to any colleges because you really had put all your eggs into the military basket.

O SUBIONO: Yeah, I felt that God had put me on this earth to do this. And it felt like my entire life was ripped away from me.


O SUBIONO: It was complete darkness.

R SUBIONO: You know, Mom and I were both in a place where we just had no answers, and we couldn't do anything to take away that feeling of loss...


R SUBIONO: ...That you felt. But I had to let you walk that path by yourself. Luckily, you graduated your senior year and you become a firefighter.

O SUBIONO: Yeah. And then about seven years after my initial rejection, there was a guy on the crew who was in the Hawaii Army National Guard, and he was a helicopter pilot, which was what I wanted to do from the beginning. He set me up with his recruiter, and he got me to be able to redo the physical. I had this gut-wrenching feeling that I was going to walk through that door and find the same doctor, and it's like, oh, he's going to recognize me. And he's going to be like, no, I didn't let you in back then. What makes you think I'm going to let you in this time? But there was a different doctor there. He noticed my eyes. He didn't think it was a big deal. And he pushed me through. To achieve something that you've chased for years and years and years, I had given up on it, and then it kind of came back and found me again.

R SUBIONO: Yeah. I'm very proud of you, and I'm very proud of the man that you are today.

SIMON: That's Russell Subiono and Sergeant Ocean Subiono in Honolulu, Hawaii. Ocean currently serves as a combat medic with the National Guard and continues to work as a firefighter for the Honolulu Fire Department. Their interview was recorded in partnership with Hawaii Public Radio and is archived in the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jo Corona