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NMCP Counselor Selected for Commissioning Program

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. (NNS) -- Naval Medical Center Portsmouth congratulates Fire Controlman 1st Class Crystal McCullum, this year's only selectee for the Navy's Medical Service Corps In-Service Procurement Program (MSC-IPP) in Social Work.
McCullum has been in the Navy for almost 10 years. She has spent the last three as a Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program, or SARP, counselor at NMCP. That's when she realized her true passion, besides serving in the Navy, is helping people.
"I joined the Navy because I needed something to do, and I really didn't like it at first," said McCullum. "I eventually fell in love with the Navy and I really do feel great when I get up to come into work and help my patients."
With the announcement of her commissioning, she will get a chance to move on and help people on a much broader scale.
"I was really surprised with the announcement, and I keep looking at the letter in disbelief, said McCullum. "This is going to offer me the opportunity to do more than just addiction counseling and to possibly help people in a multitude of ways."
Because of her skill, dedication and passion for helping others, McCullum's selection was no surprise to the staff that she works with.
"She is a very natural fit as a counselor. She has the ability to remain warm and empathetic with the individuals to whom she provides care which allows her to build rapport and start the treatment process," said Senior Chief Interior Communications Electrician Donovan Marlin, SARP leading chief petty officer. "She is an excellent candidate with an amazingly bright future."
McCullum grew up in Florence, South Carolina, with few family members who'd served in the military. She always received good grades, and was accepted into the College of Charleston's streamlined program for prospective medical students with the University of South Carolina. Her goal was to become a doctor; joining the military wasn't on her mind.
"I went to college focusing in biology mainly because my parents always wanted me to be a doctor," said McCullum. "I tried my best, but I was also working full time and I started to lose the drive to continue on in a program I wasn't really excited about. I decided then that it was time to move on, so I gave the Navy a try."
In 2005, she joined the Navy's Delayed Entry Program with orders to report to Recruit Training Command. While at the Military Entrance Processing Station, she was given a number of options for a rating including rates in the nuclear field. After some debate and discussion, she settled on fire controlman.
"I chose the Navy because I had heard that the education and schooling was the best of all branches," said McCullum. "Then when she told me FC was one of the 'cleaner' rates - I would usually work in air conditioning, plus I would get to launch missiles and work on weapon systems - so I picked that." 
McCullum said a determining factor was that the nuclear field's schoolhouse was in South Carolina, but she wanted to go somewhere different.
Not even a year after joining the Navy, McCullum packed her uniforms and belongings into her sea bag and reported to her first command, the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) in Norfolk, Virginia. She spent five years there and continued her education in person at Old Dominion University when her operational tempo would allow it, and online when the ship was at sea. 
"I knew that I wanted to continue my education so after the requirement to be on board for a year was up, I tried to take as many classes as I could," said McCullum. "I think I drove my chain of command crazy with all my request chits, but getting my education was one of my biggest goals."
McCullum also said a major factor in choosing the counselor and social work field was the collateral duty positions she held while onboard Wasp. 
She was assigned as the departmental career counselor of the ship's C5I department as well as a sexual assault victim intervention advocate. She also discovered that she could apply to become a Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program counselor for her shore duty time.
"I feel like that is when I saw what it is like to help and guide my fellow Sailors, and I loved it," said McCullum. "I think that I was doing a great job and I actually liked what I was doing. I wanted to keep helping people as much as I could."
When it was time for her to apply for orders, she submitted her request to be detailed out of her rate and given the opportunity to attend the Navy Drug and Alcohol Counselor School (NDACS) in San Diego. She was initially denied by her detailer because of the critical manning of the FC rate. After the initial response, she talked with her chain of command and her enlisted community manager and was approved to apply for the program. She then had to report for a screening at the SARP program at Naval Station Norfolk and was approved.
"It was a shock at first when I went to screen at SARP. I didn't know that there were enlisted Sailors and Marines that were going there to manage their problems and were still able to go and do the jobs that needed to be done," said McCullum. "I knew after going there that this is something I could do forever."
After finishing NDACS, she reported to the Portsmouth medical center as a fully qualified SARP counselor. Here, she gets to help service members every day. She has completed her Bachelor of Science Degree in Sociology with an emphasis in social work. After finishing her degree, she applied to and was accepted at the University of South Carolina to continue her education, applying for the MSC-IPP process on her first try. McCullum didn't expect to be selected the first time and she feels extremely blessed. She estimates she will transfer around July 2015, and her departure will be felt by her colleagues.
"Anytime a Sailor as accomplished as FC1 leaves, it is difficult. No matter how prepared, through turnover, training, etc., it is hard to replace intangibles such as being the advocate for Sailors, time-tested corporate knowledge, and situational awareness," said Donovan. "I believe she will remain successful, continue to develop as a leader, and enrich the lives of those with whom she comes in contact." 
After completing the two-year period and getting her Master of Social Work Degree, she will become a commissioned naval officer.
"Getting a commission is really just the icing on the cake," said McCullum. "I am doing this because this job and helping people is what I love to do."
She will then get to pick where she would like to complete a two-year internship and receive her license to be a practicing social worker. There are three possible choices available to her already, and one is Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
"I could not believe that was a serious option for me. They are like the top in all things medicine" said McCullum. "That would be an incredible opportunity and my number one choice."
She's encouraged by others in the field she's spoken to on the phone.
"The people in this job sound so happy on the phone," said McCullum. "You can tell they really love their job. I am very excited to get out there and do my job."
In addition to McCullum, NMCP is also congratulates Operations Specialist 1st Class Cecilia Fosu. She was selected for the Medical Enlisted Commissioning Program and will become a member of the Navy Nurse Corps.
For more news from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, visit www.navy.mil/local/NMCP/
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