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NEWS | Jan. 20, 2023

Profile in Professionalism: Cmdr. Diron Cundiff

By MC2 Amber Smalley

Cmdr. Diron Cundiff, a Navy Reserve Sailor, is a staff nurse who drills at Navy Reserve Center (NRC) Chattanooga where he mentors junior officers who are new to the unit, as well as provides guidance to the officer in charge (OIC) and assistant OIC. His mission is to maximize warfighter performance through optimized medical readiness tailored to operational requirements, to enhance the readiness of the medical force, to sustain expeditionary medical capability, and to train and develop the Navy Reserve Medicine forces.

In the civilian world, he is a registered nurse at a local hospital in Chattanooga and works in the electrophysiology lab and catheterization lab. There are many times when his civilian and Navy Reserve careers work in harmony with each other. 

“I have learned a lot in the different fields I have been through while working in the civilian world,” said Cundiff. “This allows me to bring back the knowledge that I gain and pass it on to Navy nurses, both reserve and active duty. Chattanooga is a very patriotic city, so the hospital is very supportive of my role as a Reserve Sailor.”

Cundiff has be exposed to many different Navy hospitals' systems and has learned the procedures and protocols for how each hospital functions.

“It has allowed me to bring many ideas and solutions back to my civilian hospital,” said Cundiff. “The experiences I get to participate in have allowed me to grow professionally in many ways that my fellow coworkers never get a chance to experience.”

Cundiff explained that the biggest way the two careers differ is in camaraderie.  He feels like, in the Navy, there is genuine care between shipmates (coworkers). 

“We as individuals do better when our shipmates do better,” said Cundiff. “Teamwork is paramount to success and morale. We uphold our duty to ‘do the right thing’ no matter the situation.”

He described that through his time in the civilian workforce, he has found it hard to discover this same kind of unity.

After completing nursing school, Cundiff joined the Navy on active duty. His first command was National Navy Medical Center Bethesda from 2006-2009 as a nurse on a cardiac telemetry unit and the same day surgery unit. From 2009-2011, he took orders to Naval Health Clinic Cherry Point at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point as a nurse in the family medicine clinic.

Following 6 years, his active duty contract was up and he decided to make the transition to the Navy Reserve.

“After my active duty time, I was not ready to completely leave everything Navy,” said Cundiff. “I had met many great shipmates during my [initial contract] and had a passion for the regimented structure of military life. It was so great to check into the reserve center and be back around people who knew Navy language. It is incredible to go on annual training every year and reunite with fellow officers who I served with during my active duty time. My transition to the civilian world was difficult. It did not provide the camaraderie that the Navy had. Civilian coworkers do not truly understand my Navy stories about training and duty. The Reserve quickly filled the void and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

“We left North Carolina and moved to Chattanooga, Tenn.,” said Cundiff. “I immediately started up in the medical unit serving NRC Chattanooga.”

He was called to active duty in 2015 after the terrorist attack on Navy Reserve Center Chattanooga, where he served as the executive officer from Nov. 2015 until June 2016.

“Being chosen to come on board as XO at NRC Chattanooga was a real honor and filled a huge gap that myself and many other selected reserve Sailors [SELRES] were having at NRC Chattanooga,” said Cundiff. “Immediately after the attack, we wanted to do anything we could to help our shipmates who served at the NRC. It was a very frustrating time, so when I got the phone call from our commanding officer asking how I felt about coming aboard, I was grateful.”

Taking on the role as XO, Cundiff was exposed to a lot of different procedures and protocols that a nurse corps officer does not typically get to see or be a part of. Being a nurse corps officer, he did not have much experience in many of the tasks or programs he was suddenly responsible for, including creating the armed watch stander program and writing memorandums.

Cundiff believes he grew a lot as an officer during those months as XO and explained that it truly improved his leadership skills.  

“Personally, I feel that I have grown a great deal while in the Navy,” said Cundiff. “I have had the pleasure of getting to know many people that are from several different countries. Each of them was kind enough to show many of their customs and traditions. I learned how people can be different in so many ways, but we all come together to get the mission done.”

As a nurse, one thing Cundiff holds dear is life, so when he got the opportunity to escort a fallen warrior, he did it with the highest respect and honor.

“My most meaningful experience in the Navy Reserve was having the honor of escorting Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Randall Smith after he was killed in the [domestic terrorism] attack on NRC Chattanooga,” said Cundiff. “I escorted him from Chattanooga to Dover and remained there with him for a week as the military mortuary staff professionally did their job at preparing him for his return home and funeral. I escorted Smith back from Dover to Chattanooga going through several different cities, sharing his life and duty with many people along the way.”

Cundiff knew Smith and worked alongside him every drill weekend and countless encounters when he would come into the NRC during the week.

“He was an outstanding Shipmate, and family man,” said Cundiff. “As we left Dover and headed for the airport in Philadelphia, it was incredible to see the many supporters that got out at 0400 to pay tribute as we drove by. Every bridge was hung with American flags and hundreds of supporters around each one. I had never been part of something like that, but it truly was most fitting for this Sailor who had paid the ultimate sacrifice for all of us.”

Even with a career he loves, Cundiff finds his most important work in another aspect of his life. One of his passions is motivational speaking for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

“Using my story to help educate others and help those in trouble is more than a passion. I feel that it is my true ‘purpose’ in this life,” said Cundiff.

On August 23, 1998, Cundiff and his fiancée, Melissa Boerner were struck by a drunk driver outside of Dallas, while returning home from a movie. Boerner was killed instantly, and Cundiff was taken to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, suffering from 3rd and 4th degree burns to 30% of his body. He spent a total of 15 months in hospital care, enduring 17 surgeries for his burns.

“I have been able to recover from all my injuries and use my story as a way to help others,” said Cundiff. “Through MADD, I have had the opportunity to speak at Victim Impact Panels to help convicted drunk drivers make better decisions in their future. In the Navy, I have been privileged to address Sailors at my active duty commands as well as the reserve center. Sharing my story during my mobilization to Guantanamo Bay also opened opportunities to travel to other commands, such as Kings Bay, Ga. in order to help Sailors stationed there.”

Another passion of Cundiff’s is bagpiping. He plays the Scottish highland bagpipe.

“I began learning at the age of 19 in 1997, and still find as much joy in it today as I had when learning,” said Cundiff. “It has provided me with so many opportunities that I would never have experienced. I play in a local competition band, Chattanooga Pipe Band. We travel throughout the southeast and compete in the Scottish Highland Games.”

Despite his busy civilian and military nursing schedule, and his public speaking, Cundiff is a true patriot, dedicating his time to play bagpipes during military memorials, veteran funerals, and Memorial to the Fallen Five, a ceremony honoring the service members killed in the attack on NRC Chattanooga that occurred in 2015.

“Solo piping has allowed me the most opportunities to interact with people,” said Cundiff. “I get to play at many functions throughout the year, such as weddings, parades memorials and funerals.”