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NEWS | Aug. 11, 2023

Profiles in Professionalism: Lt. Cmdr. Todd Chen

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Raymond Maddocks, Commander, Navy Reserve Forces Command Public Affairs

In 2004, Todd Chen was going into his freshman year at the College of the Holy Cross. As part of the school’s First Year Program, Chen was required to complete some summer reading. One of the books on his reading list was called "Mountains Beyond Mountains," about a doctor working extensively in Haiti to help treat tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.
“I gained a lot of inspiration from that book,” said Chen. “It made me want to put myself out there and do something for the greater good —  something that would help people.”
When Chen, now a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve, recently saw orders to be an operations officer at the United Nations in the Central African Republic, he knew he had to take the opportunity.
“When I saw the orders, I really felt this was the opportunity I'd been looking for,” said Chen.
Although Chen jumped at the chance to take on the mission, he soon found making an immediate difference isn’t always as quick or easy as is often depicted in literature. According to Chen, situations from the routine to the emergent often arise — situations he needs to be ready to handle at all times.
“As an OPS officer I have certain things I do every day, things that I plan for,” said Chen. “The daily SITREP [situational report], for example is one of those things. Our office gets information from all the field offices all around the country and we verify, cross-check, compile it and send it out to mission leadership and UN headquarters by a certain time.”
Chen said other aspects of the job, although frequent, are often impossible to plan for.
“One of the reasons that we’re [the UN] here in this country is because of armed elements within the country that are either fighting each other or fighting the government," said Chen. "When I’m on the watch floor, I need to be ready at a moment’s notice to find out what is going on, get all pertinent information and report it up and across the chain. Sometimes we receive early warning information in advance of a potential event, and receiving and reporting that information in a timely manner is so important. When we’re able to do this, we can be better prepared for — or even prevent — a disastrous situation from happening.”
Chen said he feels despite — and maybe even because of — the mission's challenges, he is fulfilling the promise of the inspiration he felt when he first read that book back in college.
“It’s a little different, because the doctor in the book built a foundation from the ground up and the foundation of this this mission was already in place," said Chen. "But these orders are just what I was hoping for in the sense that I'm able to be a part of something bigger than myself and make a difference. It means a lot to me to be helping this country stabilize and to be contributing to the people who live here.”
In addition to the fulfilling assignment Chen also enjoys the opportunity to work with locals and meet military and civilian personnel from all over the world.
“I am the only U.S. military personnel at the joint operation center and I work with people from Rwanda, the United Kingdom, France, Togo, South Korea, Sweden and a lot more,” said Chen.
According to Chen, the assignment has given him valuable experience to bring back to his Reserve unit and Navy Reserve Center.
 "I really feel these orders are improving my warfighting readiness," said Chen. "I am developing watch standing experience in a joint environment, which is invaluable.”
When Chen finishes his time at the UN, he will go back to his civilian job as a math teacher at a combined middle and high school at a U.S. Navy base in Sasebo, Japan. Although being a Reserve officer and teaching algebra may seem worlds apart, Chen says some skills translate to both of his jobs.
“Obviously, the people I work with in each job are very different, but when it comes to motivating people and helping them engage with and improve at what they’re doing, there is more overlap than you’d think,” said Chen. “Also, the military has really helped me to manage people and to hold them accountable to a higher standard, and that is something I’ve definitely implemented in my civilian career.”