Child Refugee, Midshipman, Future Doctor
POSTED ON: Monday, March 29, 2021 11:00 AM by MC2 Dana Legg
Through a child’s eyes, a spontaneous trek through the forest might seem like an epic adventure. However, as she got older, Midshipman 1st Class Ngun Cer “Mimi” Chin realized that the days-long, uphill trudge through the humid forests of Burma was far more dangerous than it seemed at the time.
Chin and her family are Christian, and belong to the Chin and Shan ethnic groups, placing them in Burma’s ethnic and religious minorities. In 2006, when Chin was 8, the military accused her mother of aiding an injured rebel. Chin’s mother chose to flee the country with her two daughters, rather than face jail or worse.
At that particular time in Burma’s history, many others also felt the need to flee for their safety. To leave the country, Chin’s family would have to travel hundreds of miles on foot under the cloak of darkness to the coast.
Chin explained that they took a sort of underground pathway to flee the country.
"We were walking with a group of 20 or 30 people, and I remember some of the women were falling to the back of the group from being so exhausted,” said Chin. “I felt scared, but I just kept following my mom and my younger sister."
After a few days and nights of stealthy travel through the forest, Chin’s family would have to travel by fishing boat across an inland section of the Andaman Sea to reach Thailand and escape persecution. With the limited room on the boats available, emotions ran high.
“In the chaos of the crowd, I was separated from my mother and sister,” said Chin.
Chin quickly found herself huddled under a tarp with logs placed on top to conceal her and the other travelers--scared she’d never see her family again.
During their crossing, the boats were stopped by Royal Thai Police, and Chin recalls being terrified that they might take her away without her family. Luckily, it was then that she was reunited with her mother and sister and they were able to continue their trip together.
After their arrival in Thailand, Chin and her family continued on foot, walking for several days through the humid, dense jungle, traveling at night and resting during the day.
The group eventually reached the border between Thailand and Malaysia--Chin arriving with only one flip flop after losing her shoes aboard the fishing boat.
“I was happy to have a change of scenery from darkness and swamps,” said Chin.
However, Chin and her family had yet another obstacle to overcome. They would have to illegally cross the border without being caught. They briefly hid in some bushes to avoid border police before scaling a metal fence to enter Malaysia.
On the other side of the border awaited a small fleet of cars. Packed like sardines, Chin and her family would travel by car to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where they would be united with her aunt. After travelling more than 1,000 miles, Chin and her family had finally reached safety.
“I felt relieved,” said Chin. “I also thought it was exciting to meet new family members.”
In 2007, Chin and her family entered the U.S. through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who placed them with a family in Jacksonville, Florida, where they stayed for approximately a year before settling in Savage, Maryland.
Years later, Chin was in middle school when she found out her mother had heart cancer, and needed to undergo chemotherapy.
“She just wasn’t the same anymore,” said Chin. “It was extremely tough to watch. I would’ve done anything for her.”
Chin and her sister did their best to take care of her mother through her chemotherapy. On the way to what was supposed to be one of her last treatments, Chin’s mother collapsed. She soon after died from a brain aneurysm that was exacerbated by medications and chemotherapy.
“I couldn’t do anything for her, and I wished I was a doctor and that I knew something that could help her or ease her pain,” said Chin.
Chin recalls that moment to be when she decided she wanted to pursue medicine, and explained that she wanted to help other people so they don’t have to go through what she did and lose a loved one prematurely.
Chin learned of the opportunities that might allow her to work in military medicine when she joined the Army Junior ROTC program in her freshman year of high school.
“My family and I were always grateful to the United States for basically saving our lives,” said Chin. “I felt the best way to give back for that was by serving the military.”
In JROTC, Chin learned about the Naval Academy and met her mentor, senior Army instructor retired Lt. Col. Patricia Marshall.
“Mimi became like a daughter to me,” said Marshall. “Over the course of the few years she spent in the ROTC program, she told me her story. I couldn’t believe what she’d been though.”
According to Marshall, Chin could always help other cadets feel like they could get through anything.
“She is an incredible woman, and she is so resilient,” said Marshall.
Upon her admission to USNA, Chin joined the Navy medicine club her plebe year.
“From there I was exposed to shadowing and volunteer opportunities,” said Chin. “The first experience I had was orthopedics in the brigade medical unit, and it was amazing. The midshipmen came in with problems, and after seeing the doctor, I saw that they felt reassured. That motivated me and helped me feel certain that this was the path I wanted to take.”
She began completing the required courses for one of the limited Navy Medical Corps billets, working with USNA’s Pre-Medical and Pre-Dental Advisory Committee (PPAC).
“People can go through experiences like what she’s been through, and react very differently,” said Dr. Brian Rehill, a biology professor and a member of the PPAC. “She doesn’t think of herself in any way as a victim, and I think Mimi is very courageous. She’s doing a difficult thing, inside another difficult thing, on top of the fact that she’s being educated in a language that isn’t her first.”
On Dec. 16, 2020 after completing the required courses, scoring well on the MCAT, and completing her Navy Medical Corps interview, Chin received news she was selected for a medical corps billet. She will be one of only 12 midshipmen from the Naval Academy’s Class of 2021 who will go directly to medical school following her commissioning.
“After I complete medical school, I’ll begin my residency,” said Chin. “I want to stay in for 20 years, maybe even longer. I’m not sure yet what I want to specialize in, but I’m so grateful to everyone that has helped me get to this place.”
Aside from her studies, Chin is also the chief of staff for the Midshipman Action Group, a service-oriented extracurricular activity which provides educational, environmental, and social service volunteering opportunities for the Brigade. Chin volunteered at St. Mary’s High School in Annapolis, Maryland, teaching English as a second language. She eventually led the program her second class year, teaching lessons on her own.
“It was really rewarding,” said Chin. “Especially because I was once in their shoes, and I was able to give back.”
Additionally, at the request of Marshall, Chin returned to Howard High School in her second class year as a midshipman to share her story with JROTC cadets and local veterans.
“Mimi is a small girl, and can look unassuming,” said Marshall. “But when she was on that stage telling the story of how she arrived to the U.S., and what she went through, those grown men were in tears.”
Upon graduation and commissioning, Chin will continue her education at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.
“If you have a goal, it is possible to achieve it regardless of what anyone says,” said Chin. “I’m grateful to God for giving me the strength to get through all the tough days in my life, and for helping me achieve all my hopes and dreams.”
As the undergraduate college of our country’s naval service, the Naval Academy prepares young men and women to become professional officers of competence, character, and compassion in the US. Navy and Marine Corps.