Homecoming

Nehkonti Adams enjoyed a wonderful childhood as a young girl living with her parents just outside of the Liberian capital of Monrovia. Everything changed when civil war broke out in 1989 forcing her family to escape Liberia in search of a new life in America. In this latest episode of Faces of the Fleet, we experience the incredible journey of Doctor Nehkonti Adams, whose work as an Infectious Disease Specialist in the Navy brought her back to the country her family left behind. 

Nehkonti’s Background

Nehkonti grew up in the Liberian capital of Monrovia; loved by her parents and enamored with the charms of her home country. Financially stable, well-educated and surrounded by a loving family, she enjoyed the traditions, culture and natural beauty that came with life there.

Her family owned and operated a medical clinic, where her mother was a nurse and her father was a physician specializing in cardiology. Though both of her parents worked in the medical field,  Nehkonti had never found interest in it; she wanted to be a dancer.

Nehkonti was young when she first realized her country was at war.  Her sister woke her up one morning and instructed her to roll onto the floor to avoid gunfire. The two then crawled to the bathroom to prepare for the day. They crawled to their meals for weeks to come, all to keep their heads below the window line. To the young Nehkonti, it felt like a game—little did she know that Liberia was in the midst of a coup d’état.  

Torn with a decision to remain in Liberia and hope for the best or to leave the country, Nehkonti’s parents took the latter option. Through the connection of a distant relative living in the United States, the Adams’ were able to get out of Liberia before the true violence began. They fled to Illinois in search of safety and stability.  

After a few years of living in the United States, Nehkonti began to understand the impact of the civil war on Liberia. Her parents would send money to relatives to help children go to school, help pay rent and to ensure family members could eat. Even then, it wasn’t until she joined the Navy that Nehkonti would gain a true understanding of the situation back in her childhood home.

The war was one of Africa’s deadliest civil conflicts in the post-independence era. In the years leading up to war, the Gio and Mano ethnic groups were persecuted by President Samuel Doe’s own tribe, the Krahn. Doe saw them as inferiors and ostracized them from the rest of the country. Tensions ran high.

Enter Charles Taylor, who had left President Samuel Doe’s controversial government after being accused of embezzlement. His group known as the NFPL (National Patriotic Front of Liberia) invaded Nimba County with the support of thousands of Gio and Mano people who had endured the wrath of President Doe since a previous attempted coup in 1985. After President Doe was killed in 1990, a brutal power struggle continued in the country until Taylor was elected President in 1997. 

The war claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Liberian citizens in a nation of just 2.1 million people. It displaced a million others in refugee camps in countries across the world. 

“To fully understand what had happened in the war, I just realized how fortunate we were to be in the United States,” Nehkonti explained. 

After meeting a Navy recruiter at lunch during her senior year in high school, Nehkonti started to view the Navy as an option to better herself while traveling the world. She’d been interested in dance and the possibility of becoming a flight attendant, but thought the Navy could offer her a more clear career path. 

“The recruiter said that, one, I would have money for school, which I wasn’t interested in at the time, but if I wanted to later on in life, I had money available for school. Instead, I would see the world. That’s why I joined, because I wanted to travel and see what different cultures looked like.”

Her first deployment began in 1995, visiting military hubs in South America and West Africa. During this time, Nehkonti gained a firmer grasp on what had happened to Liberia and its people. While on a deployment in Brazil, she met Liberians who were displaced from their homes by the war. While in West Africa, she met Liberian women her own age who could only survive by becoming commercial sex workers. Nehkonti realized how different her fate could have been had she not left the country. She knew then she wanted to help. 

“After that deployment I wanted to be a nurse to work with like refugees and displaced people. I started to take courses on the ship and then also at college when I got back and I was a pre-nursing student at a community college in Norfolk, Virginia. While I was doing these pre-nursing qualifications, I got my associates degree in science.”

In Virginia, there was a two-year waiting list for nursing school. While contemplating what to do about the wait, a friend of Nehkonti’s suggested she consider medical school. Though she was skeptical at first, she began taking some pre-med courses that complimented her pre-nursing courses—she was hooked.

Director of Tropical Medicine

Today, Nehkonti is the Navy’s Director of Tropical Medicine. Her role is to train military doctors and nurses in how to diagnose and treat infectious diseases that most healthcare practitioners don’t often see in the United States. During the Ebola epidemic, Nehkonti was a part of the Ebola Coordinating Committee at the U.S. Embassy in Ghana. She was instrumental in assisting the Ministry of Health in Ghana, helping to create a treatment plan for the country. 

Nehkonti’s work as Director of Tropical Medicine has also taken her back to the home she escaped with her family in 1986. 

In 2008, Nehkonti established a field mission to Liberia for military doctors and nurses to learn about tropical diseases from local Liberian healthcare workers and patients. It has not only helped her  reconnect with her roots, but it’s also allowed  her to reunite with her parents, who returned to Monrovia after the violence from the civil war had ended.  

Her father is now the head of the medical school in Monrovia and her mother runs a local school. During Nehkonti’s field missions, she spends extra time outside of work to volunteer at local schools, orphanages and hospitals. She even helps set up dance competitions and libraries, uniting communities who are still struggling from the aftermath of the war.

Nehkonti still remembers what it was like to be that little girl scared to look out her window. She finds it hard to imagine what her life would have been like if it had been marred by conflict, so she feels she can never stop giving back to those whose lives were affected.

“My life could have taken a very different shape had we not left. Even though Liberia is still rebuilding itself from the war, I know I need to do more to give back to this place.”

Today, Nehkonti is serving on the front lines in Japan, using her knowledge of infectious diseases to tackle COVID-19. Throughout her time in the Navy, she has conducted missions in  over 40 countries around the world, including Togo, Ghana, India and Brazil.

Become a Doctor in the Navy

Navy Physicians attend to service members and their families in much the same way civilian doctors would. They typically enjoy an accelerated career track, with opportunities to take part in humanitarian relief efforts stateside and around the world. They work at top military medical facilities and are privy to advanced training and technology so progressive, the civilian world may not be aware of it yet.

Navy healthcare offers the ability to focus on the finer points of medicine without the financial and business complications of a private practice. Start-up costs, malpractice insurance, staffing, equipment and office management don’t exist for Navy physicians.

Navy Physicians also:

-Earn excellent compensation in an established, thriving practice

-Experience manageable patient ratios for high-quality, one-on-one care

-Receive hands-on experience and Navy-funded advanced training

-Enjoy a flexible schedule that leaves more time for family and personal pursuits

 

To find out more about a career in Navy medicine, visit https://www.navy.com/careers/medical

Interested in another career? You can watch other episodes of Faces of the Fleet by visiting https://www.navy.com/explore-the-navy/faces-of-the-fleet.