Clackamas County Commissioner Ben West added another role to his repertoire this year — and, in the process, learned a little bit about his family’s legacy of service — enlisting in the United States Navy Reserve.
After several more weeks of initial training and initiation, he will be eligible to achieve the rank of lieutenant. In an interview by Clackamas County Public Affairs, West shared that he chose the uniform because he wanted to find new ways to engage in public service.
“I asked myself, ‘How can I be more effective and more useful to my community as a whole?’ he explained. “This new role fits, because it conforms with my continued nursing career. I am always looking for opportunities to serve within nursing and use a nursing lens to inform my public service.”
Although being a member of the Board of County Commissioners is a full-time job, West said he has continued to work part-time in the Portland metropolitan area as a cardiology nurse — about three shifts a month. Nursing will be his focus in the Navy Reserve.
West will be serving for one weekend a month, plus two to three weeks of full-time work every year. The commitment runs for eight years.
“After my first term of service, I will re-evaluate whether or not taking an additional commission is the best fit for me and my family,” he said. “I suspect it will be.”
West will focus on a variety of medical areas in his new role.
“The Navy Reserve is present around the globe, so it’s wherever they need me,” he explained. “There are lots of possibilities. They could need medical support for trainings like war games, or work on a hospital or a ship, or supporting response to real catastrophes and natural disasters such as tsunamis or earthquakes.
“That’s part of what interests me about this role: It’s a generalist position, sort of a jack-of-all-trades or however they need me. That’s exciting to me — the diversity of the role and the opportunity for growth within the medical field.”
West believes there are a lot of overlaps between his public service as a commissioner and his work as a nurse.
“I like to think my work focuses on caring for people — both from the dais, and at the bedside,” he said. “I believe that I am called to care, and that every person has intrinsic value, worth and dignity. Because of this universal truth, every person is worthy of healing and compassion — this is why I am a nurse.”
Outside of a resignation or an official otherwise being removed from office, there isn’t a mechanism in state law to replace a county commissioner in the event of an extended employment for military service, but West doesn’t expect this to to be an issue.
“It’s my understanding, for at least the first three to four years, that there’s really no chance of an extended deployment happening,” he said. “So at least for my first term, which runs through 2026, I will not be deployed into full active duty.”
West requested to be sworn in within Clackamas County, so the ceremony happened at Camp Withycombe.
“When I was there, I learned that my grandfather was deployed out of that division,” he said. “He served three tours during World War II in Indonesia. I didn’t realize his connection and that history, so that was really special.
“He was in the Army Medical Corps as well, so I’m sort of carrying on a family tradition — even though I am a Navy man now.”
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