Sheppard Air Force Base – In the midst of swirling change at the 82nd Medical Group – a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility under construction and a transition to the Defense Health Agency – the DHA’s top doc delivered a clear message to Sheppard AFB’s combat medics during an all-call meeting March 22, 2021 – everything they do is in support of the National Defense Strategy.
Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald Place, DHA director and 35-year Army veteran, said today’s threats are real, whether they’re a Russian Tu-95 Bear incursion in the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone or Chinese destroyers challenging the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea.
“This whole idea that there is (one) super power and everybody else is just nonsense,” he said. “There are real threats out there, and everything we do in the Military Health System better supports our ability to have overmatch – to make fighting with the United States so painful, nobody wants to do it.”
So, he asked, how do those in the Military Health System fit in to it?
The general showed two pictures side by side: One of a C-130 loaded with paratroopers preparing for a training jump, and the other of a military surgical team at work. He said the first represented the medical readiness of the force to fight and win, while the second symbolized the readiness of the medical force for fulfill its role supporting military operations.
Over the past year, COVID-19 has been the No. 1 cause for nondeployability or lost work days from Restriction of Movement, Place said. He cited the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s six-week stay in port at Guam after 1,500 personnel contracted the virus as a recent example of the primary causal factor in a non-ready force. Traditionally, ailments that result in lost days include lower back pain, knee pain and shoulder pain.
“It’s all about getting it right,” he said. “It’s not about the after, it’s about the preventing. It’s about keeping people ready to go.”
Place used music to illustrate his next point, first with the image of a record player and vinyl record. Much like the transition over the years from record players to digital music today, medicine has had advancements to make it even better than before. For example, he said laparoscopic procedures weren’t an option when he was a resident in the 1980s. Now, many procedures are done without the need to “open up” a patient.
But because of the complexities of today’s medicine, each individual piece of the medical team has to fit together, much like an orchestra. Place said that’s why it matters that equipment in a forward field hospital matches what is going to be onboard a aeromedical evacuation transport. He said depending on where the military operation is, the environment or situation, another instrument could play the lead in this medical symphony.
“The point is that every single piece of this complex instrument that is military health care matters,” he said. “Every single piece. It has to fit together, and it has to communicate with each other, and it has to make sense.”
Place said there are four priorities that help the medical apparatus fit into the NDS:
• Great outcomes – a medically ready force with the ability to execute the mission all day, every day;
• Ready medical force – no matter what the clinical function, the responsibility of the MHS is to ensure mission readiness;
• Satisfied patients – reveal the value patients place on MHS care reflecting how well staff works together makes a difference in their lives; and,
• Fulfilled staff – feeling the same joy and sense of purpose today compared to when first entering medical field.
In closing, Place thanked the 82nd MDG combat medics for the care they provide to America’s sons and daughters serving around the world. He shared that his wife, children, and grandchildren all get their care in the MHS. Place’s youngest son is currently on his second tour in the Korean DMZ.
“When I talk about overmatch, that’s one of the reasons I talk about overmatch. The Department of Defense is expensive – $700 billion a year. That’s a lot of cash. What’s more expensive than that?” he asked, listing the different monetary costs of waging war. “But what’s more expensive than that? Losing. Losing would be more expensive.”
Place resolved that everything the 82nd MDG and MHS does directly supports the efforts of the DoD in a legal, moral and ethical fashion to make sure the U.S. military is the most powerful in the world.