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DHA Senior Enlisted Leaders Host Panel Discussion at WRNMMC

A panel of military personnel Senior enlisted medical leaders from the Defense Health Agency hosts their first joint panel session May 6 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, taking questions and hearing concerns from the troops in the field (Photo by: Bernard S. Little, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center).

In early May, senior enlisted medical leaders from the Defense Health Agency (DHA) hosted their first joint panel session at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, taking questions and hearing concerns from the troops in the field.

Leaders who participated on the panel discussion included Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, DHA's senior enlisted leader; Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Dawn Kolczynski, Medical Enlisted Force Chief of the U.S. Air Force and the first medical chief of the U.S. Space Force; Navy Force Master Chief Michael Roberts, from the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery who also serves as director, Navy Hospital Corps; and Army Command Sgt. Maj. Diamond Hough, SEL of the U.S. Army Medical Command.

"Our mission is the delivery of high quality health care to all of our beneficiaries," Gragg said, explaining that achieving this requires greater integration of the best of the services while respecting each's individual identities.

"We're in this together," Roberts said in response to a question concerning the "the priorities of the services and DHA being incongruent at times."

All panel members agreed DHA, at the strategic level, as well as military medical treatment facilities (MTFs) in the field, must work together to meet the challenges of taking the best of Army medicine, the best of Navy medicine and the best of Air Force medicine to better align and unify patient care and its supporting services, while also respecting the cultures and traditions of the individual branches.

"It's a partnership," Kolczynski said. "We all have the same overarching mission – to safely bring home our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and to take care of their families and our other beneficiaries. I know the DHA is also focused on making sure we're combat ready," she furthered.

Hough added DHA leadership has consistently stated its "primary mission is the readiness of the services. In that same vein, our soldiers serving inside MTFs are being set up to make sure the DHA is successful in this effort."

"The DHA is in support of the military medical services, and we're here to ensure the National Defense Strategy, which they have to execute, is able to be executed with the people they have," Gragg furthered. "Our focus [at DHA] is to ensure we are in support of their needs, as well as taking care of our beneficiaries worldwide. That is our mission, and how we go about that mission may sometimes feel like it is in conflict with what the services have and desire, but truly, it's not. It boils down to what our overall mission is in support of the National Defense Strategy, which is to do what we all said we would do when we raised our right hand: 'Support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.'"

Another question drawing much discussion during the event focused on the underutilization of corpsmen and medics in MTFs, which can result in their lack of preparedness to perform on the battlefield if deployed.

"The life [of a soldier on the battlefield] is not saved by our surgical teams," Gragg explained. "When I say that, I'm not saying our surgical teams aren't good, great or phenomenal, because they are all those things. Life is maintained, sustained and improved by those high-tech surgical teams, but the life is saved by the first person at the point of injury, which is usually medics and corpsmen. It's those corpsmen and medics who are there when the individual is injured who are the ones typically saving the life in combat situations."

With that understanding, Gragg said that MTFs and providers must invest in first-line medical personnel [corpsmen and medics] so they are augmentations of [skilled providers and high-tech surgical team]. He said allowing corpsmen and medics to perform and sharpen their skill sets in the MTFs on actual patients expand their reality and reach. He added DHA is working to ensure this happens, and "we get the maximum capacity out of everybody working in our medical system."

Gragg explained that DHA is not going to come between a troop and his or her service requirements. "The better soldier, sailor or airmen we get, the better the agency is overall. We're not going to impede the development of any airmen, sailor or soldier. Those service requirements, demands and needs are still going to be met."

Kolcynzski said it is essential people "just be the best at their jobs, whatever those jobs may be. Be the person someone looks to and knows you're the best. Be a good leader, a good person, and care about others. Leadership is about caring for other people, taking care of other people, helping them grow and helping them develop," she added.

Hough encouraged people to seek out opportunities for self-development, education and growth. "If you do those things, others will notice you."

"Respect each other," Roberts added. He also encouraged people to have a good work-life balance, taking care of themselves as well as their families, in addition to performing well on the job. "Also, ask yourself the questions, 'Am I striving to get promoted or am I striving to be a leader?' If you're striving to be a leader, you'll get promoted. If you're striving to get promoted, you'll be by yourself. I encourage all of you to strive to be a leader, which encompasses taking care of people, taking care of yourself and improving yourself," he added.

Gragg explained how each of the services have their individual values, often described in terms such as personal courage, honor, leadership, integrity, selfless service, etc. "All those things matter, but what makes you [in the DHA] matter and special are compassion and empathy. They are what got us through this last year and a half [with the COVID-19 pandemic], and what will continue to make military medicine the best in the world and make you special.

"It's not us against them," Gragg added in explaining the challenge some may face in working with others from different services than their own. "It is military medicine going forward in taking care of our beneficiaries, service members and families, all in support of the National Defense Strategy," he concluded.

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