USAPHC staff ride motivates, enlightens personnel
September 14, 2011
More than 30 military and civilian members of the U.S. Army Public Health Command exchanged life in the cubicle for a day out in the field Aug. 12.
The personnel visited the Gettysburg battlefield as part of a command-sponsored staff ride.
George Wunderlich, executive director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, Frederick, Md., served as the group's tour guide during the three-hour visit to the Gettysburg battlefield. Wunderlich tailored the tour to the group, and addressed public health and medical challenges that occurred during the Civil War, noting how Army Medicine has advanced since then.
Wunderlich said many Soldiers perished after the Gettysburg battle from typhoid fever. Today's preventive medicine requirements for Soldiers to be immunized have greatly reduced -- if not eliminated -- deaths from this cause.
Animal and human health have always been dependent on one another; therefore, Army public health and veterinary services are aligned today as part of public health. The Gettysburg Battle and Civil War took its toll on animals. More than 5,000 horses and mules died at Gettysburg because of battle wounds, lack of provision or extensive labor, Wunderlich said. Today, the Army's veterinarians ensure proper care of military working dogs and other animals, providing world-class preventive and clinical care.
Finally, Wunderlich discussed the contributions of Dr. Jonathan Letterman, who is credited with making advancements in health care during the Civil War.
During the Peninsular Campaign of 1862, the Army was losing many of its Soldiers to scurvy -- a disease that is caused by a deficiency of vitamin C. Letterman ordered a fresh supply of potatoes, onions, cabbage, tomatoes, squash, beets and fresh bread be delivered to the troops to prevent these deaths. Today USAPHC's Army veterinarians make special provisions to ensure that troops receive a steady supply of safe, fresh food through approved food establishments and military dining facilities. Their public health mission also includes protecting troops from food borne illnesses.
Letterman is also credited with the invention of the ambulance, triage system and emergency room.
"Letterman was a visionary, who still impacts military and civilian medical care today," said Wunderlich.
USAPHC personnel said the tour was quite enlightening.
"As we visited the various sites of the Battle of Gettysburg, I felt like I was there at the war scene," said Col. Miriam Rosa, public health nurse at the USAPHC. "What I have seen here will not stay here. It is important to pass the torch of public health nursing through the eyes of history lessons learned from past. Wars give us a true understanding of how we built on the tenets of preventive medicine."
After visiting the Gettysburg battlefield, the team members boarded a bus and visited the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. There, they viewed various displays depicting events and people of the Civil War.
Maj. Jeffery Blackwell, deputy commander for administration at APG's Kirk Army Clinic also participated in the staff ride. He said the displays at the museum served as an important teaching tool.
"The more we understand and know our history, the better we can progress forward," said Blackwell. "It's important to learn from history so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past."
USAPHC Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald C. Ecker said the staff ride was rewarding for the personnel who participated.
"I think today's staff ride served as an opportunity for enrichment and better understanding of our history as Soldiers and public health operators," said Ecker. "The Soldiers that fought on this hallowed ground sacrificed greatly -- what an inspiration (and education) to our future endeavors as public health operators."
These staff rides have historically served as a method of professional development and a mentoring opportunity. The ride is linked to a historical event and attendees participate by studying the event, and gaining new insights into how to perform their jobs better.
Just as the Army officials enjoyed the staff ride, Wunderlich said the tour was rewarding for him. He said he gives about 15-20 tours of the Gettysburg battlefield each month, but the tours he gives for Army personnel are always special.
"I have great respect for these Army personnel who dedicate their lives each day to save lives and promote the health and welfare of our armed forces," said Wunderlich. "I hope that the tour they received causes them to feel more motivated, and effective at doing their jobs."
Sgt. Rasheed Walker, the non-commissioned officer in charge at the Entomology Dept. of the USAPHC, said the staff ride was more than just a day out of the office.
"The Army has come a long way in preventing injuries and disease among its personnel," said Walker. "I thoroughly enjoyed the staff ride, because it gave me a better understanding of why public health is so critical, and I will take the lessons learned here and use them in my job."