JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Lt. Col. Johnny Vandiver, the 7th Infantry Division's senior physician assistant and chief of clinical operations, was awarded the Legion of Merit, July 26, in honor of his many accomplishments in his 30 years of service.

Vandiver, of Athens, Texas, began his army career in 1983, serving as an enlisted combat medic. While a staff sergeant, Vandiver was accepted to the Interservice Physician Assistant Program, and received commission as a second lieutenant in the Medical Specialist Corps in 1991.

He served two tours in Iraq, supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003 to 2004 and again from 2008 to 2009. During his deployment in 2003, he established the casualty tracking and liaison systems that were used in Multinational Division-Baghdad for the remainder of the United States' presence in Iraq. Vandiver served in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from 2011 to 2012.

"He was the driving force behind the establishment of the Afghan Army Physician Assistant School" and his work in analyzing and refining the Afghan National Security Forces Tashkil "ensured the development of a capable and sustainable medical support structure for the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police," according to the award's citation.

Vandiver will retire in Fairbanks, Alaska, where his wife and two sons currently reside.

The Legion of Merit, the first United States decoration created specifically for award to citizens of other nations, was established by an Act of Congress of July 20, 1942, amended by an executive order of March 15, 1955. The reverse of the medal has the motto taken from the Great Seal of the United States "ANNUIT COEPTIS" (He [God] Has Favored Our Undertakings) and the date "MDCCLXXXII" (1782) which is the date of America's first decoration, the Badge of Military Merit, now known as the Purple Heart.

The ribbon design also follows the pattern of the Purple Heart ribbon. Taking into account all service medals soldiers are authorized to wear, per AR 670-1, the Legion of Merit ranks as the ninth highest award, worn after the Defense Superior Service Medal and before the Distinguished Flying Cross.