By Dr. Valecia L. Dunbar, MEDCOM Public AffairsJune 5, 2014
When Col. Thomas R. Tempel Jr. was promoted to Maj. Gen. on May 14, 2014, and appointed chief, U.S. Army Dental Corps, it marked a period of reflection for more than 93 years of service to Army Medicine given through a family lineage consisting of three Army generals contributing to nearly a century of medical research, treatment, and Soldier medical and dental care worldwide.
Sitting in the office of the U.S. Army Dental Command (DENCOM) on the eve of an historic moment in Army Medicine, both the son and father were asked to give their thoughts on their more than 90-year legacy and being the only multigenerational medical department family of major generals.
"It's scary when you put it in that context," says Retired Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Tempel. "But, it's also a reflection of the values that are part of our family tradition. Those values are faith, love, integrity, loyalty, duty, respect, courage, and selfless service." "It adds up to unconditional caring and devotion to Army Soldiers," said Tempel Jr.
Maj. Gen. Tempel Jr. is outgoing commander of the U.S. Army Dental Command, JBSA Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and is the second Tempel to lead the Dental Corps. His father, Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Tempel Sr., was chief of the Army Dental Corps from 1990-1994, and also deputy surgeon general from 1993 -1996. Tempel Jr. is a third generation Army medic and Army general building on the legacy his grandfather, Maj. Gen. Carl Tempel, who was a World War II leader and pioneer in tuberculosis research.
1929 -- 1962: The Tempel family legacy began when Carl W. Tempel entered the U.S. Army Medical Corps in 1929 as a 1st Lieutenant, Medical Reserve. During his military career, Tempel authored or co-authored more than 70 articles and served on councils such as the U.S. Public Health Service Task Force. Tempel became a well-known tuberculosis specialist and led efforts to bring American medicine to Southeast Asia as medical consultant to the Far East Command subsequent to his command of 309th General Hospital in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater, World War II.
"I knew he was heavily involved in TB patient care and research and I was proud of him," says Tempel Sr. of his father's contributions to Army Medicine and the nation's healthcare today. "He was devoted to his patients and because of that he worked long hours. That was my first view of his sacrifice and love for his work as an Army physician."
Tempel was promoted to the rank of major general on Sept. 1, 1960 and two weeks later assumed command of Fitzsimons General Hospital, Denver, Colorado. The general's assignment prior to Fitzsimons was chief of the Professional Division in the Office of The Surgeon General (OTSG) in Washington, D.C. During his tenure, he championed the expansion of opportunities for Medical Service Corps (MSC) in administrative positions. He retired from active duty in Oct. 1962 and entered the civilian sector working at a private hospital in Denver.
"My father had a strong unconditional love for this nation and the military that serves this nation," said Tempel Sr. "The values he instilled in me, I passed on to my family."
1963-1996: Carl Tempel's son, Thomas R. Tempel Sr., is the middle child of three and among his two sisters, is the only sibling to become a member of the armed forces. He was born at Fitzsimons General Hospital in 1939 prior to the family's relocation to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 1942. The Tempels returned to Fitzsimons in 1947 when Thomas Sr. was 8 years old. When Thomas Sr. was 18, the family departed for Valley Forge Hospital in Pennsylvania where he later enrolled in dental school at the University of Pennsylvania. Tom married Elaine Gardner two days after graduation. Tom's goals after dental school were simply to be the best husband, dentist, and Army Officer that he could be, while providing quality care for Soldiers and being a team player in the Army.
Upon graduation from dental school in 1963, Thomas Sr. entered the U.S. Army Dental Corps as a captain in July that year. He and his wife, Elaine, a dental hygienist, gave birth to their firstborn, Thomas Jr. in 1965 in Heidelberg, Germany, where Thomas Sr. was the division dental surgeon, 8th Infantry Division and clinic chief, Colman Dental Clinic respectively between 1964 -1967. In 1971, he completed his residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as a clinical periodontist and guest scientist at the National Institutes of Health. He was later board certified and published numerous articles on Immunological aspects of inflammatory disease.
Surrounded by a family of dentists and healthcare providers from both sides of the family, Tempel Jr. remembers most the experiences in his dad's office at Walter Reed Army Medical Center that attracted him to the profession. It is also the single connection and a source of pride that four Tempel's (Carl, Thomas Sr., Rob (Thomas Jr.), and brother Carl), would one day serve at Walter Reed.
"When I was about 6 years old, I would occasionally go with my father to his office and one of my favorite pictures is of my brother and I in one of his dental chairs, says Tempel Jr. The thing that resonated with me the most, which I learned later is how much you can help patients as a dentist, and your team as a leader."
"That's the satisfaction Rob and I get out of it," said Tempel Sr.
Upon promotion to Brig. Gen. Thomas R. Tempel, Sr. was assigned as deputy commander of the 7th Medical Command in Heidelberg, Germany, which provided medical, dental, and veterinary services to U.S. forces in Europe. He worked with the commander in the training and deployments of dentists, veterinarians, a Black Hawk medical evacuation battalion, and chemical/biological detection unit for Operation Desert Storm. When these forces deployed from Germany, Tempel Sr. was promoted to major general on Dec. 1, 1990, and he became the assistant surgeon general for dental services and the twenty-first chief, Army Dental Corps.
Attending the OTSG promotion ceremony of Brig. Gen. (P) Thomas R. Tempel (Sr.) was his son Rob (Tempel Jr.), who graduated from Gettysburg College in 1987 as Distinguished Military Graduate. Also attending was Tom's mother Ruth, his wife Elaine and their two other children, Carl and Kim.
In Jan. 1993 the Army Medical Department (AMEDD) reorganization included assigning Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Tempel to the position of Deputy Surgeon General (he was the first non-physician to fill this position) under the newly established, U.S. Army Medical Command (MEDCOM). After Tempel Sr. left the position as chief, Army Dental Corps, in Dec. 1994 he was asked to continue in the position of deputy surgeon general. Appointment of Tempel Sr. as deputy surgeon general was seen as a result of surgeon general's policy to make assignment of general officer positions in the AMEDD based upon qualifications without regard to Corps.
With significant problems facing the Army and other services, historical records account that Tempel Sr. was asked by the surgeon general for two more years of service because "he was the right senior officer who had experience working tough issues with quiet strength, selfless attitude, and ability to work in the background and bring out the best of all involved…" After 33 years of exemplary leadership working with OTSG staff, DA, DOD, Congress, and the civilian community on issues affecting Army Medicine, Tempel Sr. retired March 31, 1996 and passed on his legacy to Tempel Jr. who was then an Army Dental Corps major.
1987-present: Tempel Jr. was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Medical Service Corps, and then attended the University of Maryland Dental School where he would receive his dental degree in 1991.
Influenced by a cadre of Ranger and Special Forces Vietnam Veterans that supported his Army ROTC program, Tempel Jr. entered the Army with two goals -- becoming the best dentist he could and becoming a Special Forces officer. He completed his dental residency at Ft. Jackson and then completed the Special Forces Assessment and Selection followed by the Detachment Officers Qualification Course earning the Green Beret. "It was the hardest thing I ever had to do physically and mentally, but also it was the most rewarding," said Tempel Jr. "However, it taught me to work hard and if you do your best, your work will speak for you."
Early in his military career, he learned how important these values would be. "I came in for seven years, but had an open mind regarding career options," said Tempel Jr. "All I knew is that I wanted to be the best dentist I could be, and I loved being an Army officer."
In high school, Tempel Jr. remembered his father talking to Soldiers about the importance of values and holistic fitness. "Dad would talk to Soldiers about total fitness -- mental, physical, spiritual, financial, and social," said Tempel Jr. During a retirement ceremony held last year, a retired Soldier who worked with Tempel Sr. 30 years ago asked the younger Tempel if he was related to the eldest. "He told me how important those lessons were and still are today," said Tempel Jr. "I was fortunate to grow up with someone who really cares."
Tempel Jr. says he tries to emulate his father in everything he does and to reinforce those positive messages. He's my role model," said Tempel Jr.
Tempel Jr. assumed command of the 464th MED CO (Dental Service) from June 2003 to January 2006 including a year in Iraq as the 464th Commander and MNC-I Dental Surgeon with TF 44th MEDCOM. He then attended the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., after which he served as the Fort Meade Dental Activity Commander through June 2010. He later served as commander, Northern Regional Dental Command and director of the Readiness Division for Northern Regional Medical Command. His last assignment was DENCOM commander.
"The only thing easy about growing up as a general's kid is knowing what right looks like," says TempelJr. "While my dad didn't carry my rucksack, he sure filled it with the values and model of character that I think led me to this day. My mom and dad also served as wonderful role models for Kathy and I as an Army couple."
As he reflects on his career, Tempel Jr. is most proud of his work to build teams of officers, noncommissioned officers, and civilians that have allowed DENCOM to take care of Soldiers.
"It takes a very accomplished team to deliver the level of care that we do. You don't always get to pick your team members, but I've used the principals that my family taught me to help bring out the best in people," says Tempel Jr. "I do the best I can to take care of the Soldiers."
As outgoing DENCOM commander, Tempel leaves behind his team's benchmark "Go First Class" initiative which changed the focus of dental care from treatment to prevention. The initiative is in step with the Army surgeon general's Performance Triad which follows the tenets of sleep, activity, and nutrition as three pillars for improving health in the Lifespace -- the amount of time spent outside of a doctor's care.
"Another aspect of the Lifespace is the 45 minutes in dental care system when then dental hygienist is talking to the patient," said Tempel Jr. "The dental team has been very instrumental in improving the Lifespace of patients."
The Go First Class initiative is a holistic process that aims to increase health and save costs. "When dad was chief, and for years afterward, our Class 1 status which signifies a patient is in complete dental health was at 20 percent. Now, with this program, we're up to 50 percent," said Tempel Jr. "That means it is becoming less likely for a Soldier to be taken out of combat because of something such as a toothache. He adds that over the past two years, DENCOM has saved over a million hours of training time "through innovation and process improvements that will align with the transformation of Army Medicine from a healthcare system, which focuses on treatment of disease, to a System for Health which focuses on wellness and prevention."
"We are looking at the entire medical model and rethinking how we view healthcare. This is really exciting stuff," said Tempel Jr.
CONTINUING THE LEGACY
As the 27th chief of the Dental Corps, Tempel Jr. reflects on the values his grandfather and father taught him and the way forward in his roles as a general officer and chief of the Army Dental Corps.
His vision is to lead efforts that place prevention at the forefront of the dental health system. Tempel characterizes this first-class oral health environment as highly collaborative, innovative, and which takes a holistic approach to healthcare management.
The new Dental Corps chief readily describes a process where dentists are working with dieticians and nutritionists as partners in prevention, as well as with physicians to identify lifestyle choices that may serve as indicators leading to poor health. Tempel says the future goal in the delivery of dental care is to enter the Lifespace and expand opportunities to impact prevention and generate healthier outcomes.
One role that is exciting to the third-generation Army general is the opportunity to build teams in the multiservice market. He references his past experience as the senior Army dentist for the National Capital Region's Dental Advisory Board which he describes as "incredibly challenging" but fulfilling because it gave him the opportunity to refine and hone in his passion for building teams.
"Leading change is an area I'm very interested in," says Tempel Jr. "The future will definitely be more joint-service with the establishment of Defense Health Agency and the creation of multiservice markets. Triservice cooperation is critical and we will have to learn to work together."
As Tempel looks to the future, he says he will miss the face-to-face time spent with his patients. "The one challenge for clinicians as they progress to each level of leadership is the altered balance of time you spend with patients," said Tempel Jr. "But, you can solve problems at each level. In this new role, I'm helping hundreds of patients at a time verses one-on-one."