On a sunny September morning at the Fort Wadsworth Battery Weed National Historic Site, a memorable location on Staten Island in New York, the Northeast Medical Area Readiness Support Group held their change of command ceremony bidding farewell to NE-MARSG's outgoing commander, Col. Cindy Saladin-Muhammed, and welcoming the new commander, Col. Steven Gandia.
A tiered fortification with a huge U.S. flag hanging down from the third level of the amphitheater-like structure served as the backdrop for the ceremony. Tucked inside the archways on each level were Soldiers holding flags representing NE-MARSG's subordinate units, while the 50 U.S. state flags lined the base along both sides of the American flag. The fire of thirteen cannons shook the air from the front gate of the historic battery, marking the beginning of the ceremony. In this setting, one could sense the readiness of these medical professionals to answer the call on any battlefield our nation would need them.
The change of command is a traditional event rich with symbolism and heritage. The key to the ceremony is the passing of the flag, or unit colors, from one commander to another which symbolizes the transition of authority from one leader to another. The unit colors themselves not only represent the lineage and honor of the unit, but also the loyalty and unity of its Soldiers.
Col. Gandia, the incoming commander, is set to command a group of units with a diverse set of missions. Maj. Gen. Mary Link, the Army Reserve Medical Command commanding general, shared why she chose Gandia for the important role he will play.
"Northeast Medical Area Readiness Support Group is responsible for providing support and command and control for more than 1,200 Soldiers assigned to medical backfill battalions, medical support units, troop medical clinics, blood detachments, and veterinary detachments located throughout the northern United States to include right here in New York, home of Lady Liberty," said Link.
"Colonel Gandia brings an extensive background of medical experiences that range from health services and administration to medical service operations and training... Colonel Gandia's dedication to duty and commitment to excellence is reflected in everything he does."
Col. Saladin-Muhammad, is relinquishing one command and will immediately assume responsibility as commander for a new unit in Texas. Command is a privilege given to those leaders demonstrating strong leadership skills, shared Saladin-Muhammed. "The better commanders are those that have the best teams. You have to build teams that trust each other, they understand the capabilities of others on the team. There's always gaps on teams, but they know how to fill those gaps, they know where those gaps are, and they are forgiving: they are very forgiving of each other.
Even though your day is a long, tough day, I think the commander sets the tone. But you can laugh, get some pizza, do some things. I look for those opportunities," said Saladin-Muhammed.
"You might be called upon to do a lot of things that don't require you to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but just the strongest knife in the drawer. And the strongest knife in the drawer is the one who can handle a number of things -- you can cut bread as well as be a screwdriver," she said.
As the new commander, Col. Gandia shared a few thoughts on the near future and maintaining the high standards of NE-MARSG. "I love being a Soldier, I love the Army values. I think if we stay focused on those things, training and our mission, which is preparing for the next big fight, we'll continue that excellence."
Both Saladin-Muhammed and Gandia recognized and thanked their families for their support, acknowledging that without their family, military life would have been much more difficult. "You have been my best friend through my entire military career. We have more fun yet to have together, so let's buckle in and get ready," Gandia said to his wife, Shaun, in his closing.
The Northeast Medical Area Readiness Support Group is an Army Reserve unit, one of many Reserve military units on Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, New York. There are approximately 20 units underneath NE-MARSG with a variety of medical missions. Four other Medical Area Readiness Support Groups fall under the Army Reserve Medical Command of Pinellas Park, Florida.