MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. -- As summer settles into the Northwest, students from universities to elementary schools don caps and gowns and their families travel from far and wide to celebrate their achievements in graduation ceremonies. For the 123 interns, residents and fellows from 35 graduate health education programs at Madigan Army Medical Center, the attire was Class As all the way in the Graduate Medical Education ceremony June 14 at the American Lake Conference Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Madigan Commander Col. Thomas Bundt welcomed the standing room only crowd by noting the great value of the training the graduates have received.

"Truly a Madigan diploma is a marker of incredible quality, tenacity and spirit and one of the best graduating rates in the nation," said Bundt.

The class is venturing out into their first assignments after demonstrating their knowledge with an overall first time board pass rate of 96 percent. Some programs have maintained a rate of 100 percent for years; nutrition, for example, has done so on its national registration examination since the program began in 2009. Likewise, maternal fetal medicine has had every single graduate pass their board on their first attempt for the entire 40 years the program has been accredited.

Bundt offered statistics like these and added that Madigan has, "The number one surgery resident program pass rate for board exams in the last 15 years -- number one in the nation. Take that Mayo! Thanks for giving me bragging rights," he told the graduates.

After earning two masters' degrees while in uniform, this year's keynote speaker, retired Army Col. Greg Gadson, can relate to the effort involved in hitting the books while on active duty.

From his time as a linebacker at West Point to the garrison commander of Fort Belvoir, over his 26 years of service he learned then taught resilience in all situations. None proved more demanding of his indomitable spirit than being severely injured by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2007. The attack cost him both legs above the knees and impaired the use of his right arm and hand.

Gadson painted a picture of the night his world turned upside down.

"I was in the third vehicle in a four vehicle patrol," he said. "My vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb that lifted my 15,000 pound vehicle off the road and ejected me." Landing some 40 meters away, Gadson soon lost consciousness.

"During those first four to six hours after I was wounded, I went through 129 units of blood," Gadson said, giving the audience an idea of the extent of his injuries. He had a lot of company in suffering such catastrophic wounds. "Just to give you a perspective of how dangerous Iraq was in 2007, 131 U.S. service members would pay in full measure in May of 2007 alone," he added.

Gadson detailed the efforts his medical teams made to save his life, his limbs and repair his wounds.

In explaining that complications arose from one surgery, Gadson provided the multi-syllabic medical terminology, then said, "This is really kind of neat to be able to talk about this stuff to an audience that I know understands what I'm talking about. You guys know exactly what I'm saying."

Through his darkest days when he could not picture a future, he did not give up, in part because of the investment of his care teams in him. "That's the power and the responsibility that you take on as you go to our Army and the profession that you represent," he said.

Gadson offered advice with a request.

"I ask you to remember that you're always a soldier; you're a soldier first. The basis of your credibility is that you're a soldier," he said. "That's going to inform you with the compassion, the empathy that you need as you help us and our families through the tough times."

Gadson noted that more than any other profession it is medical professionals who underwrite America's commitment to those we serve.

"The names, the places will fade in the distance, but the impact that you have will be timeless," he said.

Before the graduates filed onto the stage to collect their diplomas, eleven awards were presented by class representatives, faculty and program directors for outstanding achievement. The announcement of one awardee's name was met by a chorus of small voices from the back of the room congratulating him with a crowd-pleasing, "Go Daddy!"

In a recent event for noncommissioned officers, Bundt suggested what these graduates will now experience as they move forward into their waiting assignments.

"You always know where someone comes from based on their training set," he said.

On that subject Gadson opined, "This program has clearly set the bar high in its standards and the expectations your community has and our Army is going to have," he said. "That's the burden that you're going to carry and I know that you're going to do well."

AWARDS

Outstanding Resident Teacher Award -- Capt. Michael Bennett

Outstanding Staff Teacher Award -- Dr. Michael Braun

Col. Janice Lehman Outstanding Clinical Nurse Award -- Patricia Field

Outstanding Residency Coordinator Award -- Norbilyn Bernardo

The James M. Temo Award for Student Registered Nurse Anesthetist -- Capt. James DeGroot

Lt. Col. Joseph A. Munaretto Outstanding Educator Award -- Dr. Gregory Chow

Col. Robert Skelton Award for a two- or three-year program -- Capt. Trevor Wellington

Maj. Gen. Floyd Wergeland Award for a four-year or greater program -- Maj. John McClellan

Col. Patrick Sarsfield Madigan Foundation Research Award for fellows -- Maj. Jessica Lentscher

Maj. Gen. Byron L. Steger Research Award for residents -- Capt. Douglas Morte

Maj. Gen. Kenyon Joyce Research Award for military corps staff -- Maj. Aurora Vincent