Perhaps you didn’t know this, but Col. Stephen Dalal has rules. Not the super-strict, posted-in-the breakroom-memo kind of rules. His rules are internal rules, life rules – perhaps in retrospect it’s better to call them ‘guidance.’ However you classify them, that guidance took center stage on Friday, September 17, as Dalal, the now-former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, retired from the U.S. Army in an outdoor ceremony at Nallin Pond on Fort Detrick.
“I never thought I’d make it a career,” said Dalal candidly of his 28 years in uniform. “But positions kept opening, and there were so many things I wanted to do.”
That broad desire speaks to Dalal’s first rule – the first of eight total, which he shared with an audience of several dozen in a moving retirement speech – which is, “Get out of your comfort zone.” Dalal did that nearly three decades ago when he stepped into Army service – as a member of the Army Veterinary Corp – fresh from Iowa State University. His first deployment would be to Haiti for a large-scale vaccination effort, among other tasks. It was there, in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, where Dalal learned what the Army could do for both himself and for others. It’s also where rule number two (“Seize opportunities, even if they’re hard”) was established.
“It was during that deployment [where] I decided the Army would be a career for me, and not just a job,” said Dalal. “Little did I know that leaving my comfort zone would help establish my career.”
To that end, Dalal’s first posting at USAMRDC came back in 2001; he’s been in the command’s orbit ever since – a series of assignments that have had a substantial impact on both his professional life and his personal life. For instance, it was his during an assignment at USAMRDC’s U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense where he met his wife Jamie; a situation where Dalal no doubt benefitted from his keen attention to rules number four and six (“Be prepared,” and “Take a chance,” respectively). From there, a growing family would serve as the perfect complement to a blossoming Army career.
Perhaps Dalal’s most consequential contribution to both USAMRDC and the larger Army came during a deployment to Iraq in the early 2000’s, when – as a member of the Field Assistant Science Tech Team – he and a small group of medical, intelligence and combat arms personnel developed the Joint Trauma Analysis and Prevention of Injury in Combat Program – better known as J-TAPIC. Initially tasked with researching possible connections between fatal combat injuries and the circumstances surrounding those incidents, J-TAPIC has since evolved into an established entity that uses high-end data analysis to mitigate battlefield risks to Service Members – an effort which has helped prevent injuries for millions of Soldiers.
“I’m proud of the work we all put into it,” said Dalal about the program which has now – some 15 years after the birth of J-TAPIC – evolved into a large part of his legacy. “I’m proud that it’s still going strong and still making a difference.”
“Stephen is a Soldier who leads with grace and kindness,” said Brig. Gen. Anthony McQueen, commanding general of USAMRDC and Fort Detrick, during remarks delivered at Dalal’s retirement ceremony. “Wherever he goes, he makes things better.”
Indeed, such a commitment to others and the overall cause is by explicit design. After all, that’s what happens when you combine rule number five (“Provide support”) with rule number seven (“Empower others”) and rule number eight (“Work together”). The result is a strong Soldier – but perhaps more importantly a strong person – and one who makes a substantial impact.
For Dalal, that’s what Army service has truly been all about – the opportunity to help others. Not coincidentally, that’s also the title of his third rule (“Choose to help others”). Despite its ranking in the larger order, it is this rule that qualifies and supports the other seven – allowing for the depth and importance of the entire list to be revealed. However, Dalal points out, they’re all just guideposts – simple steps, basic and thoughtful actions – for how to view and improve the world.
“Sooner or later you realize that real fulfillment comes only from helping others,” said Dalal, succinctly and in closing. “All the rest is just temporary.”