ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – The Army Public Health Center hosted its seventh and final iteration of the annual Army Public Health Course at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, from July 30 to Aug. 5, with 376 in-person attendees and 599 virtual attendees representing Department of Defense civilian and public health officer and enlisted specialties from the Army, Navy and Air Force. The course’s theme this year was “Strengthening Foundations, Building the Future.”
“This theme reminds us that we are standing on a strong foundation of public health that we can use to build as a bridge to our dynamic future,” said Army Col. Alisa Wilma, APHC director, during her plenary session remarks to attendees. “This theme is so appropriate because today is a bittersweet day. It’s a little bitter because we know this is the last Army Public Health course – but, today is also sweet, as we are looking forward to the future when the next course will be the Department of Defense/Joint Public Health Course. This will be a course where we will enjoy the benefit of conversing and dialoguing with our brothers/sisters in all the services.”
The course has grown every year and is managed by APHC, which also provides many of the expert presenters and speakers. The purpose of the course is to provide the most current public health information topics and improve core competencies for public health efforts across all of the DOD.
This year's course featured more than 200 presentations and offered 56 hours of training through a plenary, 13 break-out sessions, and two workshops. Areas of concentration included preventive and occupational medicine, public health nursing, health physics, entomology, audiology, animal health, food protection and environmental science and engineering. Attendees received up to 56 hours of continuing education units and the opportunity to participate in the Professional Supervisor of the Audiometric Monitoring Program© (PS) Course and the Defense Health Agency Immunization Lifelong Learners Course.
The course plenary session, held Aug. 2, included presentations from Defense Health Agency senior leaders as well as senior leaders from the Army Medical Command. Much of the focus was on the coming planned APHC transition to DHA, which effectively begins in October.
“There are challenges on how we standardize across the services,” said Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, DHA director. “We have to find those areas of commonality, where we call it different, but the mission is the same. Don’t fall in love with the process, fall in love with the outcome, but when there are different outcomes desired by Combatant Commands or Services, be willing to be adaptable.”
During his remarks, Place emphasized the mission doesn’t happen without the people that make up the organization.
“The mission doesn’t happen without our people - that’s the most important thing,” said Place. “It’s not a throwaway line. If you don’t believe that – shame on you. What drives my strategy is ‘how does the Defense Health System support national strategy?’ This shows how important it is when we look at our requirements to ensure enough continuity of knowledge and purpose. A mix of civilians and uniforms to leverage expertise. It’s all in how we look at people to manage this.”
Rear Adm. Brandon L. Taylor, the director of DHA Public Health, talked about the importance of unity as the APHC team transitions to DHA Public Health.
“It’s critical we come together as a unified public health agency,” said Taylor. “Unity cannot be forced, but we can create the environment that invites, fosters and creates unity. We build unity as we collaborate as a team. Mentor and be willing to mentor others. We build unity by trying something new.”
Maj. Gen. Telita Crosland, the deputy Army Surgeon General and chief of the Medical Corps, addressed the group virtually, thanked the assembled public health team for their service and sacrifice, and noted the current transition of service military treatment facilities and public health branches is the largest since the Air Force stood up from the Army.
“These last two-plus years have been extraordinarily challenging for anyone in medicine, but particularly those in the public health community,” said Crosland. “What you do each and every day has made a difference. It is impactful and at the senior levels of DOD and Army - you are appreciated.”
When asked what she saw as emerging public health issues, Crosland said she believes it is surveillance.
“What we’ve learned from the pandemic is the importance of surveillance,” said Crosland. “See the threat, identify the threat, stratify the threat and then mitigate the threat. I see more of that in future battlefields as we address CBR health threats. We want to be in position to see them early enough to mitigate them. What’s going to be hard is showing folks the value of investing in surveillance to protect against future threats.”
Place closed his plenary remarks by thanking everyone for their efforts and encouraged a continued focus on the mission.
“The mission that we do is crucially important,” said Place. “Here in America and around the world - all are important, but you’re the one filling that gap. You’re the ones achieving success. Focus on the mission, your people and the good that you do and the rest of this will sort itself out.”
The Army Public Health Center enhances Army readiness by identifying and assessing current and emerging health threats, developing and communicating public health solutions, and assuring the quality and effectiveness of the Army’s Public Health Enterprise.
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