When Lt. Col. Ronald Foley first enlisted in the Army in 1982, Disney had just opened its futuristic EPCOT center, Ronald Reagan was President and the Cold War was in full-swing. Originally from Southwestern Virginia, his childhood memories of the Vietnam War inspired him to join the military. The war was regularly broadcast on the news.
“I had a couple of uncles who served during the Vietnam era,” said Foley. “As a result, I was glued to Walter Cronkite’s coverage of the Vietnam War and was fascinated by his nightly updates. So when I was a senior in High School, I went to speak with all the services, before eventually deciding on the Army. The Army seemed like the best option to me because the initial enlistment contract was only two years, the Army guaranteed me an enlisted career field of choice provided I did my part and successfully completed training, and my first assignment would be in Europe.”
Foley currently serves as the pharmacy clinician project manager, Medical Devices and Assemblages Management (MDAM), at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity’s Warfighter Deployable Medical Systems Project Management Office. He lives in the Martinsburg, W. Va., with his wife of 35 years, Tammy. Together they’ve three raised three children, Amber, Jessica and Ronald. Now, on the cusp of retirement, Foley reflects on his career, which has spanned decades.
Foley enlisted during his senior year of high school, and entered basic training shortly after graduation. He completed basic training and Military Police Advanced Individual Training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, before reporting to his first duty station in what was then the Federal Republic of Germany, joining the 501st Division Military Police Company as part of the 1st Armored Division.
“One of the more interesting opportunities I had while in Germany was to visit the Soviet sector of Berlin,” said Foley. “At the time, when you travelled to East Berlin, you had to take the ‘Freedom Train’ through the Eastern Bloc, they lowered black curtains on the train when you passed through the Eastern Block territory so that you couldn’t see out of the windows. It was a surreal experience for me at the time getting to pass through check point Charlie and tour the Soviet Sector of Berlin passing by East German and Russian Army Compounds.”
After completing his initial enlistment, he joined the Army reserves while completing an associate’s degree in Science at Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville, Virginia. After completing his associate’s degree, he reenlisted in the Army, now accompanied by his wife with their first child on the way, and returned to active duty, joining the 108th Military Police Company at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
“I reached Fort Bragg in the fall of 1987 and in March of 1988, I was called-in for an alert, locked down and within 3 days, I departed Pope Airbase. We learned our deployment destination was Panama once in the air,” said Foley. “Our mission in Panama was security and stability operations intended to protect the U.S. bases, assets, and personnel that included a very large contingent of Panama Canal Commission employees and retirees. We tried to get members of the commission out of the country or we brought them onto installations sometimes doubling or tripling up families in government housing for their safety.”
Shortly before leaving for Panama, Foley had completed a package for the Army’s Green-to-Gold Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship. While deployed to Panama, Foley received word he had been selected for the scholarship.
“I returned to Fort Bragg a few weeks in advance of my unit so that I could accept the scholarship and separate from active duty in time to enroll for the fall semester at Campbell University in North Carolina.”
While at Campbell University, Foley majored in Biology and minored in Chemistry. He graduated in 1990, earning a Bachelor of Science in Biology, and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army’s Medical Service Corps. Upon his commissioning, he was set to return to active duty, but requested and was granted an educational delay to attend pharmacy school.
“When I was first selected for the Medical Service Corps I was bit surprised,” said Foley. “I didn’t include it on my wish list, so it wasn’t really on my radar. I knew I wanted to earn an advanced degree to become specialized in some marketable skill and I was leaning toward medical careers, so I started to look at my options. I considered becoming a medical doctor, but I was given early acceptance to pharmacy school and decided to pursue that.”
In 1995, he graduated with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, also from Campbell University, and returned to active duty as a Pharmacy Officer. His first assignment as a Pharmacy Officer took him back to Fort Bragg, where he served as an inpatient pharmacist and clinical pharmacist supervisor at Womack Army Medical Center from 1995 to 1998.
Following his second tour at Fort Bragg, he would spend some time deployed overseas in both Honduras and South Korea. When reflecting on which overseas tour he enjoyed the most, it’s difficult for him to pick a clear favorite.
“Germany is probably my favorite overseas tour,” he said. “However, as a biology major, my time spent in Panama was amazing. There is a triple canopy jungle with such diverse wildlife. Panama has every kind of insect, snake or other critter you can imagine.”
“Honestly, I loved my time overseas. If I could have stayed overseas my entire career, I would have. I spent time in Korea, Kosovo, Germany, Panama and Honduras. I also volunteered to deploy to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and spent a year there. All in all, I believe I spent about ten years of my career overseas.”
In 2003, Foley completed his accredited residency in Nuclear Pharmacy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and he was board certified in Nuclear Pharmacy in 2004. According to Foley, Nuclear Pharmacy requires additional specialized training and is overseen by both the board of pharmacy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission due to nuclear pharmacists working with radioactive isotopes.
“Most Nuclear Medicine procedures are diagnostic, but there are also some therapies”, he said “Nuclear pharmacy is usually part of the radiology department. Much of the work consists of providing tailored doses of time-sensitive radioactive tracers tagged to pharmacological substances that are used to target a specific site of action or study a specific organ or system.”
Although it wasn’t initially on his radar, he’s happy to have served as a Medical Service Corps officer.
“It worked out well,” he said. “It forced me to make choices that took me down a positive career path.”
With a career that has spanned multiple decades, he’s had a front seat to joint service modernization efforts.
“Automation and information technology has drastically changed,” said Foley. “When I was a young officer, typewriters were considered technology.”
He said, he didn’t have access to email until his second tour as a pharmacy officer.
“Now, everyone is connected and technology has made the Army more streamlined and efficient.”
After retirement, he said he’ll miss the Army. Foley plans to stay in the area and join the civilian workforce.
“The camaraderie and relationships you form in the military are unlike anything else,” he said. “Even before you know someone well, you still have this bond due to shared service, goals and objectives. I don’t think there is any other job in the world where such strong bonds can be formed so quickly, and I will definitely miss that.”