Former BAMC commander speaks at Black History Month observance

By Lori NewmanFebruary 9, 2023

Former BAMC commander speaks at Black History Month observance
Retired Brig. Gen. Shan Bagby, former Brooke Army Medical Center commanding general, speaks at BAMC’s Black History Month observation at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Feb. 3, 2023. Bagby spoke about the reasons people should celebrate Black History Month, pointing out that the full story of American History is incomplete without Black History. (DOD photo by Jason W. Edwards) (Photo Credit: Jason W. Edwards) VIEW ORIGINAL

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Feb. 9, 2023) -- Brooke Army Medical Center’s Black History Month observance Feb. 3 highlighted some of the trailblazers in military medicine.

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Shan Bagby, former BAMC commander, was the guest speaker for the event.

“This year’s theme is ‘Inspiring Change,’ a time to reflect on great Americans who by their bold actions, transcended their life circumstances and helped redefine our nation’s ideas about what freedom and equality mean,” Bagby said.

Bagby talked about the reasons people should celebrate Black History Month.

“Black History Month isn’t just about promoting diversity, but about celebrating the idea that we as Americans are stronger and more effective when we all contribute,” he said. “We in the military know that our diversity is our strength.”

“Celebrating diversity and recognizing the accomplishments of often hidden figures help us understand better how we are all connected,” Bagby added.

The former BAMC commander highlighted five “trailblazers” in military medicine.

Dr. James McCune Smith was the first African American to earn his medical degree in 1837. Smith was barred from enrolling in medical school in America due to racism, so he went to medical school in Glasgow, Scotland. He became the first university-trained Black physician to practice medicine and publish articles in medical journals.

Dr. Alexander T. Augusta was one of 13 African American surgeons who served during the American Civil War. After finishing medical school in Canada, Augusta petitioned President Abraham Lincoln and became the first Black commissioned medical officer in the Union Army. He later become the first Black surgeon to lead a hospital in the United States.

Retired Maj. Raney Jackson was the first Black nurse to be commissioned in the U.S. Army in 1941. After serving in World War II, she was assigned to lead the nursing staff at an Army hospital at Camp Beale, California. In 1946, she was promoted to the rank of major and retired in 1978.

Retired Brig. Gen. Hazel Johnson-Brown enlisted in 1955, just seven years after President Truman integrated the Armed Forces. She was named director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing and was named Army Nurse of the Year two times. In 1979, she became the 16th chief of the Army Nurse Corps and was promoted to brigadier general, becoming the first African American woman to earn the rank of general officer.

Retired Brig. Gen. Guthrie Turner, Jr. was the first African American to achieve the rank of general officer in the Army Medical Corps and the first African American to command an Army hospital – serving as Madigan Army Medical Center's commanding general from 1980 to 1983.

“These are amazing people who broke barriers then continued giving back by making sure that others didn’t have to endure what they went through just to serve their country,” Bagby said. “They literally had to fight to have the privilege of sacrificing, serving and giving back to our country.”

Bagby said, “Without Black history, the full story of American history is simply incomplete.”

“To understand the world, you must first understand the historical experiences and perspectives of those who society has historically considered to be those at its margins - Black and Indigenous people, people of color, women and LGBTQ Americans,” he added.

In closing, Bagby asked everyone, “What are you willing to do to make things better?”

“My challenge to you is stand up for equality however, wherever and whenever you can, in the way that you are able,” he said. “Allow yourself to be open, questioning, and vulnerable to other points of view. Seek to understand. To learn to see others for what you have in common first, not how you’re different.”