By Bernard S. LittleApril 27, 2007
Walter Reed Army Medical Center activated its new Warrior Transition Brigade Wednesday in the Rose Garden. The brigade will oversee the overall health, welfare and morale of Warriors in Transition.
Maj. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, commanding general of WRAMC and the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command, uncased and unfurled the WTB flag before handing handed the colors to the Col. Terrence McKenrick, indicating he will command the WTB.
"As this unit embarks on the honorable task of caring for our Warriors, empower us with the ability to rise to the challenge, they deserve only the best," prayed WTB Chaplain (Maj.) Billy Hawkins during the invocation. "May restoration and healing be our watchwords."
Schoomaker thanked the Army leadership, Congress and a number of other people and groups for recognizing a need for such a brigade, "and being just strong supporters of Army medicine and Walter Reed during this admittedly difficult time for us.
"It means a great deal for all us that when we faltered you ran to the sound of the guns and helped us restore our balance," Schoomaker said. "You continue to provide leadership, guidance and material support. We can't thank you enough, [and] we ask only that you keep the energy and support coming for us as we support some of the greatest heroes of this great nation."
Schoomaker said during a discussion he had with Col. Casper Jones, the WRAMC and NARMC chief of staff, Jones observed that when Soldiers were brought in operating rooms and medical units for care, "even those grievously wounded in combat," their first question is, "Who are my buddies'"
"Without fail the first concern of the Wounded is for their comrade," Schoomaker said. "And most often, the first people to come into the hospital with the Soldier or Marine were his comrades, his leaders, his squad leader, first sergeant, platoon leader, company commander and battalion commander.
"In many cases, the life of the Soldier who's been treated in that combat support hospital has been saved on the battlefield by the very same Soldier who had been with him in combat," Schoomaker added. "Those same Soldiers, with whom he had been with fighting, had saved his life. These are combat lifesavers who were on the scene even before the combat medic - the 68 Whiskey - could make it to the side of the Wounded Soldier."
He said "the best combat Soldiers in the world" have also answered Walter Reed's call for help with its Warriors in Transition.
Brig. Gen. Mike Tucker, WRAMC new deputy commanding general, is "a tanker and bureaucracy buster," as well as a combat veteran, as is McKenrick, whose most recent assignment was as G3 staff operations officer in V Corps, deployed in Iraq and serving as the officer-in-charge of the Joint Operations Center for Multi-National Corps-Iraq.
Schoomaker said the WTB includes Warriors who've fallen victims to illness or injuries in training, garrison or combat in a transitional period. "Many want desperately to return to duty as Soldiers despite the most difficult, and for many, disabling wounds and illnesses. Many others, having served their tours as mobilized reserve components Soldiers, are in a transition back to productive lives as citizens of the nation. Finally, there are those who will bear disabling wounds or illnesses for the remainder of their lives, but are in a transition to lives of meaning and continued community contributions through treatment and rehabilitation."
He said it's the mission of the leaders of the WTB to ensure those transitions are done "with dignity, focused on the individual needs and potential and aspiration of each and every Soldier and reflects the pride and gratitude that we all share for their service to the nation."
Schoomaker said McKenrick, the WTB Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff Hartless, also a combat veteran and former Warrior in Transition at WRAMC, and their team, possess the talent to accomplish this mission. "These are great leaders who have shown us the strength to build."
Schoomaker also acknowledged the efforts of Col. Ronald Hamilton, commander of the Medical Center Brigade and his staff for doing much of the work which will be assumed by the WTB while providing command, control and leadership for all permanent party Soldiers at WRAMC. He said those MCB members can now return to their duties as licensed practical nurse, corpsmen, medical logistics noncommissioned officers, technicians and others. "We really badly need you back in the hospital."
Schoomaker thanked the "fine institution" of WRAMC, whose men and women have "selflessly cared for thousands upon thousands of America men and women and their families while in uniform or after years of service for the past 98 years." He said he's sure "Walter Reed - an Army doctor who changed the face of America - is proud of this day and what he sees happening here at the medical center that bears his name."
Since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, WRAMC has treated nearly 6,000 patients, 1,946 who have been injured in battle. More than 500 patients from Operation Enduring Freedom have been treated at Walter Reed since that operation began. Nearly 200 of those patients have been injured in battle.
McKenrick said "It's a great day to be a Soldier at Walter Reed." A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he added the WTB's drive for excellence is just beginning with its integration into the Walter Reed team. By the end of May, the WTB cadre will include 166 Soldiers to take care of 630 Warriors in Transition.
In addition to its leaders, McKenrick said the WTB its "heart" - squad leaders, case managers and primary care physicians. "We will establish the conditions to facilitate the Warriors' healing process - physically, mentally and spiritually. We are committed to providing leadership and clinical care to our Warriors in Transition equal to the quality of their service and the sacrifice they've made for our nation."