A new milestone has been reached as the U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional) moves forward to full operational capability. The organization welcomed Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald C. Ecker at a change of responsibility ceremony conducted on March 17 at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

Ecker is the first command sergeant major to be assigned to USAPHC (Prov) or to the two organizations merging to form it, U.S. Army Veterinary Command and the former U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine. Previous senior enlisted advisors to those organizations have been sergeants major. VETCOM and the former USACHPPM have been integrating since October 2009 to strengthen the Army's public health capabilities, standardize public health practices across the Army, and partner more effectively with medical treatment facilities and installations.

"The Public Health Command is truly the best organization in the Army Medical Department," said outgoing Sgt. Maj. Osvaldo Ponzo as he spoke to ceremony attendees.

"I am leaving this organization in the capable hands of an innovative, combat-proven, senior noncommissioned officer who brings a vast experience to the USAPHC," he added. "Command Sergeant Major Ecker's leadership successes at the operational and organization level will greatly benefit this command as we strive towards FOC [full operational capability] while still delivering world-class public health and veterinary care services."

Ecker began his career as a medic assigned to an airborne infantry rifle platoon. He has just completed his fourth deployment and nearly 24 years of military service. He recalls teaching fellow platoon members that the best kind of medicine is the kind that does not have to be practiced, quoting an infantryman as saying, "The best kind of medicine is preventing casualties through superior firepower."

"I feel as if I am back on the front line, the tip of the spear, again. Yet, this time [I'm] jumping on a strategic drop zone," Ecker said.
"In many 'multidisciplinary' ways we are the kind of medicine that will provide the non-lethal (superior) firepower by getting out in front of adverse medical conditions that could potentially fill our theater combat support hospitals and stateside fixed facilities," he explained. "This is an exciting opportunity to serve an organization with great potential to influence goodness."

During Ecker's tenure, the USAPHC (Prov) is expected to reach full operational capability, targeted for Oct. 1. As the single point of accountability for public health, USAPHC has the mission to promote health and prevent disease, injury, and disability of Soldiers and military retirees, their families, and Department of the Army civilian employees; and assure effective execution of full spectrum veterinary service for Army and Department of Defense Veterinary missions.

Maximizing potential talents as leaders, Soldiers, scientists, providers, technicians, promoters and stewards of public health is part of Ecker's expectation for the command. He said he thinks everyone in the public health command can work smartly to create the conditions for a healthy balance of duty and family.

Communication is very important to Ecker. He is eager to learn about the organization, and he says that he appreciates professionalism and candor. "Let me know who you are and what you do," he said. "I want to know what you think."

"I cannot think of a better way to live life than to be afforded the opportunity to care for and influence those so dedicated to securing the principalities of freedom -truly the finest our country has ever offered. I am sincerely grateful and humbled to assume this position."