WASHINGTON, July 28, 2011 -- Though it’s consolidating soon in nearby Bethesda, Md., with the National Naval Medical Center, Walter Reed Army Medical Center has built a lasting legacy, Army Secretary John M. McHugh said here yesterday at a ceremony in which the 102-year-old hospital cased its colors.
The consolidation in Bethesda, mandated by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Act and expected to be complete by the end of September, will create the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
The casing of the colors -- conducted on the hospital’s parade field under a spacious white tent to accommodate hundreds of people for the two-hour event -- marked the medical center's transition, but also served as a milestone for the Army's flagship hospital to begin the move from its small post, tightly bordered by a neighborhood and sandwiched between 16th Street and Georgia Avenue in the city's northwest quadrant.
While most of Walter Reed’s staff is relocating to Bethesda, some will move to the new Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, which replaces the former DeWitt Army Hospital on the Virginia post.
"Walter Reed is not about bricks and mortar," McHugh said of the hospital's rich and storied medical history, which spans the challenges and triumphs of both world wars, the Korean conflict, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the last decade at war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Walter Reed is about the spirit, the hope and the compassion the hospital staff [has provided the patients]," he said, since Walter Reed General Hospital's first patients were admitted in 1909.
"Walter Reed Army Medical Center is nothing short of miraculous," McHugh said. "Miracles are what this place is about -- year in, and year out."
McHugh said he began regularly visiting Arlington National Cemetery and Walter Reed Army Medical Center soon after President Barack Obama nominated him to his post. That's when he saw the inner workings of the hospital's staff and its patients, wounded warriors in particular, he added, and realized they live with "the never-ending reminder of the price of war."
"Walter Reed's name and its legacy, hard work and healing will endure," the Army secretary said.
Following presentations and remarks, members of Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s military units cased their colors, symbolizing their deactivation. The units included Walter Reed's garrison command, hospital command, medical center brigade, dental unit, health care system and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, a longtime tenant unit that will be disbanded.
One by one, a duo of servicemembers meticulously furled and carefully covered the colors for the transition to new commands and new beginnings. After all of Walter Reed's units' colors were cased and readied for moving, new colors representing the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital and the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center also were cased for the transition.
Walter Reed's campus will permanently close as an Army hospital, but the land and buildings are expected to be taken over by the city and other agencies, including the State Department.