Senior leaders at the U.S. Army Public Health Command recently learned lessons and techniques to improve communication, resolve conflict and develop a high performing, unified Army Public Health team. The leaders took advantage of a rare opportunity to participate in a week-long training session at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Md., July 9-13.

Maj. Gen. Jimmie O. Keenan, commander of the USAPHC, requested the training to attain command-wide conceptual unity in order to successfully fulfill the USAPHC mission of protecting the health of America's Sons and Daughters.

"When I came into the organization, although we had successfully merged two organizations, I didn't feel the Public Health Command was operating at its full potential," said Keenan. (The USAPHC was built on the merger of U.S. Army Veterinary Command and the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine.)

"To take care of America's Sons and Daughters, we have to have a commitment to collaborate and to respect and honor all of our staff equally," Keenan added.

One of the training's basic principles is the concept of viewing and treating people as people, and focusing outward on how one can help others in and outside the workplace.

"The purpose of this training was to build trust, promote unity and enhance communication among the various senior professionals that lead the USAPHC," said Col. Jeff Peters, director of the Human Systems Transformation Office at the Office of the Surgeon General. "Through understanding each other's goals and objectives, the USAPHC can be successful in its mission."

The Human Systems Transformation Office provided the leadership training. Individuals within this office offer customized training for various commands on effective tools to leverage their individual strengths, enable higher levels of trust, and develop partnerships--all of which are critical to enable readiness and accomplish the Army's mission. Its members frequently travel to various U.S. Army Medical Command organizations within the United States and abroad to explore opportunities for enhancing human performance, creating synergy and promoting collaboration across various organizations.

Sgt. Maj. Surendra Mangra, command sergeant major at the Public Health Command Region-Pacific, is a certified master resiliency trainer in the Army. He said he is familiar with the principles that were taught in the class, so the instruction served as refresher material for him.

"I realize that relationships are important, and it's vital to treat every individual with respect, instead of like a machine," said Mangra. "When you build trust and rapport with your teammates, the organization can reap huge dividends."

Attendees who participated in the leadership training said it will have a lasting impact and will help them in their careers.

"This command has people at locations all around the world, and it was refreshing to come together and see how we can work more cohesively to achieve our mission," said Col. Robin King, commander of the PHCR-West. "I enjoyed interacting with members of the command whom I rarely get to see and working together to see how we could successfully lead an organization that is in transition."

Debbie Austin, director of Human Resources at the USAPHC, also valued the training.
"I tend to wait for people to ask for what they need from me, and I work diligently to fulfill these requests," said Austin. "After this training, however, I know it's more beneficial if I ask people what I can do for them. It's always good to serve others."

Austin said the techniques that were taught in the classroom can also be used in her personal life.

"This training can help you develop better relationships with your spouse, children or other members of your family," said Austin. "Good communication is the foundation for any successful relationship."

Peters said such feedback makes his job worthwhile.

"One of the most rewarding aspects of my job occurs when I get an e-mail from a course attendee who tells me that the training we gave them benefitted them in their personal life," said Peters. "We did not set out to achieve this goal, but it's pretty gratifying to receive this feedback."

Although the initial training offered was targeted to senior leaders, Keenan said she is confident that the leaders will begin to mentor their staff, and make the USAPHC an organization where each person is respected, and every individual can grow and flourish.

"Those who have taken the course have to model the behaviors; they have to talk to their staffs about what was learned," said Keenan. "Our mission dictates that we have to work as one. We have to think, 'what can I give?' instead of 'what can I get?' We need to recognize each person as a person, not an object."

Although the team from the Human Transformation Office has visited many organizations, Peters said the USAPHC is special.

"The USAPHC is a unique organization because it recently merged two major commands to achieve a single mission," said Peters. "Research shows that as few as 30 percent of mergers in the private sector are ultimately successful."

Despite these odds, Peters said he sees potential and promise among the individuals who make up the USAPHC.

"The people at the USAPHC are some of the most committed people I have had the pleasure of meeting," said Peters. "I admire the professionalism I see in the organization, and I can tell that the people are passionate and committed to their mission of addressing public health challenges in support of the Army."