VILSECK, Germany (Dec. 26, 2012) -- Leaders and staff at the Illesheim Health Clinic received recognition for becoming the first U.S. Army Medical Command unit to achieve the Voluntary Protection Program Army Safety Excellence Star at an Army Star Strong Flag Ceremony on Storck Barracks Dec. 20.

Director for Safety Mark G. Atkins, deputy assistant secretary of the Army, presented the leadership with a certificate of recognition and a Voluntary Protection Program, or VPP, Army Star Strong flag to recognize and commend the staffs' commitment to safety.

"You are the first to achieve it and that is a big deal," Atkins said. "You are ahead of the game and you are doing things other people are going to have to do."

The VPP program is designed to reduce accidents by building a safety-conscious culture in the workplace through the implementation of safety practices and procedures. Achieving star status requires three stages of assessments focused on management leadership and employee involvement, worksite analysis, hazard prevention and control, and safety and health training.

Thirty-six months is the standard duration to complete the three-stage assessment. The staff at Illesheim Health Clinic achieved the star status in 17 months. Illesheim started its VPP assessment in January 2011 and earned the status in June for exemplary occupational health and safety standards.

Two days before the ceremony in Illesheim, Atkins visited Livorno Health Clinic, which was the second unit in the MEDCOM to achieve star status, and presented similar items to its command.

While Atkins was there, he noticed some writing at the clinic that had the unit's motto.

"Their motto is second to none," Atkins told those in attendance at the ceremony in Illesheim. "I said I guess you will have to change that motto and they said 'no, they might have been the first achieve it, we got recognized first, so we don't have to change anything.'"

Col. Robert Goodman, commander for Bavaria Medical Department Activity, commended the safety efforts of the staff both past and present.

Staffs from Europe Regional Medical Command and BMEDDAC were presented certificates and awards for assisting the units achieve the star strong status.

Before concluding the ceremony, Goodman highlighted another safety accomplishment; Capt. Jose Ramirez, the clinic's chief nurse and acting commander, accepted a certificate of achievement on behalf of the clinic for its staff going five years without a Driving Under the Influence incident.