JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
When the Department of Defense’s 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission directed nearly all enlisted medical training be colocated at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, it may have unknowingly changed the landscape of enlisted medical training for the foreseeable future.
In addition to collocating, the BRAC legislation also called for training to be consolidated where possible, meaning two or more services would share curriculum and classrooms.
During a ribbon-cutting ceremony June 30, 2010, the Medical Education and Training Campus, or METC, celebrated its entry into initial operating capability, along with the distinctions of being the world's largest enlisted allied-health campus and largest consolidation of U.S. military training in Department of Defense history.
Rear Adm. Bob Kiser, METC's inaugural commandant, said at the time that the event marked a significant milestone in military medicine.
"Everywhere our nation sends our finest to serve, our graduates will be there with them serving as a force for good because of the work done here," he asserted during his remarks.
Fast forward a decade. METC is a world-class teaching facility and the only one of its kind in the world. Consolidating and streamlining medical training works to improve the quality and caliber of medical enlisted personnel, no matter their service or area of specialty.
Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen are transformed into allied health professionals ready to serve in hospitals, on ships, at field assignments, and joint environments anywhere in the world.
With 49 allied-health programs of instruction in 180 classrooms and 115 labs, the 1.1 million-square-foot campus averages 5,500 students on any given day. Depending on the course, students spend anywhere from six weeks to 13 months learning their skills.
About 16,500 METC graduates each year go on to support the military's medical forces. A third of METC graduates are Reserve and National Guard personnel, who will also return home to practice in their communities. So far, approximately 140,000 alumni have been trained at METC.
Technology plays a large role in the curriculum. METC’s unique training environment allows students to learn and hone their skills using hi-fidelity human patient simulators, digital anatomy tables, mock intensive care units, and operating rooms. Additionally, the use of simulated combat settings prepares students for operational environments.
“The future of enlisted medical training will see METC transitioning to more of a virtual campus, utilizing digital technology where feasible,” stated current METC Commandant, Navy Capt. Thomas Herzig. “As METC incorporates cutting edge training tools and platforms into our programs of instruction, our graduates continue to be the finest medics, corpsmen, and technicians who are ready to serve the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard.”
So how did METC get here?
Over the course of five years following the BRAC decision, the services’ combined expertise, best practices and, with extensive planning, determination and dedication, created the new schoolhouse almost exclusively from the ground up.
The Navy moved three major enlisted medical training centers from Portsmouth, Virginia; San Diego, California; and Great Lakes, Illinois, while the Air Force relocated its enlisted medical training from Wichita Falls, Texas. Army enlisted medical training was already located at Fort Sam Houston.
The training requirements were determined by the services and executed at METC. Courses were combined where it made sense to do so, while still retaining some service-specific programs, such as Army combat medic, Air Force medical technician, and Navy hospital corpsman training.
Although students trained in a joint environment, they also maintained their separate service identities outside of the academic environment. All activities and functions beyond the classroom, including meals, physical training, and living quarters, were managed by the respective service component.
In the first year following IOC, METC had quickly reached several milestones. The first training program, radiography specialist, had already classed up. Other courses would be phased in throughout the summer and fall. Buildings were named. Awards were presented.
A handful of Air Force students who attended a two-week pharmacy craftsman course were the first METC to graduate Nov. 4, 2010.
Finally, the remaining medical instructional facilities were completed and opened for classes. METC reached full operational capability, or FOC, Sept. 15, 2011, with a ceremony during which the last two instructional facilities – Heritage Hall and Heroes Hall – were officially named.
In the following years, more courses were consolidated and milestones met. National and international visitors alike came to learn how METC operated. Foreign militaries looked at ways to incorporate similar training features or build their own version of “METC.” They would also send students to be trained at METC, then the students would return to their countries to train their colleagues.
METC continued to evolve. In August 2014, METC was realigned and entered initial operating capability under the Education and Training Directorate (J7) of the newly established Defense Health Agency. The DHA, a combat support agency of the Department of Defense, is responsible for the tri-service alignment of many healthcare activities and services. The move under J7 was to create a standardized, shared service for education and training that would become the blueprint for high-value education and training across the Military Health System enterprise.
Not only was METC unique for its joint enlisted medical training, but efforts were also ongoing to develop a pathway that would enable METC graduates and veterans to receive college credit for their military training and experience.
METC leadership had also been developing degree pathway programs for METC graduates and veterans. Students could receive college credit from the Community College of the Air Force or recommended college credit from the American Council on Education.
In addition, METC established partnerships with over 80 academic institutions from across the country, to include more than 600 degree completion pathways in 29 states, granting college credit toward a degree for portions of the training students received at METC.
Furthermore, a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 gave the DOD’s Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, or USUHS, authorization to grant undergraduate degrees. METC became an independent branch campus of the USUHS’ College of Allied Health Sciences, or CAHS. Students in select METC programs receive college credit, leading to an undergraduate degree from CAHS, with the goal of CAHS providing degrees to all METC graduates in the future.
From saving lives on the battlefield to fighting the COVID-19 coronavirus in their own communities, METC graduates have gone on to succeed in impressive ways.
All of them embody the core values that make them the world's finest medics, corpsmen, and technicians.
Back during the historic IOC ceremony, Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Lambing, Kiser's senior enlisted advisor, envisioned the future quite clearly when he said, "METC will serve as the birthplace for joint interoperability for corpsman, medics and technicians. The souls that will walk the hallowed halls of this institution will make a difference in faraway lands for centuries to come. In five years, every medic and corpsman under the grade of E-5 will have been educated here at METC."
The rest, as they say, is history.