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The last Medical Professional Training Brigade commander reflects on unit’s legacy

By Tish Williamson | U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence Public Affairs | July 1, 2020

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —

Effective July 1, 2020, the 32nd Medical Brigade receives Operational Control, or OPCON, of the Medical Professional Training Brigade’s, or MPTB’s, two battalions: the 187th and 188th Medical Battalions. 

MPTB will retain administrative control, or ADCON, of the battalions until discontinuation orders are received from Headquarters, Department of the Army, expected later this year or early 2021.

The final MPTB commander took a moment to reflect on what this change means, not only to her but to MPTB’s Soldiers and civilians, past and present.  

Col. Shannon Shaw has held three command positions; one each at the company, battalion, and now brigade level. She said that knowing, as she did when she took command of MPTB in July 2019, that the brigade would be discontinued during her tenure makes this experience unique, but no less rewarding than her other command opportunities.

“As I said during the 187th Medical Battalion Change of Command ceremony last week, a command is the most significant achievement of an officer's career; it is the ultimate vote of confidence,” Shaw reflected.

She describes command as a job of immense personal satisfaction.

“Regardless of the circumstances, and despite the transition that MPTB has undergone, for me to serve as the last MPTB commander has been the greatest privilege of my career.”

It is significant that the school transitions from two brigades to one this year as 2020 is recognized as their centennial anniversary. 

A request from Maj. Gen. Merritte Ireland, the Surgeon General of the Army in 1920, to establish the field school was officially approved by the War Department May 15, 1920. 

On June 30, 1920, the Department of the Interior turned Carlisle Barracks over to the War Department for the school’s use. On Sept. 1, 1920, cadre began to arrive, and in May 1921, students arrived and the school’s first formal course started June 1, 1921.

The original mission of the school was to train Medical Corps, Dental Corps, Veterinary Corps, and Sanitary Corps Officers in their duties as Army Officers. There have been numerous changes over the years, but the mission of training medical professionals to support the Army remains constant.

Today, MEDCoE trains, educates and inspires nearly 37,000 soldiers in more than 360 training and education programs annually that include everyone from combat medics, doctors, surgeons, nurses, veterinarians, dentists, physical therapists and physician assistants to medical evacuation pilots, food inspectors, medical technicians, and hospital administrators.

Prior to the initiation of the MPTB that began in earnest in 2015 to distribute the training load, the 32nd Medical Brigade was the school’s sole training brigade and was responsible for all four training battalions. 

While June 2017 marked the official establishment of the MPTB, the hard work and momentum of building the team from the ground up had begun nearly two years prior in the basement of Willis Hall at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, according to the Brigade’s closing historical report. 

In July 2015, Col. William Scott Drennon and his team started the painstaking process of developing procedures and logistical requirements to bring the brigade to fruition. 

The MPTB, then known as the Academy Brigade (Provisional), overcame countless barriers to include a lack of functional unit identification codes, geographic dispersion across four different states, key position vacancies, Tables of Distribution and Allowances, or TDA, challenges, budget constraints, organizational resistance to change, and other growing pains that come with new business practices. 

The official orders to reflag the brigade were published March 14, 2017, with an effective date of June 1, 2017; the official reflag ceremony was conducted July 1, 2017.

There have only been three MPTB commanders and four command sergeants major since its inception in 2015. The commander between Shaw and Drennon was Col. Shauna Snyder, who was in command from July 2017 to July 2019. The command sergeants major were Henry Chapman, Carlisie Jones, Jody Stanley, and finally, Jennifer Redding, who has been the command sergeant major since July 2019.   

Shaw thinks the transition to one brigade is a good thing. 

“MPTB's planned discontinuation and consolidation into the 32nd Medical Brigade is part of the larger MEDCoE modernization and reorganization,” she said.

The realignment to one training brigade conforms to the TRADOC structural model seen in most of the other Centers of Excellence. As part of a MEDCoE TDA reorganization, all subordinate battalions were aligned to one brigade and a commandant’s office was created. 

“Under the Office of the Commandant, teaching departments are now organized in a more efficient manner, academic equities will be unified, and an increased academic oversight and information flow between teaching departments will occur,” said William Grimes, MEDCoE assistant chief of staff, G5, whose office serves as the lead proponent for MEDCoE reorganization. 

The MEDCoE Commandant retains academic oversight, mainly leaving the brigade commander with direct responsibility for personnel.

“Under this new structure, the single Brigade Commander serves as an enabler and advocate for the Commandant and integrator with staff and higher command interests,” Grimes explained.   

The Brigade Commander and Staff are now responsible for the equipment resourcing and synchronization to execute training as well as management of Human Resource matters.  Each Department, now organized under the Commandant, unlike 2015 when there was a need to split the load between two brigades, is responsible for the day-to-day designing, planning, and execution of training. 

Both Grimes and Shaw believe that a properly resourced Commandant adjudicates all equipment and manpower resource conflicts that previously made command of all four battalions a formidable task. “The unit will gain organizational efficiencies and improve vertical and horizontal integration and communication across the MEDCoE,” Shaw said.  “It's the right decision and the right thing to do at the right time.”

In the last five years, MPTB has had a relatively short, but impressive, tenure. 

The organization has served as a multifunctional medical training brigade, enforcing compliance with training policies, regulations, and standards. They provided mission command, training, education, administration, and logistical support. Their two battalions, six companies, and four detachments comprise a total workforce of over 2,700 members and a daily average student population of more than 2,000 Soldiers.

The brigade had direct oversight of 11 academic teaching departments with an additional 30 sub-departments and branches responsible for more than 200 courses. These programs include all MEDCoE Officer Professional Military Education courses, graduate-level courses, and Advanced Individual Training for Initial Entry Training Soldiers in 15 different medical military occupational specialties.

 “The size and scope of the MPTB and the reach that our mission has had is colossal and will continue throughout this transformation,” Shaw said. “The agility, resilience, and optimism of the MPTB and the entire MEDCoE team during this reorganization has set the conditions for the enduring success of all four of the medical training battalions under the 32nd Medical Brigade.”

After brigade command, Shaw will serve as the Chief, Department of Leader Training, MEDCoE and Redding will transfer to the Institute of Surgical Research, also at JBSA- Fort Sam Houston.

For more information about the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence visit www.medcoe.army.mil.