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NEWS | Dec. 2, 2021

MEDCoE celebrates its history with centennial anniversary book launch

By Tish Williamson U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence Public Affairs

The U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence conducted a ceremony to unveil a book dedicated to its Centennial Anniversary Nov. 30. The event was hosted by Maj. Gen. Dennis P. LeMaster, MEDCoE commanding general, at the Army Medical Department Museum vehicle pergola at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.

“Though COVID-19, another historic event, put a pause on much of the formal centennial events we had planned last year, we are happy to gather here today to celebrate the launch of the MEDCoE Centennial Book,” said Maj. Michael Forslund, narrator for the ceremony.

LeMaster agreed, noting how the challenges associated with the pandemic significantly delayed the book production and the feasibility of holding a large ceremony with community participation before COVID-19 conditions began to improve locally.

“I want to thank everyone involved with crafting, codifying and remembering our 100-year story,” he said. “We should have discussed it last year, but we had something that got in the way of that.”

The book is titled “Army Medicine Starts Here: the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence and Its Origins,” and is a pictorial history of the first 100 years of the medical education and training institution, from 1920 through 2020. 

The Medical Field Service School, from where the MEDCoE traces its origin, received official approval for establishment by the Department of the Army May 15, 1920, after a formal request was made by Maj. Gen. Merritte Ireland, the Surgeon General of the Army at the time.

The school began its first class in July 1921 at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. When the facilities at Carlisle proved to be too small for the breadth and depth of the mission, the school moved to Fort Sam Houston in February 1946.

Nolan Andy Watson, Army Medical Department Center for History Heritage director and co-author of the MEDCoE Centennial Book, was the special guest speaker for the event. 

The part of the book covering the first 90 years of the training institution was written by former MEDCoE historian Adrian Askins Neidinger under the direction of retired Maj. Gen. David Rubenstein, the MEDCoE commanding general at the time.

“I am a co-author,” Watson explained. “Neidinger set the foundation for this book and I followed on with an equally impressive team.”

Watson encouraged people to read the lengthy acknowledgments section in the 287-page book. He also pointed out that he feels the true authors of the MEDCoE story are the hundreds of thousands of former and current MEDCoE Soldiers, civilians and leaders.

“As a historian, I will always be a co-author, as it is the Soldiers of the Army who create the story,” he concluded.

The MEDCoE has more than 1,500 faculty and staff who train and educate nearly 34,000 students annually in 257 courses or programs. The average daily student load of 4,600 Soldiers includes more than 3,300 on Joint Base San Antonio and another 1300 students at 246 clinical sites across the Department of Defense. The MEDCoE currently offers four master's and nine doctoral degree programs.

“As we celebrate the past today with our centennial book, I think we will all agree that these are historic times,” LeMaster said. “Even without the pandemic, our history is now. No one truly fathoms that they are a part of history while they are making it.

“Over the last year and a half, while dealing with the added pressure of the largest pandemic the world has seen in over 100 years, we boldly and safely kept the Army’s pipeline of trained and ready medical professionals securely open,” LeMaster added.

Through all of the mitigation measures carried out by engaged leaders, LeMaster recalled how MEDCoE ensured all Soldiers sent from Advanced Individual Training at the MEDCoE to their first unit of assignment were free of COVID-19.

“What the Medical Center of Excellence has accomplished will resonate now, and well into the future, to ensure we have a trained, educated and resourced medical force,” LeMaster said. “That is our legacy; this is the history which we are making. Our mission and future history begin and end with Soldiers. Everything else is secondary.”

All ceremony attendees received a copy of the MEDCoE Centennial Book courtesy of MEDCoE’s Borden Institute. During the ceremony, personalized copies of the book were presented to the youngest Soldier, Pvt. Bright Odura, a 17-year-old 68W Combat Medic in training; as well as James Murray, the civilian employee with the most years in service; and Joseph Bray, the Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army, Texas (South).

Five trainees assigned to the 264th Medical Battalion, 32nd Medical Brigade, provided a living display of historical uniforms.  Pvts. Salvador Mendez, Christopher Arana, Bhumika Kharkiv, Isaiah Green and Kaitlyn Thompson donned period costumes, provided by Robert Ampula, AMEDD Center of History and Heritage, that spanned the last 100 years.

The ceremony concluded with a traditional cake cutting and the Army song played by the “After Five” jazz combo from “Fort Sam’s Own” 323rd Army Band.  Attendees were invited to stay for a reception and get their books signed by key leaders after the ceremony. 

“For those of you who are new to the Medical Center of Excellence, though your book has yet to be written, be proud of the knowledge that ‘we,’ which includes all of you, are setting Army Medicine on an upward trajectory that is sure to last well into the next 100 years,” LeMaster concluded.