SAN ANTONIO - Focusing on their concerns, Vice Adm. Matthew L. Nathan, surgeon general of the Navy, spent Sept. 13 visiting with wounded Marines, sailors, and the staff of Naval Health Clinic Corpus Christi Detachment at the San Antonio Military Medical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
Nathan said he recognized what he coined as “nodes of excellence” – military medical centers across the country such as SAMMC – that provide critical care for those injured in combat; as well as tertiary medical facilities that treat illness, disease and non-combat injuries.
But, beyond the high standard of care they receive from these facilities, Nathan said he wanted to ensure Marines and sailors knew the Marine Corps and the Navy have not forgotten them in what is a traditionally an Army-Air Force environment here in San Antonio.
Nathan, also chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, reached out on a personal note as well.
“Thank you on behalf of the people I work with back in [Washington] D.C.,” he said to the group of about 50 in the SAMMC auditorium.
The admiral discussed future changes planned within the Defense Department such as downsizing and a strategic refocus toward the Pacific region, Asia, Africa and South America for the Navy. Nathan also said that coalition forces were 99 percent out of Iraq and, though not smoothly, relocating troops out of Afghanistan is continuing.
Nathan’s visit meant a lot to Marine Lance Cpl. Jonathan Stephenson who was wounded by a roadside bomb in March while he was on convoy in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
Stephenson, the turret gunner in a truck, was thrown 60 meters from his vehicle when it was struck. He said he doesn’t remember anything until he woke up at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., two weeks later.
“It shows that somebody cares,” Stephenson said, “and that there are people looking out for our best interests.”
Questions on issues during the town hall ranged from current global affairs to local staffing.
One sailor presented a new challenge for the surgeon general to consider: how must a sailor’s weight be factored into the physical readiness standards when he or she has a prosthetic?
“It’s important for the sailor, in case he or she has the option to return to active duty,” explained Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Mark Foriska, a liaison with Detachment SAMMC, who posed the question. “It’s also important if they continue to have treatment here at SAMMC.”
Foriska said the subject came up during a class he was attending.
“Nobody had the answer, so I thought this was the perfect time to bring up the question.”
Officials cite a 95 percent survival rate for battlefield injuries, where cutting-edge technology allows many amputees and others with severe injury to recover, return to the same type of work, and even deploy again.
“We have people wearing prosthetic devices that can now get back into the cockpit, get back into the fight or continue to serve on active duty in a variety of ways; and be required to stay fit like everybody else,” Nathan said.
The admiral’s first step toward developing weight standards for service members with prosthetics will be to survey military personnel and medical facilities in order to find out what is being done currently; and then devise a formula for measurement.
Using the ratio of height to girth might provide an initial answer, he said, adding that he needs to do additional research.
After his town hall meeting, Nathan toured the newly-completed U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research. Adjacent to SAMMC, the facility is dedicated to advancing combat casualty care and providing state-of-the-art trauma, burn, and critical care.
Nathan also attended the chief petty officer pinning ceremony at the Fort Sam Houston Theatre, Sept. 14, during his visit. The pinning ceremony is a culminating event where Sailors are awarded anchors and allowed to don the uniform of Navy chief petty officer for the first time after proving their worth during an eight-week leadership course.
Unique to the Navy, the course tests the chief selectees’ fortitude under duress.
“It’s a thrill to get out in the field and see our sailors, our corpsmen, our medical personnel, our patients, talk to them, hear what is on their minds,” Nathan said, “and let them show off what they do, because they do so many things so well.”