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Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs visits the MEDCoE

Three soldiers and Mr. McCaffery, wearing masks, talking Army Lt. Col. Kathleen Samsey and Army Capt. Cesar Veliz brief Thomas McCaffery, Assistant Secretary of Defense, and Army Maj. Gen. Dennis LeMaster, commanding general U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence, about the patient simulators used to teach students during the Combat Paramedic course at Joint Base San Antonio. (Photo by Jose Rodriguez.)

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Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

During his first visit to San Antonio, the Honorable Thomas McCaffery, Assistant Secretary of Defense (ASD) for Health Affairs visited the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence (MEDCoE), as part of a larger visit to Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA)-Fort Sam Houston Texas from October 19-21.

The purpose of the visit was to provide the ASD opportunities to meet key leaders and learn more about the many military medicine organizations who serve together on the base. His planned stops also included the Brooke Army Medical Center, the Medical Education and Training Campus, and the Naval Medical Forces Support Command.

As the Health Advisor to the Secretary of Defense, each command was encouraged to highlight the unique capabilities that support military medical training or healthcare delivery. The ASD was also interested in seeing how commands are operating in the COVID environment.

Army Maj. Gen. Dennis LeMaster, MEDCoE commander, led the tour of the Combat Paramedic simulation scenario training and an overview of the Army’s Flight Paramedic Program.

The ASD also learned more about the new Combat Medical Specialist Training Program, a 30-week pilot program that began in January 2020 and graduated its first class in August; and how the Combat Medic training program adapted to thrive despite the added challenges of COVID-19.

The CMSTP rapidly transformed training to a blended learning environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A true collaboration as the team is consists of both military service members and civilian personnel. Military cadre and students are assigned to the MEDCoE and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, while civilian personnel are assigned to the METC under Defense Health Agency.

In addition to changing their delivery methods, the CMSTP team focused on improving attrition rates and developed a new refresher course for students finding the National Registry of Emergency Medicine Technicians content difficult to master. The refresher course decreased the course Army combat medic attrition rate by over 90 percent. This change saved tens of thousands of dollars by graduating soldiers into the operational force who would have otherwise been reclassified or become a loss to the Army.

During the pandemic, MEDCoE has graduated nearly 13,000 students in more than 600 courses. They safely moved nearly 7,000 Advanced Individual Training (AIT) soldiers of varying medical military occupational specialties in and out of the training pipeline on JBSA without a single instance of sending a COVID-19 positive student to a follow-on unit of assignment.

In addition to MEDCoE, BAMC, METC and NMFSC, the ASD visited several other medical organizations including the 59th Training Group and medical AIT students at JBSA-Lackland. He met with the commander for U.S. Army North and the commander for U.S. Army Installation Management Command.

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