WALTER REED ARMY MEDICAL CENTER (June 28, 2010) -- From Vietnam to Iraq, Col. Gordon R. Roberts, commander, Medical Center Brigade, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, has once again come to the conclusion that the dedication of Walter Reed and its people has made him prouder to be a Soldier in the U.S. Army.
Medal of Honor recipient Col. Gordon R. Roberts: “[Walter Reed Army Medical Center] is truly America’s hospital.” Roberts has been Medical Center Brigade commander at Walter Reed since June 2008. He relinquishes that command during a ceremony Thursday at 10 a.m. in Wagner Sports Center. He’s going to 1st Theater Support Command at Fort Bragg, N.C.
“It truly is America’s hospital,” he said.
Carrying on an Army tradition with the passing of its flag, WRAMC’s MCB will change hands Thursday when outgoing commander Col. Gordon R. Roberts relinquishes his two-year command to Col. William Schiek.
Roberts is heading to 1st Theater Support Command, Fort Bragg N.C.
Having spent a great deal of his career in logistics, and having served as a Medical Service Corps officer, he is excited about the challenges that lie ahead.
“I think one of the great attributes of the Army,” said Roberts, “is that it changes command every two years. It brings in new blood and it changes when things are going well versus changing when things are going badly,” he added.
“It’s not as routine as you would think [referring to the change of command process], rather its an opportunity for the command to prepare,” Roberts said.
“You’re changing more than just a job with the new guy coming in. The command intent, philosophy, the way we do business, the culture that you set is being changed, too,” he said.
Col. William Scheik, the incoming commander, “brings some tremendous talents that this brigade and WRAMC are going to need going forward as it transitions to Fort Belvoir and the Bethesda campus, Roberts says of his successor.
Leaving active duty for a short time after Vietnam, Roberts attributes his returning in 1991 to “the new Army, a better Army,” and to his family.
“There is one reason I’m in the military,” said Roberts, “that’s because of my family and their support. Otherwise, I would be out. If you wanted to define the ideal Army family, it’s mine — my wife and daughter are part of the team,” he added.
The family aspect is important to the colonel personally and professionally.
“In the past,” said Roberts, “the concern and focus on families, Soldier’s issues, and equipment just wasn’t there. This Army leadership has clearly grown to understand that this is a professional Army. We have to work very hard, not only to recruit but to retain those individuals, and biggest the change you will see now is the speed at which the Army adapts to the needs of the Soldiers.”
And WRAMC is no different.
“The responsiveness of this institution, with the changes that go along with the way we used to do business, in terms of handling patients, medical holds, transitioning patients, and returning them to duty, wasn’t good enough, and this institution was able to respond to that and change everything around,” Roberts said.
Roberts is the youngest living Medal of Honor recipient, and is the only recipient still on active duty. In 1969, he earned the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions while a sergeant in Company B, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division [currently 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division] during combat actions in Vietnam.
“The first units you go with kind of become your alma mater,” he said. “It’s the one where you learned those lessons. Just being a ‘Currahee’ is something that all of us are quite proud of.”
Sharing his birthday with the Army and Flag Day, on June 14, gave the young Roberts an interesting prespective growing up in a patriotic small town in southern Ohio. He said there were some old Soldiers who made it very clear to him that “no one is any better than their next award,” they would say. Roberts knew the same had to be true for him or he would fall into that trap, of living off his past.
“The greatest amount of pride that I have is that the folks whom I served with at that time, were the ones who nominated me [for the Medal of Honor]. They’re the ones who saw me as fit,” he said.
“The fact that it moved up the line, and other folks unknown to me of much higher rank endorsed it, that’s all fine, but the real important folks were the ones who were there with me, and recommended me for that,” said Roberts.
“All I wanted to be was a noncommissioned officer,” he said, but when the opportunity came to come back into the Army with the National Guard, Roberts took it.
Later in 1988, Roberts received a direct commission in the Ohio Army National Guard. Wanting to do more, he came back onto active duty in 1991. He served in Iraq in 2006.
“When I got the notice that I was being assigned to be the [MCB] commander,” said Roberts, “it was a bit concerning.”
Upon returning from Vietnam in 1970, Roberts was stationed at Fort Meade, Md. During that time, a number of his friends and people he served with were receiving care at Walter Reed.
“So coming through the gates, for the first time, I was coming to see folks who had been devastated by war, and I was very scared of what I would see,” he said.
The next time he came back to the hospital was in 2006 to see Soldiers he served with and under in Iraq when he was a battalion commander.
“So my first few entrances into the gates weren’t the most comforting for me personally,” said Roberts.
But as he prepares to leave, he does so with pride of having commanded at “America’s hospital.”
Joshua Wick, Stripe Staff Writer