After more than 40 years in uniform, both Army and Navy, Vice Adm. John M. Mateczun retires and relinquishes command of the Joint Task Force National Capital Region Medical (JTF CapMed) during a ceremony at 1 p.m. on Thursday, March 29 in Building 1's Memorial Auditorium at Naval Support Activity Bethesda.
Mateczun, who has commanded JTF CapMed since it was established in 2007 by then Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon R. England, will transfer command authority of JTF CapMed to Army Maj. Gen. Stephen L. Jones during next Thursday's ceremony. Jones is currently the deputy commander of JTF CapMed.
The JTF CapMed was established to "lead the way for effective and efficient consolidation and realignment of military health care in the NCR," Mateczun explained.
When the JTF was established, Mateczun proposed Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) would be: "A world-class medical center at the hub of the nation's premier regional health care system serving our military and our nation."
That proposal is met each day as the JTF CapMed remains focused on its "greatest commitment"-- the health and well being of the men and women who serve the nation, Mateczun said.
"The ongoing casualty care in the National Capital Region (NCR) the last four years, in which over 7,000 casualties coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan have received care, has been an extraordinary accomplishment," Mateczun said.
This took place while new construction projects were completed and are underway to provide the latest in "facilities and capabilities" for wounded warriors and their families at both WRNMMC and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital (FBCH), Va., he added.
While necessary, change is hard, especially when it comes to organizations, the vice admiral acknowledged in discussing the challenges of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), which resulted in the formation of WRNMMC when the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) and National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) merged in September 2011.
"We had to find new ways to do things. We had to change our habits. We had to change our vocabulary. And even though it's for a good purpose [because] things will be better in the end, it's hard," Mateczun said.
The on-time completion of the medical BRAC in the NCR, "the most complex and largest" thus far undertaken by the Department of Defense, as well as forming an integrated health-care system in the region, are "great accomplishments," Mateczun added.
Another accomplishment he said is the instituting last year of the Joint Pathology Center, formerly the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology located WRAMC. The JPC recently received the College of American Pathologists accreditation for laboratories, and it operates the National Pathology Tissue Repository in support of DoD's mission and that of other federal agencies.
"Taking care of our people," Mateczun said, is another area he's proud of the work that the JTF CapMed has done. "Casualty care remains our No. 1 priority and we've kept our eye on the ball, [but we also] care for the caregivers.
"We've been able to keep the faith, particularly with our civilian employees," Mateczun said. He explained that a Guaranteed Placement Program offered civilian employees formerly at WRAMC, a position at either WRNMMC or Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, so "the skilled workforce could continue to provide care to our people."
The JTF CapMed was also tasked to ensure readiness, and "there's been success beyond our expectation," Mateczun added. He explained disaster response in the area has expanded from a base focus to a regional initiative including civilian hospitals and emergency response systems in Virginia, the District of Columbia and Maryland. "There's a common operating picture so we can speak the same language."
The JTF CapMed commander said he believes the NCR will "continue to be more joint than not" in the future. "The hospital system here is very large and capable for tertiary care. Between WRNMMC and FBCH, there are 480 beds, which are as many beds as there are in the entire Air Force medical system. The JTF operating budget is $1.3 billion a year, about half of one of the services' budget. So we have the opportunity here to find the best way to provide integrated care for our patients."
Mateczun, who entered active duty in the U.S. Army and trained in Explosive Ordnance Disposal, explained his insight on what he feels the needs are of the troops. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam where he earned the Bronze Star Medal. He was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant before earning his medical degree from the University of New Mexico, and coming back in the military as a doctor.
He said his experiences as an enlisted team sergeant in Vietnam, and then as a young military doctor, helped him to understand, "what we need to do as a system [to improve].
"As a sergeant, when some decisions would come down I used to wonder, 'Who thought of that?' I've always tried to remember the Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine out at the end of the line who's wondering who made that decision, and I've tried to make my decisions to keep our covenant with those people out there.
"One of the great hopes that we have is we'll have a great number of our veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan going to medical school or continuing their education [in other concentrations] to continue to provide service to our country," Mateczun said.
He added, "It is great to gain experience in as many parts of our system as you can." The vice admiral and former Army staff sergeant also served several tours with the Marine Corps. He was division psychiatrist, 3d Marine Division and also served as the assistant division surgeon. He served as the Force Surgeon, Fleet Marine Forces, Pacific, in Camp H.M. Smith, and during Operation Desert Storm, he was assigned to I Marine Expeditionary Force in Saudi Arabia as a consultant on the establishment and operation of Combat Stress Centers.
A board certified psychiatrist, Mateczun also earned a law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center while becoming certified in forensic psychiatry.
His flag assignments have included chief of staff, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, commander of Naval Medical Center, San Diego, and deputy surgeon general of the Navy. He was also director of the Military Health System Office of Transformation.
He encourages other leaders to trust their people to get the job done. "I don't believe you can execute a complex mission through micromanagement, even though it might make us [leaders] more comfortable. I have come to understand you may never know as much as some of your people know. You have to have the ability to trust and delegate to them.
"We have such great people working in our system that it is mostly about letting them do the great things that they can do," Mateczun continued. "A gift of leadership is letting people find out how competent they are, with guidance."
Retired Rear Adm. Christine Bruzek-Kohler, executive director of Clinical Healthcare Operations at JTF CapMed, has "had the privilege" of working with Mateczun when he was deputy surgeon general of the Navy, and now at JTF CapMed.
"The successes of BRAC here in the NCR are directly linked to his thoughtful, mature, patient and calm leadership," Bruzek-Kohler said. "He has truly exemplified the visionary leader who has never strayed from our foremost mission of providing the truly comprehensive integrated military health-care system for our beneficiaries, while ensuring the highest standards of care for our wounded warriors and their families. It had truly been my honor to work alongside him. He is leaving a lasting legacy for which he must be truly proud."