Story by Lt. Col. Brent Campbell
807th Medical Command (Deployment Support)
WAUKESHA, Wis.- Leaders in the 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support) identified a problem with its force in the years leading up to 2011: highly trained and specialized biomedical repair technicians were leaving the Army in alarming numbers.
“Attrition was running at around 30 percent, equating to approximately $11 millio walking out the door annually,” said Maj. Jeff Duncan, program manager for the 807th.
In less specialized career fields, the Army has historically responded to this problem by recruiting more soldiers into the career field to keep things moving forward. This was not a viable option for the 807th for more than one reason.
First, a biomedical repair technician, referred to as a 68A, is expensive to train. After completion of the 10-week basic combat training required for all soldiers, hopeful 68As undergo another 41 weeks of advanced individual training (AIT) in biomedical repair, costing the unit approximately $45,000, and another $200,000 to the DOD, per soldier. This is before the Army pays for continuing education, advanced training and job-specific leadership development schools add significantly to the financial investment.
Second, recruits hoping to become biomedical repair technicians must achieve at least 107 points on the electronics portion of the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). Many still do not make it through AIT, being eliminated at various stages throughout the 41-week training program.
The civilian sector struggles with manning this critical part of our health care industry as well. It was from this mutual need that the relationship between the 807th and General Electric Healthcare was born.
The solution took the shape of a partnership and externship program in which the Army provided a qualified biomedical technician, and GE would provide real world training and school house instruction designed to groom these soldiers for civilian careers in the biomedical field.
“It inspires me to see the enthusiasm these soldiers demonstrate,” said Karin Ludwig, a GE Healthcare Training Coordinator in Waukesha, Wis. “They come with life experience, leadership and teamwork. A lot of what they bring to us can’t be duplicated in school alone,” Ludwig said.
Sgt. Robert Holt, a Polo, Mo., native, and recent graduate of the joint externship program, says he is both impressed with the training and experience he gained from the program and excited about the opportunities it afforded him moving forward.
“GE Healthcare had me training and learning how large civilian trauma centers operate,” said Holt. “It’s hard to keep up with training requirements if you work outside of health care [in the civilian sector].”
Prior to this program, Holt worked as a mechanic when he wasn’t in uniform on Reserve duty.
“This training program opened doors for my career, and also helped me become a better soldier by giving me the ability to work in my chosen profession both in civilian and military life,” he said.
Holt is currently completing a paid internship in Columbia, Mo., while he continues to maintain a commitment to the Army Reserve in this critical, hard-to-staff job field.
Program benefits, however, are not just limited to employing and improving medical skills.
“What makes this program so valuable to us is that we’re creating critical thinkers who will become senior leaders in the Army,” said Duncan. “They will lead during a period when we will need leaders who can think for themselves and lead from a perspective beyond what the Army usually teaches.”
Duncan also said the program has already been a success in positively affecting attrition.
“It is going well,” he said. “Last year the annual rate of attrition was down to 7 percent, or only about $2 million.”
Master Sgt. Michael Steward, 807th Medical Command’s senior operations NCO, says the program’s success is garnering interest beyond the command.
“Validation of this program comes from the interest it is drawing from the other medical commands, the Army National Guard and the Navy Reserve,” he said. “Most are planning to participate, or maybe duplicate the program.”
These future partnerships have the potential to reach beyond the medical field.
“It opens up the possibility of conducting training with industry externships in other fields like aviation, medical logistics or water purification to name a few,” said Duncan.
All the career, training and fiscal benefits notwithstanding, one GE employee takes the importance of this program personally.
“Being part of something bigger than myself is why I do what I do,” said Ludwig. “The field engineers I help while they’re in this program may end up working on a piece of GE technology that saves my mother, or maybe one day even my own life.”