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ROTC Cadets See Health Facility Planners in Action During Internship

By Karen Fleming-Michael
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT DETRICK, Md., Sept. 24, 2003 – College engineering majors took their future degrees on road trips this summer to help plan the Army's future healthcare facilities.

After completing their leadership training at Fort Lewis, Wash., five Army ROTC cadets spent three weeks of their summers as interns with the Health Facility Planning Agency offices.

The agency is a small, subordinate command of the Medical Research and Materiel Command with a mission to support the Army Medical Department's $9 billion of facilities located around the world.

"Our hope is to be able to market the (Medical Service Corps) to ROTC cadets to find talent in engineering and architecture who might be interested in working for us in managing the planning, design and construction of Army Medical Department medical treatment and research facility projects," said Col. Rick Bond, the agency's commander. "If we're successful in getting five cadets a year, which is pretty unusual ... and we're able to recruit two, that's pretty good. That's two more than we knew about."

Cadets applied for the agency's internship program, one of 13 programs the U.S. Army Cadet Command offers, and had a choice of working in the Falls Church, Va., headquarters or at project offices in Korea, Alaska, Hawaii or Washington, D.C.

"Part of me wanted to apply for Hawaii, but ... it's actually nice to be back here," said Cadet Elizabeth Papapietro of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. She interned at the agency headquarters in Northern Virginia, near where her family once lived.

During her three-week stint, she was exposed not only to Surgeon General staff- level operations, but also to construction projects as diverse as the renovation of lab facilities for the Center for Environmental Health Research here and the health and dental clinic at the Alternate Joint Communications Center.

"Basically, I wanted the experience of seeing how the Army works. I'm not going to be in a combat arms branch when I'm finally commissioned, so I wanted experience outside the ROTC world," she said.

That's what the program is about, said Paul Kotakis, chief of the public affairs division for U.S. Army Cadet Command, which offers the internships through a program called Cadet Troop Leaders Training. The program gives cadets entering their senior year and nearing commissioning a better understanding of the roles, responsibilities and activities they will undertake.

"The idea is it's another opportunity for our cadets to learn more about the Army (and) to gain a greater appreciation for what Army officers are doing," Kotakis said. "This presents an opportunity for the cadets to gain additional information and gain insight into one dimension of the Army, and then they're in a good position to decide if it's a good match for them."

In fact, Bond's experience 25 years ago with the Cadet Troop Leaders Training led him to his current job as the Health Facility Planning Agency's commander. An architecture student, he spent his three-week internship with the Army Corps of Engineers at Fort Gordon, Ga., grading parking lots, digging rifle range firing points, building dog kennels and running bulldozers. After that experience, he said, "There's no way in the world I can spend four years doing this."

Concerned about his future Army career, he headed home to Massachusetts. But one stop he made along the way turned him around. After spending a day with the agency's health facility planners in the Pentagon, Bond knew he'd found his calling. At day's end, when the planners asked when Bond could start, he replied, "How soon can you make sure I end up here?"

When he returned to school, he asked to join the Medical Service Corps as a health facility planner, a subset of the medical logistics career field. His first duty station as a second lieutenant in 1979 was in the Pentagon office he visited the summer before graduating.

Getting engineering and architecture majors' attention early is one reason the Health Facility Planning Agency offers the internships, said Eric Yoshihashi, the agency's administrative officer, who coordinated the cadets' visits.

"We, in the past, noticed Engineer Corps officers were asking to branch transfer to the Medical Service Corps to be part of HFPA," he said. "The reason they didn't come into our corps first was they didn't know the agency existed. We thought the internships would be a great marketing tool to let ROTC cadets know that we do have a need for people with architecture and engineering skills."

Yoshihashi said the agency hopes the cadets leave with an understanding of how the agency performs lifecycle management and manage projects for medical, dental, veterinary and medical research facilities.

"We want to show them that, when we start working on projects, we take into consideration how we can best serve them -- both patient and patient providers -- so the best possible health care facility is provided for them and their families," he said.

Cadet Scott Poznanski from Washington University in St. Louis, who spent his internship at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, where the HFPA office is involved in managing the construction of a $215 million hospital, said the experience solidified his career choice.

Not all of the agency's interns found their dream jobs at the agency, but all came away with relevant experience.

Cadet Peter Gustafson, who will earn his master's of business administration degree from Washington State University in December, spent time at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center's project office in Washington and at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases here.

On his first day at Walter Reed, his undergraduate degree in engineering was put to use. He surveyed hospitals on backup generators and helped the hospital plan for a day of using oxygen tanks because piped-in oxygen wouldn't be available.

"I had never heard about facility planning positions in the Army, and it's pretty impressive that they get to manage projects and engineering applications in the medical services," the Army National Guardsman said.

Because his guard unit is an armor unit, he won't be joining the Medical Service Corps. But he said if he were entering active duty, he'd consider it.

Having the interns around also reenergized the more seasoned planners, Bond said.

"They are open to everything," he said. "They think it's all cool, and they remind us that we ourselves sometimes forget how cool our mission really is."

(Karen Fleming-Michael is a staff writer for the Standard.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageCadets Elizabeth Papapietro and Peter Gustafson, Health Facility Planning Agency ROTC interns, meet with Capt. Dan Leary, company commander at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases to learn about his job and the institute. Photo by Larry Sorcher  
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