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WASHINGTON — When Navy Surgeon General Vice Adm. Michael Cowan leaves his post Aug. 4, he’ll leave knowing he helped place small teams of surgeons right on the battlefield, put prenatal care in the forefront of Navy obstetrics and helped slim down sailors, who make up the largest group of obese active members.

But after three years as the surgeon general of the Navy at the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Cowan, who retires next week, calls the Navy’s Force Health Protection strategy his most important accomplishment.

“Military medicine, and Navy medicine … really transformed from a huge emphasis on periodic, episodic reactive care to an emphasis on what we call ‘Force Health Protection,’” Cowan, 59, said.

“Force Health Protection says it’s not enough to take the sick or injured person, make them well, and put them back. That’s what we really do is build a really healthy and fit soldier so they can go and be persistent on the battlefield.”

And for Cowan, that means preventive medicine and well-being clinics, “world class” health care for families left at home, anti-smoking campaigns and exercise programs.

On the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Navy has Forward Resuscitative Surgical Systems, surgeons who operate out the back of souped-up Humvees, providing treatment in what emergency medical professionals call the “golden hour,” the first hour after a traumatic injury when immediate medical attention dramatically increases the chances of survival, he said.

And the Navy also has deployed the Expeditionary Medical Unit, a new treatment facility that can be tailor-made to fit myriad missions.

Cowan started programs to get sailors and their families in better shape. “Percentage-wise, we have more active-duty sailors who are overweight than the other services, but not by a lot.”

He has accepted a job as senior vice president for health care for Redwood Shores, Calif.-based contractor Oracle Corp. Rear Adm. Donald Arthur, who comes from National Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., will replace him.

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