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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 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 month, 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 him, that means preventive medicine and well-being clinics, “world class” health care for families so warfighters don’t worry about the quality of health care for those left at home, anti-smoking campaigns and exercise programs.

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

And the Navy also has deployed its new Expeditionary Medical Unit, a building block treatment facility that can be tailor-made to fit a variety of missions, from combat to humanitarian.

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 tried to get them to battle the bulge from putting more nutritionists and dieticians in clinics to getting sailors and families to wear pedometers and be mindful taking stairs instead of elevators. And he worked with the military school system to incorporate more physical education programs to get youngster in better shape.

Beyond Force Health Protection, Cowan also supported plans to reduce top-heavy administrative staffs by 15 percent at the behest of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and was instrumental in the Navy’s efforts to next year convert 1,771 positions held by uniformed medical personnel to civilian positions.

But the transition, occurring mostly at stateside health treatment facilities, will be seamless to patrons, Cowan assured.

Cowan, whose hobbies include making stained-glass windows and collecting orchids, leaves office Aug. 4.

He has accepted a job as the senior Vice President for health care for the contractor Oracle.

Rear Adm. Donald Arthur, who comes from the National Naval Medical Center, will replace him.

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