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Landstuhl's new commander is second nurse, third woman in role

Soldiers, sailors and airmen of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center stand in formation during the change of command ceremony Wednesday. Col. Judith Lee took command of LRMC from Col. Barbara Holcomb at the ceremony. Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes

MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES

By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 29, 2013

LANDSTUHL, Germany — A year ago, Col. Judith Lee’s appointment as commander of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center would have been historic.

But at a change-of-command ceremony Wednesday, Lee became the second registered nurse — and the third woman since 1953 — to be chosen to lead the U.S. military’s only remaining hospital in Europe.

The woman Lee replaced, Col. Barbara Holcomb, was the first Landstuhl commander to come from the Nurse Corps when she stepped into the position just over a year ago.

Lee, like Holcomb, is used to being a trendsetter.

In 2009, Lee became the first Army nurse to command a combat support hospital, according to a U.S. Army news story, when she took command of the 14th Combat Support Hospital, a job that included supporting detainee medical care at Camp Bucca, Iraq, for one year.

Lee’s selection came around the same time another Army nurse was picked to lead a combat support hospital. It was Holcomb, who later that same year, took command of the 21st Combat Support Hospital, according to the Army.

On Wednesday, the two trailblazers crossed paths while swapping jobs. Holcomb, with her promotion to brigadier general set for June 6, will head to Fort Bragg, N.C., to serve as the FORSCOM command surgeon, a position Lee held prior to being selected as the new commander of LRMC.

“This is bittersweet,” Holcomb said. “I’m leaving because I have to, not because I want to.”

The command surgeon for U.S. Army Forces Command is typically a general officer, and Lee had been holding the job since October.

“It is a privilege for me to be here,” Lee told the crowd of servicemembers from all four branches, civilians and Germans — a representative slice of the hospital’s diverse staff of more than 3,000 personnel.

Though Lee has served in the trenches, seeing up close the horrors of war as the chief nurse of the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad in 2005, her primary role at LRMC will be continuing to lead the hospital’s transition into the post-war era, picking up where Holcomb left off.

It’s a challenge compounded by current fiscal constraints, but that’s not unique to LRMC, Lee said in an interview after Wednesday’s ceremony.

“I say often to people who say, ‘Well, you know, you’re taking over at a very challenging time,’ regardless of where you are taking command today or what organization you’re in, in the military today, it’s very challenging,” she said.

For LRMC, “I think some of the biggest challenges we’re going to face is the unfortunate furlough of really, I call them the foundation of any military organization, our civilians,” Lee said. “So, I’m hoping that we can get through this smoothly and we never have to do it again.

“We’ll see where we have to go, how we have to right-size the organization, and you know, just kind of take the lead from the Department of Defense on where we go.”

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

The U.S. Army Europe Band and Chorus' brass quintet play the Service Medley at the conclusion of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center's change of command ceremony Wednesday. Col. Judith Lee took command of LRMC from Col. Barbara Holcomb at the ceremony. Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes
MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES