Navy disbands Landstuhl medical unit as casualties dwindle

Navy Capt. Donald Sze helps roll up and case the colors of the Navy Expeditionary Medical Unit at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, during a ceremony marking the end of the unit Friday, Sept. 26, 2014. The Navy first deployed to Landstuhl in 2006, and has since managed the coordination of care and transportation for sick and wounded personnel airlifted from the last decade's wars. That job now falls back to the Army.


By MATT MILLHAM | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 26, 2014

LANDSTUHL, Germany — The Navy on Friday inactivated its expeditionary medical unit at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a move made largely in response to the dwindling number of American war casualties seen here.

It was the longest-running medical mission in the Navy Reserve, said Rear Adm. Thomas E. Beeman, the Navy’s assistant deputy surgeon general for reserve affairs, who spoke at a ceremony marking the occasion in the hospital’s auditorium.

The Navy Expeditionary Medical Unit ran a portion of Landstuhl that coordinates the movement and care of sick and injured personnel evacuated from places like Afghanistan, Africa and the Middle East. About half of the unit’s members were doctors, surgeons and other specialists who augmented the hospital staff as it dealt with the crush of patients from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since standing up in 2006, the NEMU received more than 51,000 patients who were airlifted to the hospital — 4,300 of whom were critically injured. But the unit’s busiest days were long behind it before it shuttered Friday.

Since 2012, the number of casualties treated in a given month has dropped about 50 percent, said Capt. Donald Sze, the NEMU’s last commander. Because it’s a sign that fewer troops are getting injured, he said, he sees the shutdown of the NEMU as a good thing. Still, he was sad to see it go.

There are numerous opportunities to serve with members of other services throughout the military, he said. He noted that Landstuhl is the largest military hospital outside the U.S., describing it as “the mecca for patients to be stabilized and taken care of before going back home.”

“So to be able to be involved in this is an honor,” he said.

That sentiment was echoed by Col. Jacqueline Bradley, commander of the 4215th U.S. Army Hospital, a reserve unit out of Richmond, Va., that is taking over NEMU’s mission at Landstuhl.

Bradley helped unfurl her unit’s flag at Landstuhl moments after Sze helped case his. Ahead of its inactivation, NEMU’s staff had dropped below 50, Sze said. Bradley’s unit comes in with 40 soldiers — fewer than a third of its total strength and a far smaller number than the nearly 350 sailors who staffed the NEMU when it first stood up.

“Now, that’s not to say that the numbers aren’t going to increase looking at what’s going on in the world right now,” Bradley said.

Patients won’t likely see much of a difference, she said.

“Taking care of patients is taking care of patients no matter what uniform you’re in.”

Col. Judith Lee, Landstuhl’s commander, said that in the last nine months, 40 percent of the NEMU’s sailors received volunteer service medals for each contributing over 2,000 hours of community service with various organizations in the local community.

Seeing the NEMU leave Landstuhl, she said, is “really, really sad.”

“Who knows? With all that’s going on in the world, some of you may be back.”

Twitter: @mattmillham

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