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At Yongsan Garrison, South Korea, the commander of the 18th Medical Command, Col. James G. Jolissaint, left, uncases new colors after redesignating three of the command's major units Friday.
At Yongsan Garrison, South Korea, the commander of the 18th Medical Command, Col. James G. Jolissaint, left, uncases new colors after redesignating three of the command's major units Friday. (Jimmy Norris / S&S)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — The 18th Medical Command redesignated three of its major units Friday, paving the way for “more precise” medical care for the military community as U.S. Forces Korea braces for thousands of additional family members.

During a brief ceremony Friday on Knight Field, officials announced that the 121st Combat Support Hospital, 618th Dental Command and 106th and 129th Veterinary Detachments were changed to the Medical Department Activity, Dental Activity and District Veterinary Command.

“This is not hype. It’s not just a bunch of PowerPoint charts,” USFK commander Gen. B.B. Bell told the audience. “It’s a real change that will directly enhance the quality of life for all of us, especially our families.”

Bell, who has lobbied to “normalize” military duty in South Korea, authorized doubling the amount of billets allowing troops to bring their families to South Korea.

More family members will mean a greater need for things such as schooling and medical care, according to Bell.

Col. James G. Jolissaint, 18th MEDCOM commander, said that before Friday’s change, the medical resources were tactical units designed primarily to provide care in combat environments.

“Tactical units are not designed to provide to do allergy or obstetrics and gynecology,” he said.

The redesignation won’t mean an immediate increase of medical personnel, but it will allow the command to eventually “get what we need, whether it’s civilian hires or more uniforms,” Jolissaint said.

Bell called the move the first step in a “10-year marathon.”

“No longer will our medical commanders have to resort to begging for augmentation and speciality support,” he said.

They now “have the authorities to lay out their requirements, to directly hire multi-disciplinary medical professionals, and thus to build and grow a capability that provides more precise care for our servicemembers, spouses, children and civilians.”

Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, acting Surgeon General of the Army, was at the ceremony.

She said the change also would allow her to pursue the option of offering Tricare Prime to noncommand-sponsored families — those troops serving on one-year tours who elect to pay out of pocket to bring their families to South Korea. Currently, noncommand-sponsored families can enroll only in Tricare Standard.

“It changes the whole picture of health care in the community,” Jolissaint said. “In the past, it was here only to support the warfighters. Now it’s all about providing a normal environment in Korea.”

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