CDR Stella Wisner serves the USCG.
Providing consistent mentoring to officers new to the Corps, junior USPHS officers, and enlisted recruits across the armed services where the Corps serves is just one of the roles that separates Commissioned Corps officers from their civilian counterparts. The USPHS has an agreement with the Department of Defense to increase behavioral health services available to military service members, their family members, and veterans. Behavioral health officers in the Commissioned Corps are detailed to military treatment facilities across the United States to treat service members who are returning from overseas deployment, as well as retirees and family members. CDR Rick Schobitz, CDR Ingrid Pauli, and CAPT Henry McMillan are all working under the DoD-HHS Partners in Mental Health agreement at different Military Treatment Facilities and in different capacities.
The USPHS also has a longstanding history of providing clinical and public health safety officers to the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). Because the USCG has no medical, pharmacy, or dental officers, they have detailed Commissioned Corps officers to assist the USCG in providing those invaluable health services.
CDR Stella Wisner is one of those officers. She is a dentist stationed at the Cape May Coast Guard Training Center in New Jersey. Cape May is the Coast Guard’s enlisted training base, and being assigned there CDR Wisner recognizes the unique responsibilities that USPHS Commissioned Officers have in interacting with new Coast Guard recruits. “Commissioned Corps Commanders and Captains are some of the first senior officers the Coast Guard recruits meet. Most of these recruits have just graduated from high school. Public Health Service officers have early opportunities to instill in them a sense of duty and responsibility.” Although these young recruits may not be Corps officers, USPHS officers still feel a sense of duty and responsibility for their mentoring. Commissioned Corps officers serve their respective agencies as proudly as they do their own Service.
CAPT Henry McMillan, a physical therapist serving at Fort Bragg, recognizes the opportunity for the USPHS to play an important role in the broader armed services. He says, “If you’re working hard, people will recognize your effort and then recognize your uniform. They’ll realize what a good job the Commissioned Corps is doing and it will be a testament to your leadership within the organization.”
New officers to the Commissioned Corps often need mentoring when coming from a civilian sector job. “While new Commissioned Corps officers may be highly qualified in their profession, they may not be experienced in the uniformed service setting and will require the oversight, teaching, sharing of experiences, and fostering of judgment to ensure their future success and the success of the service,” explains CAPT Jeff Salvon-Harman, a physician detailed to the U.S. Coast Guard. Senior Commissioned Corps officers may not need to mentor these new officers in the area of professional development, but often must guide them in solidifying what they learning at the U.S. Public Health Service’s Officers Basic Course about Uniformed Services customs, traditions, and courtesies.
CAPT Salvon-Harman uses his leadership position to mentor Junior USPHS officers.
CAPT McMillan explains the role Senior USPHS officers play. “Junior Commissioned Corps officers use Senior Commissioned Corps officers as guides for handling situations on base, especially if the junior officers aren’t familiar with military culture. We make sure they are following traditional customs and courtesies.”
CDR Schobitz agrees. “We take time to make sure that new officers [to the USPHS] have the correct components of their uniform, are comfortable in their roles with enlisted service members, officers junior to them in rank, along with senior officers.”
Although mentoring junior officers would appear to be an added burden to these senior officers who have their own duties and responsibilities to tackle, they view it as a benefit. CDR Schobitz affirms, “I believe it is my role, and honor, to mentor junior officers and candidates who are working to come on active duty and become junior officers.”
In fact, most officers see mentoring as a fundamental part of being a Commissioned Corps officer. CDR Ingrid Pauli, a psychologist stationed at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, describes her experience with mentoring. “I was never really surprised by my responsibility to mentor because as an officer you are expected to rock and roll. Leadership is just part of the job. The responsibility of mentoring young officers is inherent to wearing the uniform.”
The Commissioned Corps commitment to mentoring junior officers new to the USPHS and enlisted from other services underscores the leadership and integrity of the organization itself. In order for the USPHS to grow and lead the way in international public health, they must maintain their core values of leadership, service, integrity, and excellence. Mentoring ensures these traditions are passed on to future generations of Commissioned Corps officers.
CAPT Salvon-Harman puts it well when he says, “Senior Commissioned Corps officers must be cognizant of this dynamic and long-term defining influence they will have on new accessions to our Service. They will set the tone for the perceptions of the Corps by our future leaders.”