Lessons Learned from the Green Berets


 
 

William K. Atkinson, PhD, MPH, MPA, EMT-P | From the March 2011 Issue | Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Recently, I joined business and community leaders for a daylong visit with the U.S. Army’s tip of the spear—the Green Berets.

Headquartered in Fort Bragg, N.C., and formally known as the U.S. Army Special Forces, the Green Berets are an elite fighting unit renowned for unconventional warfare. Our group was immediately impressed by the technology and unique tools available to the Special Forces, and it was abundantly clear these professionals have mastered their tools to advance the success of their missions.

We witnessed demonstrations of incredibly sophisticated technology, training and the forethought that exemplify the Green Berets. Brigadier General Edward M. Reeder Jr., the leader of the Army’s Special Forces worldwide, emphasized to us that the most important component of the Special Forces is and always will be the soldiers themselves. He shared how Green Berets are selected on the basis of rigorous mental, physical and attitudinal tests. He stressed that the power of the individual trumps the power of technology, stating that good people with great skills and ingenuity will always be the most important component in handling uncertain conditions.

None of this was lost on any of the civilian leaders on the tour. But I feel inclined to share this information with you because it relates to an EMS audience, and it relates to health-care reform. The reason why is twofold:

1. On many occasions, I’ve emphasized the
No. 1 focus in EMS and emergency response organizations has to be the workforce. This is true whether dealing with paid or volunteer professionals. Workforce selection, training, continuing education, experience and retention are critical for EMS and the communities it serves.

Just like the Special Forces have done for years, EMS must concentrate on the workforce, regardless of what’s happening with budgets or on the political front. With the right attitude and commitment, a lot of training can happen by having everyone, from the most experienced to the newest paramedic on the team, commit to becoming even better at what they do.

We can learn additional workforce training lessons from the Green Berets. For example, all Green Berets have areas of specialization—be it weapons, communications or engineering. They’re required to have foreign language skills, and they’re trained to be peacemakers and teachers first and foremost. (Make no mistake; these individuals can be a force multiplier, perhaps unparalleled, and it was abundantly clear that you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side during a 2 a.m. raid.)

Green Berets aim to help shape communities and have a positive outcome in every part of the world. The same is true on a different scale for those of us in EMS. We chose to work in a service industry. Our service is caring for people, and our desire is for our communities to be healthy and safe. Like the Green Berets, we can have a real, positive influence with the right skills and attitude, independent of what’s happening in the political environment.

2. Our group wasn’t randomly selected to meet with the Green Berets. Everyone was a leader in business, the community or both, and we represented public and private sectors. We were invited to enhance our understanding of the Green Berets and to create friends for funding in the face of inevitable budget cuts. Although most of us were not politicians, our visit was clearly political, because even though the Green Berets are arguably the best, most highly trained fighting force in the world, they too are dependent on those around them to help accomplish their mission. The Green Berets, whose trademark is to be the “quiet professionals,” still engage people who can influence public policy on behalf of their mission.

Many of the tools of the trade used by the Green Berets differ from those in EMS, but they’re as impressive to the outside observer as our tools would be to someone who has limited exposure to portable ventilators, ultrasounds and new generation cardiac monitors. Health-care reform, with the focus on cost, access and quality, will affect the bottom line of health-care organizations. It’s critical to help community leaders understand the importance of the services EMS provides, so they can be advocates and help influence public policy on behalf of EMS and your mission.

The Green Berets protect our country. EMS delivers emer-gency care on the home front. For both, the workforce is highly trained, engaged and prepared 24/7/365. And both EMS and the Green Berets have tools and technology that can get people’s attention.

Use these resources as an opportunity to share your story with the right people. You can ignore this opportunity, but remember you do so at your own risk, especially in the face of health-care reform. JEMS

This article originally appeared in March 2011 JEMS as “A Green Beret Parallel.”
 




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Related Topics: Administration and Leadership, Leadership and Professionalism, health-care reform, Bill Atkinson, Jems Insider Health Care Update

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William K. Atkinson, PhD, MPH, MPA, EMT-Pis the president and CEO of WakeMed Health & Hospitals and a JEMS editorial board member. He has devoted more than 30 years of his career to improving our nation’s emergency medical and prehospital care system.

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