Fort Sam Houston Health Services Brigade welcomes new commander

Col. Carl Thurmond, incoming brigade commander and Command Sgt. Maj. Carlos Arrieta, 5th Brigade (Health Services) command sergeant major, cut a celebratory cake in recognition of Thurmond’s assumption of command. The change of command ceremony was held at the Fort Sam Houston Museum, bidding farewell to Col. Kulvinder Bajwa and welcomed Thurmond as the new brigade commander October 19, 2019. (Photo by Maj. Ebony Gay, 94th TD-FS Public Affairs Office)
January 22, 2020

Joint Base San Antonio, Texas – With the 94th Training Division (Force Sustainment) composed of five brigades that specialize in various military occupational specialties (MOS), one of the division’s down trace units welcomed a new commander.

The 5th Brigade (Health Services), gathered at the Fort Sam Houston Museum here to bid farewell to Col. Kulvinder Bajwa and welcomed Col. Carl Thurmond as the new brigade commander October 19, 2019, in a change of command ceremony.

Bajwa is an Army Reserve Troop Program Unit (TPU) service member and an Associate Professor of Surgery at the McGovern Medical School of the University Texas Health Science Center of Houston. He also works as an advanced laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon.

For Bajwa, leading the 5th Brigade was his first command stint throughout his three-plus decade-long military career.

With no prior command experience at any echelon, Bajwa did not have any expectations coming into his first command tenure.

“I haven’t had any command time before serving in this tenure,” said Bajwa.

“I knew that I would be leading troops and would represent the unit at a higher headquarters of command along with dealing with a steep learning curb due to unfamiliarity of being in a command role,” Bajwa added.

For Bajwa, a pre-command course that he attended aided him with preparing for his command time.

“The USARC Battalion Brigade Pre-Command Course (BBPCC) gave a great deal of insight about embarking on command. However, I did not have any anxiety about taking on my very first command position in my military career,” said Bajwa.

Bajwa shared the initial objects that he set for himself upon entering his command. “I wanted to learn the formal structure of leadership that I had been a part of, he said.” “I was a part of a command surgeon’s cell at a training command on a two-star staff before commanding 5th Brigade.”

“Initially, I didn’t know what’s reported to the higher headquarters, which was important for me to learn along with essential reporting requirements and expectations that general officers may have for their down trace unit commanders,” said Bajwa.

Some of Bajwa’s other objectives include effective leadership of the Brigade, the inspiration of troops, raising command climate, and morale along with increasing Soldier readiness.

Aside from putting forth optimal effort to spearhead his objects, Bajwa endured a few challenges during his time in command. “I think the most challenging part of the command as a reserve TPU commander is truly more than the 39 days of duty that is assigned where we wear the uniform,” Bajwa stated.

“The planning and execution of tasks, fulfilling duties, and the readiness aspect of the mission takes much more time for than the 39 days allotted timeframe assigned while on TPU status,” said Bajwa. “It was a challenge to anticipate how much time it took to carry out tasks. At times, lines of effort required my full-time participation to accomplish various tasks in support of the overall mission.”

When it comes to what made Bajwa successful during his command time, his 19-year civilian career in the medical field had critical elements of on-the-job experience that aided him during his command tenure.

“For me, as a surgeon, I already lead a small team, but I’ve always had objectives when it comes to patient care,” said Bajwa. “I also have objectives on a global scale on how to drive patient safety in a hospital that has 100-300 beds and how to work with other people in varying leadership positions, which was a plus for me coming into command.”

“I took experiences from the civilian side of the house and tried to build those efficiencies into the command side of things and to see how we could make those same processes work for a TPU status element,” said Bajwa.

“My past and present knowledge obtained in the civilian medical sector is what I brought to the command, and that’s what helped me sustain during my command cycle,” Bajwa added.

Bajwa goes on to share his views on the importance of having a Heath Services brigade attached to the 94th TD-FS. With the 94th having composed of four additional down trace brigades that consist of providing multi-compo Soldier MOS training in the field of Quartermaster, Ordnance, Transportation, and Personnel Services.

“There’s a saying, “there are six support Soldiers for every fighting Soldier,” said Bajwa. “The Soldiers of our Health Services brigade are apart of that first echelon of that security blanket of care. Of course, Soldiers need logistics, fuel, and meals. However, Soldiers also need to know that they can use multiple support elements during the fight, and in the event of an injury, someone would be able to rescue them, heal them or reassure them that they’re okay.”

“I think that’s the greatest part that we offer as a support element, and that’s part of the support that provides a full circle of aid around the Soldier, Bajwa continued.” “This is why I believe Health Services is a vital component of sustainment and plays a key role in the 94th Division.”

Completing a command tenure can be humbling, rewarding, and bittersweet. For Bajwa, the Army structure that comes with being a commander is one of the many things he’ll miss about his time in command.

“I certainly think the structured element of the military is enjoyable, said Bajwa.” “The respect of the rank is present. After more than 30 years and being an O-6, people respect you and regard you for the experience you have, which I am appreciative of. I’m going to miss that sort of echelon respect, whereas everyone is a doctor in my peer group in the civilian sector.”

“Other things that I’m going to miss are the people who give their all daily who make personal and family sacrifices to aid with the achievement of the mission,” said Bajwa. “I’m also going to miss the comradery of everyone here. Comradery is something that I will take forward and work on building my life on friendships and networking for the future.”

With 33 years of military service, Bajwa concluded by stating he’s proud to be a Soldier and looks forward to serving alongside those who enjoy serving just as much as he does.

Bajwa passed his 5th Brigade reign onto incoming commander, Thurmond, who is also a TPU service member with 31 years of military service. He also works as the Chief of Cardiology at the Columbia VA Health Care System. He is an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of South Carolina for the past ten years.

Like Bajwa, this is also Thurmond’s first time commanding a Heath Services brigade. Thurmond gives insight into his assumption of command, which he welcomed with much excitement.

“I was not nervous nor anxious about taking command,” said Thurmond. “Excited would best describe my feelings about shouldering my first brigade command. I would expect that Soldiers of this unit are motivated and hard-charging since they are instructors and instructor trainers.”

In regards to having a successful command stint, Thurmond believes that his success will be based on the triumph of his Soldiers. “If my Soldiers are successful, that will be a reflection and contributing element of my success,” said Thurmond.

“I don’t believe in micromanaging and am a proponent of good order, which some may say starts at top echelons,” said Thurmond. “I believe it starts at the Soldier’s level of responsibility concerning managing and meeting readiness requirements, which include education, medical, online training/tasks – things that encompasses readiness.”

While Soldiers are proactive in the contribution of their role in personal readiness, Thurmond understands the importance of balancing and remaining focused on Soldier care, unit objectives, and the mission at hand.

“It is my initial responsibility to ensure that the Soldiers are taken care of while working to execute the mission,” said Thurmond. “I believe that Soldiers and the mission have equal importance. With that steadily in mind, I believe I can successfully fulfill my role as a brigade commander under the 94th Training Division.”