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Army chief of medicine embraces new role in Alaska

Posted: April 7, 2013 - 12:08am
In this photo taken Friday, March 29, 2013, Col. Dennis LeMaster, commander of the U.S. Army Meddak-AK (Medical Activity Department), poses at the Bassett Army Hospital on Fort Wainwright, Alaska. (AP Photo/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Eric Engman)  Eric Engman
Eric Engman
In this photo taken Friday, March 29, 2013, Col. Dennis LeMaster, commander of the U.S. Army Meddak-AK (Medical Activity Department), poses at the Bassett Army Hospital on Fort Wainwright, Alaska. (AP Photo/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Eric Engman)

FAIRBANKS — Col. Dennis LeMaster didn’t expect he’d wind up with an office in a military hospital when he joined the U.S. Army in 1987.

LeMaster, 51, said a career in medical administration wasn’t his first choice as an ROTC recruit at Washington State University. In fact, it wasn’t among any of his choices.

“I wanted to be either a tanker or an infantryman,” he said. “I didn’t even know Medical Service Corps was a branch until I had it.”

More than a quarter-century later, LeMaster said he’s pleased at how his unexpected Army career has unfolded. He’s worked in various medical operations around the world, including assignments in Korea, Germany and his home state of Washington. His latest stop is Fort Wainwright, where he’s served since June as the new commander of MEDDAC-Alaska, overseeing U.S. Army medical activity in the state.

LeMaster keeps photos in his office of his grandfather, who was in cavalry during World War II, and his father, a tanker. After initially studying forestry at WSU, he realized his attraction to the military was too strong to ignore.

“I was always the kid in the neighborhood who was playing Army,” he said.

He smiles easily and talks passionately about his own job, which takes place during a challenging but rewarding era of military medicine.

LeMaster oversees more than 900 personnel, split about evenly between military and

civilian employees. Their work encompasses everything from battlefield injuries to a baby boom currently under way at Fort Wainwright.

LeMaster arrived in Alaska in June from Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Seattle, and said an assignment at Bassett Army Community Hospital had been in the back of his mind for years. He grew up in Eastern Washington, and said the outdoors have always been an important part of his life. He and his 13-year-old son, Lucas, went on a deer hunt in Kodiak in the fall.

“I lobbied really hard to come to Alaska — adventure, scenery, the outdoors, all that stuff I wanted to experience,” he said.

LeMaster admits he hasn’t spent as much time exploring Alaska as he’d like to, but said his busy job hasn’t diminished his enthusiasm. He plans to continue in the Army until he hits his mandatory retirement age in 2017.

“It’s the thrill of working with the young soldiers — they keep you young,” he said. “I’ll stay in until they tell me I have to go.”

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