NATICK, Mass. - On a sunny New England summer morning, Col. Gaston Bathalon accepted the guidon from the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command (USAMRMC), Maj. Gen. James Gilman to take over as the 18th commander of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM).
Bathalon takes over for Col. Kevin Keenan, who is heading to Iraq to serve as a flight surgeon. USARIEM is the premier research organization for warfighter performance and environmental medicine that provides support to America's military at home and abroad.
Having previously served as the deputy commander of USARIEM, Bathalon established the Military Weight Management Program and most recently was deployed in support of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom as the U.S. Central Command's Human Protections Administrator on the Joint Combat Casualty Research Team.
"If one were to summarize the character of USARIEM in a single word while under Col. Keenan's leadership, that would be relevance," said the USAMRMC commanding general. "Kevin brought his extraordinary experience involving small units and isolated warriors operating in austere environments to this command and that stamp is on everything that has gone on during his command tour."
In his speech, Bathalon focused on the Soldiers from USARIEM who were in attendance.
"Soldiers are the cornerstone of our formations," said Bathalon. "You do, indeed make the nation proud with your dedication and sacrifice. It gives me great pride to serve along side of you. Today, USARIEM has four Soldiers down range and two more poised to deploy in December. This is what we do... support our Nation. The sacrifices are many and we remember them today."
The general spoke highly of Bathalon's service and expects the relevance of USARIEM to continue under his leadership.
"We will continue to expect great things from USARIEM under his leadership," said Gilman. "We will continue efforts at the headquarters to support the important work that takes place here and the other areas under USARIEM's purview."
The outgoing commander, Col. Kevin Keenan is preparing to deploy as a flight surgeon in Iraq before moving to Afghanistan to serve as the Battalion surgeon for a Vermont National Guard unit.
"It has been my great fortune to have served in many fine units," said Keenan. "I count it a part of that great fortune to have served not once, but twice here at USARIEM, among the greatest fortunes has been the opportunity to serve you as the commander of USARIEM.
"As scientists and those who support the science, you have accepted the challenge of innovating, of designing, of creating whole concepts that did not exist and translated those concepts to the battlefield. You have risen to meet this challenge, met it superbly and I thank you for all your efforts. I am exceptionally and intensely proud of our Institute and each of you."
The work at USARIEM is aimed at enhancing performance and medically protecting military personnel from operational stress and exposure to extremes in heat, cold and high terrestrial altitudes.