Composing an End for John Frazier Glenn

Dr. Frazier Glenn Retires

Dr. John Frazier Glenn, Principal Assistant for Research and Technology of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, retires after 45 years of service. (Photo by Shannon Bishop)

Although stories are supposed to start at the beginning, this one starts at the end -- the end of a brilliant 45-year career of faithful service to our country. But we'll soon discover that the beginning is pretty darn good as well.

As I await my interview with Dr. John Frazier Glenn, Principal Assistant for Research and Technology of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, I revisit all of the questions I have planned regarding his retirement on December 31. Quite honestly, I don't know what to expect.

I think back to the time I spent working at USAMRMC Headquarters -- I recall Glenn walking briskly through the halls, participating in Command-wide meetings, taking the occasional cigarette break outside of the building -- and I can only remember how preoccupied he seemed to be. It looked as if he were always on his way to something big, somewhere else, and continually rushing to get there.

In character, Glenn steps quickly into his office where I am waiting, and he greets me with a bright smile and a strong handshake, which puts me more at ease. "Well, welcome back!" he says.

After my reply of gratitude, we get down to the business of why I'm here, and I waste no time in asking Glenn to describe the role he played within the USAMRMC and the Army during these past decades.

"My job is making others successful," says Glenn.

Although he continues as my recorder rolls on, I pause a moment to absorb this. I guess I was expecting something different; maybe even hoping for something more. But as he talks and I listen, I realize this is all I really need, and things begin to crystalize very quickly for me. However, the backstory is still very interesting indeed.

"Well, I spent the first 18 years of my life in Dalton, Georgia, but my parents were from North Carolina," Glenn explains. "My father moved us to Georgia to take over the family business in the talc industry, so I grew up there, but we always had a close and personal connection with North Carolina."

Glenn tells me that his father and both grandfathers all attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as did Glenn for his undergraduate degree in Physiological Psychology. This tradition has much to do with the fact that Glenn's great-great-great-grandfather signed the charter for the school when it began in 1789. As impressive, his great-great-grandfather, William Alexander Graham, was a United States senator, Secretary of the Navy, and as the governor of North Carolina, he re-opened UNC after the Civil War.

To ensure that he lent his own name to some UNC history as well, Glenn served as one of three statisticians during the late 1960's for the legendary Dean Smith, Hall of Fame coach of the UNC Tar Heels basketball team. And with this tidbit comes a memorable anecdote.

"Well, I was in the UNC Basketball Pep Band during my years there, I was the Drum Major as well, and I worked closely with Dean Smith as a statistician, so I was a true blue Tar Heel all the way," he begins. "But I went on to do my graduate work at Duke [archrival of UNC], and the last time I saw Dean Smith was during a Carolina-Duke game at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the early seventies, and I had volunteered to serve as an usher. So there I was, standing in a Duke staff jacket, when Dean Smith ran by me through the stadium tunnel -- and let me tell you, after he recognized me, the look on his face when he did a double-take was priceless!"

As if this weren't enough, after prodding a bit further about his connection with music, Glenn admits that he was the Drum Major for his Dalton High School band as well. Coincidentally, the DHS band was selected to play at President Lyndon B. Johnson's inaugural parade; so, if you look closely enough at archival photos, you may be able to catch a glimpse of a young Frazier Glenn leading the band along a decorated Pennsylvania Avenue during a chilly day in January 1965.

Maybe it's just my love of nostalgia, but I am captivated by these stories. I long for more, but I feel we should get back to his career, and so we do. I ask him how he ended up in the Army.

"After I finished my bachelor's degree at Chapel Hill, my father wanted me to work in the family business, which I did -- but only long enough to find out what 'hard work' really meant, and I decided I needed to earn a higher degree quickly so I could be a research scientist," jokes Glenn.

"But while I was in my first year of graduate school, the Dalton draft board informed me that I would only have one year of student deferment, because I was in the last group to be drafted per the lottery system. Someone told me about a delayed-entry program, through which I could sign with the Army, finish my graduate degrees, and then begin active duty -- and this is what I did."

Glenn continues, "This was a direct commission, in the reserve force beginning in 1970, and then active duty starting in '74, when I entered as a captain. It was a wonderful opportunity for me -- I was paid well, doing research that I loved, while serving my country at the same time. And by the second year of active duty, I grew to love the military lifestyle, and I stayed in for 30 years and retired as a Colonel."

However, Glenn makes it crystal clear that he served only three decades because of the mandatory retirement rule that was in effect at that time. He would have stayed longer. But what makes his length of service even more impressive is realizing how it all started, back in the early seventies.

"It was an ugly past, and when I first started, it was tough to wear your uniform in public, because we were spit at, literally. During the Vietnam era, Soldiers were treated with contempt, and there were some horrible stories. But the Army as a whole wasn't bad -- it just needed to be fixed. And I made a commitment to help do this," says Glenn. "I loved the Army and my fellow Soldiers, and I had faith we could help turn things around. And this really began to happen after the draft ended, and it became an all-volunteer Army. The difference was tremendous."

Glenn's first assignment in 1975 was at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., for the U.S. Army Materiel Command's Human Engineering Laboratory. Despite strong leadership within the lab, this was a difficult time at APG, and Glenn saw firsthand the challenges of transitioning from a draft to an all-volunteer Army. This was followed by an assignment to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, which had its own issues as the ICD was being transitioned from the AMC to the Army Surgeon General's office within the Army Medical Department for reasons of inadequate leadership. Fortunately, however, this was the beginning of a new, more hopeful era for the research component of the Army.

As Glenn explains, "The AMEDD did some miraculous things. They brought in a bunch of young captains and some excellent senior leaders and revitalized the ICD. In a few years, we were seen as one of the leading laboratories in the entire Army system. And I was very proud to be part of that change."

Working with an "all-star team" that included Jim Romano, Dan Rickett, Dave Franz, Bob Foster, and Dave Penetar, among others, Glenn says that they "rebuilt the laboratory, almost from the ground up. We were given an impossible task, but with the backing and resources, we figured out a way to make it work."

After being stationed at Aberdeen until 1986, Glenn spent the next decade completing assignments at Fort Detrick, Md., the Pentagon, and the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, Natick, Mass.

At the Pentagon, Glenn was part of a group that drafted the very first Department of Defense 5000-series guidelines for defense acquisition, which remains the "bible" to this day. He was also part of the very first Program Executive Office for Combat Medical Systems, which consisted of three people: the USAMRMC deputy commander, Glenn (as Pentagon liaison), and Col. Harry Dangerfield.

Glenn considers his time at the Pentagon as being "very instrumental" in his career, as it helped launch him toward his next mission at USARIEM. Glenn initially served as deputy commander, but took over as acting commander for an extended period, and was assigned back to Fort Detrick in 1992 -- where he has been involved with the USAMRMC ever since.

"Since I came back to MRMC Headquarters in 1992," says Glenn, "I have served 10 commanding generals. I haven't been fired, so I guess that means I have done a good job in helping to grow the command."

Maj. Gen. Brian Lein, current USAMRMC commander, confirms this sentiment as he states, "Frazier Glenn has been an institution at MRMC and Army Medicine for over four decades, and his knowledge and expertise in how we run things and what we do is incomparable. He mentors junior Soldiers, officers, and civilians in how to do things right."

"His work has saved countless military lives on and off the battlefield," continues Lein. "We all owe him a debt of gratitude and thanks for a job extremely well done. We wish him nothing but success and happiness in his retirement from MRMC and Fort Detrick. He will be missed."

Glenn is not concerned with accolades, and he says that his role as a member of the Senior Executive Service "is not about awards." However, I ask him to convey a few of his greatest accomplishments as a member of USAMRMC leadership.

"Looking back now," he says, "I believe the things I've accomplished that will make the most difference will be the creation of both the Clinical and Rehabilitative Medicine Research Program [which was separated from the Combat Casualty Care Research Program] and the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine model."

Glenn explains further, "In our mindset left over from the Cold War, we didn't plan to rehab Soldiers and send them back to active duty. However, we later found out that 75 percent of those severely-injured Soldiers who were evacuated back to Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] wanted to return to duty. They were volunteers, and this was their career. They wanted to go back to their fellow Soldiers and be part of the team again."

This is the fundamental idea that seems to drive Glenn: We must take care of those who have taken care of us. It is no secret that he values and respects all of the Services, and he has worked diligently to ensure the USAMRMC team, and its mission, works for them. This remains a part of his legacy.

"I retired at 30 years [from the Army] because they made you retire," says Glenn. "So, I went off to try new things [such as research at Georgetown University]. But when I found out there was an opportunity to serve back here at MRMC, I applied and got the job. I guess now it's time to move on to another chapter of my life."

As Glenn moves on, Dr. George Ludwig will step in to take over the important role being vacated. As the current deputy to Glenn, Ludwig knows very well what lies ahead.

"I've worked now for Dr. Glenn longer than I've worked for any one individual in my entire military career," says Ludwig. "He's been a boss, colleague, mentor, and friend now for nearly 10 years. His knowledge of the Army, MEDCOM, the AMEDD, and MRMC is legendary, and his knack for applying historical perspective to new and emerging issues is second to none. Although I have learned much from Dr. Glenn, I can never hope to attain his level of managerial leadership. I am honored and privileged to be serving as his acting replacement, and I know that I have tremendously large shoes to fill."

It is clear that Glenn is very influential within the USAMRMC, but I want to know who influenced him throughout his life.

"Well, first and foremost, my father was my greatest influence," he says with a smile. "His sense of integrity was unmatched, and he always lived up to his word, no matter what. I've always tried to be like him in that regard."

"And my love for science came from my Dalton High School science teachers. They were just wonderful, and I wanted to be a university professor because of them. Although my career path took a different turn early on, I am still very happy with the way it all turned out."

Yes, that darned curve in the road that turned into an interesting 30-year Army career for Glenn. I try once again to pry out of him an award or acknowledgement during his military service, and he finally yields.

"I can say that I am most proud of the Legion of Merit award I received from Brig. Gen. Russ Zajtchuk before he left the MRMC," says Glenn. "Typically, you receive this after you retire, but he gave it to me while I was still a 'junior' Colonel, and I was floored. It was validation for me that he felt 'I got it' -- that I understood we had to take new paths and go beyond vaccines and drugs, and look at telemedicine and advanced technologies in order to help our wounded Servicemen and -women."

With the pride still shining in his eyes, I ask Glenn what he would like to do in his retirement, and he says he plans on spending more time with his wife, Cheryl, and their children and grandchildren. He is quick to tell me that their three daughters are his "finest achievements," and that the job made it tough to spend as much time with them as he would have liked. But he plans to catch up on this quickly, and he also looks forward to traveling once his wife retires. All in all, Glenn's future seems as bright as his past.

We wrap up our time, and as we shake hands once more, I again think of the "preoccupied" man I once saw scurrying through the halls of USAMRMC Headquarters. I realize now that I could never truly gauge him because I was using my gauge, and not his. His gauge is unassuming; his gauge is all-consuming. His is a gauge, perhaps, by which many should live. He dedicated his life to helping others, to serving others -- to protecting the welfare of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines, whether active, reservist, or Veteran.

It seems that living by this principle has made Glenn a trusted and respected leader throughout the USAMRMC, and I recall Glenn's own words: "Did I do all the work? No. But I found a way to create the conditions for others to complete the work successfully."

And as they say, success breeds success.

Farewell, Dr. Glenn. You certainly will be missed.

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Last Modified Date: 30-Dec-2015