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Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Conducts Change of Authority

07/05/2017

Kobelja Becomes Director of ‘The President’s Hospital,’ Heimall Retires After 30 Years

By Bernard S. Little
WRNMMC Command Communications

Navy Capt. (Dr.) Mark A. Kobelja assumed authority of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center during a ceremony Jun. 30 in WRNMMC’s Memorial Auditorium.

Kobelja replaces Army Col. Michael S. Heimall, who retired from the military after more than 30 years of service, serving the last 13 months as the WRNMMC director.
Navy Rear Adm. (Dr.) David A. Lane, director of the National Capital Region Medical Directorate, officiated the change of authority ceremony, stating, “This is truly an important event in the life cycle of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, one of the most storied and recognizable institutions in the U.S. military and in American medicine.
“If you say ‘Walter Reed National Military Medical Center,’ [people] naturally think of the greatness of military medicine,” Lane said. He added WRNMMC is where “America’s heroes, wounded warriors, come to heal.”
WRNMMC offers “unquestionably world leading comprehensive ballistic rehabilitative care” [within its Military Advanced Training Center], diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injury [in the National Intrepid Center of Excellence], the only Department of Defense medical center with an enhanced bio-containment unit and special pathogen lab for viruses like Ebola and other infectious diseases, the only DOD medical center performing solid organ transplants and the John P. Murtha Cancer Center [the only designated cancer center of excellence in DOD], which is also spearheading the White House’s Cancer Moonshot military efforts.
“[In addition], nearly 40 percent of DOD’s graduate health education and over a third of its clinical research gets done [at WRNMMC],” Lane added.
“It takes a special breed of leader to lead an iconic organization like Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, [and] Col. Michael Heimall has been just that kind of special leader,” Lane continued. “This is essentially his fifth command tour,” the admiral added, explaining Heimall has commanded an Army dental activity, medical activity, Army hospital, Army medical center and WRNMMC.
Lane said while Heimall “will be greatly missed and is leaving big shoes to fill [at WRNMMC],”and Kobelja “is the right leader to fill those shoes.” He added Kobelja is among that “special breed of leader” poised “to direct America’s medical center. I have complete trust and confidence that he’ll pick up right where Col. Heimall left off.”
Kobelja is no stranger to WRNMMC or the Naval Support Activity Bethesda campus. He completed his medical degree at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science on NSAB, and clinical training in anesthesiology at the former National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) and in pain medicine at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the predecessors of WRNMMC. He also served on the NNMC staff as an anesthesiologist, as well as department head of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, and chair of the Executive Committee of the Medical Staff and director for Surgical Services, overseeing the integration and transition of surgical staff of WRNMMC and NNMC into WRNMMC. His prior assignments included deputy commander of Naval Medical Center San Diego and commanding officer of Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. Prior to coming to WRNMMC as director, Kobelja served as Fleet Surgeon for U.S. Naval Forces Europe/Africa and U.S. Sixth Fleet.
Kobelja saluted “the unwavering service” of Heimall and the Heimall family: “Congratulations on a distinguished career. Well done. You have built a brilliant leadership team, and your work with our external partners has set the stage for generations of success.”
The new WRNMMC director said to the medical center staff, “It’s an honor to work with you again in this noble endeavor. This facility is the descendant of two great institutions, and you have been faithful to the legacies of selfless service, excellence and compassionate care to our nation’s heroes and their families, [and] champions of expert research and education that has transformed medical and surgical care throughout the world, all while many of you have gone into harm’s way alongside our brothers and sisters in arms. You are leading the way for a grateful nation. Our patients and their families need us, and we have the watch.”
Guest speaker for Heimall’s retirement, Dr. Richard W. Thomas, USU president, also commended the service of the Heimall family, stating the colonel “is another link in a family that has dedicated themselves to service to our nation and their communities….Over 30 years of service, [Heimall] has dedicated himself to ensuring our service members and their families are taken care of every day and receive world-class care.”
Heimall explained one of the things that made his career rewarding are the teammates, “battle buddies, shipmates and wingmen pulling each other along, pushing to reach a goal that at times you feel there is just no way you’re ever going to get there.
“The Army and Navy have blessed me with incredible teams to help me do my mission,” Heimall added. He called WRNMMC “a very, very special place with a great mission – the opportunity to care for America’s most severely injured service members and their families.”
The colonel added the men and women who serve in uniform, along with their families, “have written a blank check to the United States of America with their lives. When they go into harm’s way, they deserve to know that there is a health care system behind them that is going to spare no expense or sacrifice to bring them home safe and return them to their families as productive Americans.
“Our patients and our staff are really the best America has to offer. They deserve the absolute best medical system we can give them. We need to stop talking about protecting our service-specific equities, resources and control. We need to spend our time talking about how we are going to best care for America’s sons and daughters,” Heimall stated.
“Captain Kobelja, you are the absolute right guy at the right point and time to lead this organization forward,” the colonel concluded.