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Joint Pathology Center’s Leadership Changes Hands


By Bernard S. Little

WRNMMC Command Communications​

The Joint Pathology Center, a partner with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in providing premier health care, education and research, held a change of authority ceremony July 25 at WRNMMC.

During the ceremony rich with symbolism and heritage, Army Col. (Dr.) Clayton D. Simon relinquished JPC authority to Army Col. (Dr.) Joel T. Moncur. Simon is headed for an overseas assignment on the Korean Peninsula.

Symbolizing the change in leadership, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Nestor, JPC senior enlisted leader and custodian of the unit’s colors, passed the colors to Simon, signifying the unit’s appreciation for the colonel’s leadership and guidance. As his last official act as JPC director, Simon passed the colors to Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald J. Place, presiding officer for the change of authority and director of the National Capital Medial Directorate as part of the Defense Health Agency and JPC’s parent organization. Place then passed the colors to Moncur, the incoming JPC director, symbolizing his assumption of the JPC leadership, who in turn returned the colors to Nestor.

In battle, leaders use the unit’s colors to identify themselves for rallying points for their troops, but for modern-day warfighters, the colors record the unit’s rich history and symbolize its rich tradition.

A rich history

Although the ceremony marked just the second change of authority for the JPC since it was formally established in 2011, the roots of the organization can be traced to the founding of the Army Medical Museum (now the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland), established in 1862 during the Civil War, explained Army Col. Derron A. Alves, the JPC director of Veterinary Pathology and chair of the Department of Defense Veterinary Pathology Residency Program in the DHA.

Surgeon General of the U.S. Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) William A. Hammond established the Army Medical Museum in Washington, D.C., on May 21, 1862 to collect “specimens of morbid anatomy…for research in military medicine and surgery.” In addition to the collection and study of Civil War artifacts, the museum staff performed the autopsy of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, and in 1881, that of President James Garfield. Maj. (Dr.) Walter Reed also served as the curator of the museum during the 1890s, and the museum staff pioneered techniques in photomicrography, established a library and cataloging system which later formed the basis for the National Library of Medicine, and led research on infectious diseases while discovering the cause of yellow fever and contributing to the development of vaccinations for typhoid fever.

Curator of the Army Medical Museum from 1929 to 1931, and then again from 1937 to 1946, Army Col. (Dr.) James Earl Ash was a proponent of the registry concept and the role of the museum in diagnostic pathology. In 1946, the Army Medical Museum became a division of the new Army Institute of Pathology (AFIP) with Ash as its first director. In 1949, the Army Institute of Pathology was renamed to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology to reflect its joint service commitment. For decades, AFIP occupied Building 54 on the campus of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission called for the realignment of WRAMC and disestablishment of AFIP (except for the National Museum of Health and Medicine and the Tissue Repository). The National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 (NDAA 2008) then called for the establishment of the JPC to serve as the pathology reference center for the federal government.

Core Duties, Competencies

Alves explained the JPC’s core duties and competencies have basically remained the same since the Army Medical Museum was established nearly 160 years ago: “to collect pathological specimens and case histories, specifically during military conflicts,  and to be a part of the military health care team that provides consultative services for the most difficult pathology cases, particularly those involving diseases of military relevancy in order to mitigate or prevent their harmful effects on the combat readiness of the fighting forces.

“As part of these core duties, the JPC manages the one-of-a-kind and the single largest tissue repository in the world containing more than 55 million glass slides, 35 million paraffin blocks and over a million wet tissue specimens,” Alves said. “In addition, we have a specific tissue and record registry dating back to World War II.”

He furthered that the JPC provides education to residents, fellows and staff, as well as serves as the home to the only veterinary pathology residency program and diagnostic consultation service in DOD.

In 2017, the JPC achieved accreditation from the College of American Pathologists, in addition to achieving International Organization for Standardization 15189 medical laboratories requirements for quality and competence, making it the first and only DHA and federal laboratory to achieve ISO 15189 accreditation in just six years of operation. To date, the JPC is only one of 46 worldwide laboratories to achieve ISO 15189 accreditation, Alves added.

Heirs to Medical Heroes

Place called those who work at the JPC “heirs to the military medical heroes of the Civil War [such as Hammond and Army Maj. Jonathan Letterman, known as the “Father of Battlefield Medicine”]. The tools that you use are vastly more sophisticated than theirs, yet your mission remains the same. The idea of young Americans needlessly suffering or dying from preventable deaths is unacceptable. You, like your predecessors, are determined to use the power of science and the power of organized minds to render aid to the wounded, the ill and the injured.”

Throughout their history, the JPC and its predecessor, the AFIP, honorably served the military, nation and world with innovative discoveries, as well as playing important roles in determining how and why Reye’s syndrome was afflicting many children, reconstructing the genetic code of the 1918 virus that killed millions during the influenza pandemic, and improving casualty care for those wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, Place continued. “It was you who came to [their] aid, helping to devise new ways to protect them from harm and heal their wounds,” he added.

The general then thanked Simon for his leadership of the JPC, and he welcomed Moncur to its helm, as well as praising the JPC staff for their everyday work and accomplishments. “We accomplish nothing without our people,” he said.

Simon called the JPC his “favorite assignment” with his “favorite team” made up of an amazing group of people. “There’s no way I can thank them enough.”

Moncur, who previous assignment were as Chief of Pathology and Director of Molecular Pathology at WRNMMC, said, “High quality pathology is essential to mission success and military readiness.” He shared with the JPC staff that he’s admired their organization and what they have accomplished for his entire career. “You are arguably the single most important pathology institute in the history of pathology.” He explained the JPC tissue collection, repository and research permit diagnosis and study to learn valuable lessons. “That’s critically important because the best treatment and prevention begins with an accurate diagnosis, and that’s exactly what you do in support of readiness and our fighting strength,” Moncur added.

The ceremony concluded with the singing of the Army, Navy and Air Force songs.​​