Alumnus named Air Force Surgeon General
C. Bruce Green, MD ’78, MPH, then an Air Force lieutenant colonel, provides disaster relief in the Philippines in 1990 following a devastating earthquake.
The summer of 1990 brought Lt. Gen. C. Bruce Green, MD ’78, MPH
, to Baguio City, Philippines, where a massive earthquake had collapsed buildings and infrastructure, eventually killing more than 1,600 people. Then a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and an expert in disaster relief operations, Dr. Green was assigned to lead rescue efforts in the battered region.
Aftershocks rocked the area as every building over three stories tall had fallen, and Dr. Green spent his first night coordinating rescues in several city hotels. The next morning, his team was called to a factory where numerous casualties were reported. As they scoured the rubble, they heard a small voice and realized someone was trapped beneath. For two hours they dug through mud and debris before pulling the man to safety, just before a gas leak ignited to cause an explosion that could have buried them all.
“There’s this little voice inside you that says ‘you are the one – you are the one who has to make a difference here,’ and when you hear that voice, you can’t walk away from it,” Dr. Green said. “So we did everything we could, regardless of risk, to get this individual out. You’ve got to step up to it and do the job.”
That sentiment could easily be Dr. Green’s mantra as he begins his first year as the top medical officer in the United States Air Force. After serving as Deputy Surgeon General of the Air Force for three years, Dr. Green was promoted in August to Air Force Surgeon General.
In his new role, Dr. Green oversees a budget in excess of $6 billion and a service of about 42,000 officers, enlisted and civilian personnel in a worldwide system of health care that operates 75 military treatment facilities, including 24 hospitals and medical centers. The Air Force Medical Service, which commemorated 60 years this summer, delivers medical care for more than 2.6 million people, including active duty, family members and retirees.
“My job is to make certain the service runs smoothly with the highest quality and best care that can be offered to military beneficiaries,” Dr. Green said. “I really set the agenda for Air Force Medicine. On a day-to-day basis, I represent Air Force Medicine in multiple national forums. In our vernacular, I carry the flag for the Air Force Medical Service.”
When he arrived in the surgeon general’s office in 2005, Dr. Green set his attention to revitalizing the Air Force’s hospital infrastructure and making improvements to the day-to-day care of patients. He had been commander at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, its largest medical center. Coming directly from a clinical assignment, he said he was attuned to the best way to rebuild hospital operations and to introduce resources and incentives to promote greater retention of talented clinicians.
As Deputy, his responsibilities were like those of a chief operator for his predecessor, Lt. Gen. James G. Roudebush, MD, so Dr. Green’s new role is largely an extension of the work he had been doing.
Since his assignment in the Philippines, Dr. Green has been heavily involved with the development of the Air Force’s expeditionary medical capabilities. Aeromedical evacuation (air-evac) transport to the U.S. is often needed in cases such as cardiac surgery, where the assets for proper care are not available in the field or even in the country. Dr. Green often accompanied very sick patients to the U.S. After a few weeks in the Philippines, he learned several neonates had died in the Pacific due to prolonged transport times. He followed up with an investigation on how to improve air-evac for neonates and became the validating physician approving all patient transport in the Pacific.
Dr. Green has had special involvement in the evolution of the air transportable hospital and later helped build the Air Force’s first transportable trauma center. He put the current version of that unit, the EMEDS (Expeditionary Medical System), into design and testing. While at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., from 2001-2003, Dr. Green modified the air-evac program to ensure the equipment and training were in place to use any pressurized aircraft, not just military, to move casualties. He considers the enhancements made to the systems that safely transport patients from the field to logistics hubs and other sites where they can receive comprehensive treatment and recover among the most significant contributions he has helped make.
“The Air Force really hires military physicians to be able to deploy and take care of warriors in any environment,” he said. “We bring American standard care to very austere locations. To do that, we have to be current in medicine, and we have to find ways to get people home safely.”
Scholarship paves way
Through a decorated career of 32 years in the Air Force, Dr. Green can smile about how he almost didn’t qualify. He was a young medical student, starting at age 19, so when he investigated the Health Professions Scholarship Program – a full tuition military scholarship – at his father’s suggestion, he ran into an obstacle despite his academic standing.
He was told he was too young to be commissioned, the cutoff being 21 years, however his recruiter convinced the Air Force that Dr. Green wouldn’t actually be an officer until after his graduation, so they allowed his entry into the program. He was excited about a career in medicine, though hesitant at the time to even accept the scholarship, as it was the post-Vietnam era, and many were skeptical of the military. In the end, the opportunity for a medical education won out.
“In terms of career, I always had intended that I would essentially pay back my commitment and get out,” he said. “But by the time I went to the Philippines, I had extended about four years beyond. Some of that had to do with family and where they wanted to go, and some of it had to do with my ever-increasing knowledge of the mission of the Air Force.”
His initial decision to consider the Air Force as a long-term career came as he was nearing the end of his commitment in 1984. Having completed his family medicine residency in the military, he was strongly considering joining the family practice of friend John Capelli, MD ’78, GME ’81, in Kenosha, Wis. Ultimately, however, Dr. Green chose an Air Force assignment in Hawaii, a decision his friend jokingly told him he’d never forgive unless he became surgeon general. It seems Dr. Green will be granted a pardon.
Air Force Surgeon General C. Bruce Green, MD ’78, MPH, with his daughters (L-R) Rachel-Megan, 25; Kristen, 27; Jordan-Claire, 17; and Kelly, 28. On his lap is grandson, Aiden, 1.
In the ensuing years, Dr. Green earned a master’s in public health from Harvard University as part of an aerospace medicine residency program he completed at Brooks Air Force Base, Texas. In addition to Wilford Hall Medical Center, he has served as commander of three hospitals. As command surgeon for three major commands, he planned joint medical response for operations Desert Thunder and Desert Fox, and oversaw air-evac for operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
Today, Dr. Green spends much more time looking to the future than the past from his headquarters at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. He knows perhaps his greatest responsibility as Surgeon General will be to ensure the U.S. is prepared for whatever new challenges the country may face in the next five to 10 years. Air Force Medicine must protect Airmen, patients, systems and information from any attack – whether kinetic, chemical, biologic or cyber – that threatens the U.S. or compromises our ability to care for America’s heroes, he said.
“That’s the biggest burden, and that’s my job,” Dr. Green said. “I must try and identify future threats and make certain we’re equipped and prepared to deal with every contingency.”
Dr. Green’s assignments and awards
Dr. Green in 1978, the year he graduated from medical school.
• June 1978 – July 1981, family practice resident, later, chief resident, Eglin AFB, Fla.
• July 1981 – August 1984, flight surgeon, U.S. Air Force Hospital, Mather AFB, Calif.
• August 1984 – September 1985, officer in charge, Family Practice Clinic, Wheeler AFB, Hawaii
• September 1985 – August 1987, Chief of Clinic Services, Hickam AFB, Hawaii
• September 1987 – June 1988, student, graduate aerospace medical resident, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
• June 1988 – July 1989, resident in aerospace medicine, U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, Brooks AFB, Texas
• July 1989 – August 1991, Chief of Aerospace Medicine, and Commander, 657th Tactical Hospital, Clark AB, Philippines
• September 1991 – August 1993, Commander, 65th Medical Group, Lajes Field, Portugal
• August 1993 – August 1995, Commander, 366th Medical Group, Mountain Home AFB, Idaho
• August 1995 – January 1997, Commander, 96th Medical Group, Eglin AFB, Fla.
• January 1997 – July 1999, Command Surgeon, U. S. Central Command, MacDill AFB, Fla.
• July 1999 – June 2001, Command Surgeon, North American Defense Command, U.S. Space Command and Air Force Space Command, Peterson AFB, Colo.
• June 2001 – July 2003, Command Surgeon, U.S. Transportation Command and Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Scott AFB, Ill.
• July 2003 – July 2005, Commander, 59th Medical Wing, Wilford Hall Medical Center, Lackland AFB, Texas
• July 2005 – August 2006, Assistant Surgeon General for Health Care Operations, Office of the Surgeon General, Bolling AFB, D.C.
• August 2006 – August 2009, Deputy Surgeon General, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Bolling AFB, D.C.
• August 2009 – present, Surgeon General of the Air Force, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C.
MAJOR AWARDS AND DECORATIONS
• Defense Superior Service Medal with oak leaf cluster
• Legion of Merit
• Defense Meritorious Service Medal
• Airman's Medal
• Meritorious Service Medal with four oak leaf clusters
• Joint Service Commendation Medal
• Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters
• Air Force Achievement Medal
• National Defense Service Medal with bronze star
• Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
• Humanitarian Service Medal with bronze star
• Philippine Bronze Cross
Rating: Chief flight surgeon
Flight hours: 1,200
Aircraft flown: B-52, C-5, C-9, C-21, C-130, C-141, H-53, KC-135, T-43, F-15, F-16, P-3, T-37, T-38, UH-1 and UH-60
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