In a week-long Salute to Service, Bracewell continues its series of stories from across the various sectors of military life.
After graduating from the US Military Academy at West Point in 2001, Paul McBride served six years (2001-2007) as an active duty Army officer. He resigned his commission and left the Army in late March 2007, just in time to start law school in September 2007.
A similar story could probably be told by any number of West Point grads, but this is only the timeline framing Paul’s fascinating two-part journey through his military career.
The first stop along Paul’s active-duty journey was in Atlanta with a medical unit called the US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine (CHPPM, pronounced “chip-um”). CHPPM provides worldwide support to military units in the areas of clinical and field preventive medicine, including environmental and occupational health, epidemiology and disease surveillance, and related technical services.
“Our unit provided a lot of technical support to help military installations manage their environmental compliance programs,” began Paul. “I would also train medical personnel how to properly and legally ship infectious substances.”
Paul also traveled to some interesting places during his time with CHPPM.
“I went to Thailand and spent two weeks teaching at a research lab,” said Paul about one of his overseas tasks. “They regularly ship highly infectious substances between Thailand and labs in the US as part of their research on tropical diseases such as malaria. I instructed both US and Thai staff on adherence to international shipping rules, protocols and regulations, as well as how to keep everyone safe along the transportation route.”
In 2005, the second part of Paul’s military journey unfolded. As part of a strategic restructuring within the Army, Paul was reassign from CHPPM to the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy.
“I joined at the same time they were growing the unit,” Paul reflected about his assignment as a paratrooper with the 173rd. “It was a huge expansion. I was part of the reactivation of the 173rd Brigade Support Battalion, which required standing-up a full brigade support medical company.”
In a six-month timeframe, the medical company went from being a platoon of about 30 people and two officers, including Paul, to nearly 80 people with 14 officers covering various posts. The beefed up unit was now in position to support the full Brigade during its upcoming one-year deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
It was also around this time Paul began to sense the rich history and tradition associated with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Constituted in 1917 as the 173rd Infantry Brigade, the unit saw service in World War II and was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its actions during the Battle of Dak To during the Vietnam War. These heroic actions by the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam inspired the song “8th of November” written and recorded by American country music duo Big & Rich.
“I was familiar with the history of the 173rd and how it distinguished itself in the initial invasion of Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom,” said Paul. “But seeing the little ‘mustard stain’ on their jump wings indicating they participated in a combat jump really drove home the rich tradition connected to the unit. My family and I felt very much part of a tightknit community right from the get-go.”
The 173rd deployed to Afghanistan in late February 2005, where it joined additional units to form the core of Task Force Bayonet. Based out of Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, Task Force Bayonet’s battle space was a vast area known as Regional Command South (RC South), which held over 10,000 US troops and coalition forces from a variety of countries. As the 173rd’s Brigade support medical company, Paul’s unit was responsible for the care of all forces – US and coalition – included in Task Force Bayonet.
“We were the primary medical facility in all of RC South,” described Paul. “Any casualties in our area were medevacked back to us for initial treatment. Those casualties who were more seriously wounded or required more recovery time than we could support were then transported out of theatre.”
The medical company, which was augmented by other medical specialists to support Task Force Bayonet, had surgical capabilities and an 11-bed patient hold. Its personnel were continuously on-call in order to support incoming casualties, which could arrive at any time. The incoming casualties were not only US and coalition military members, but also local Afghan forces that were injured while working with coalition forces. The company also provided medical support to the civilian Afghan population through a variety of outreach programs.
Paul’s primary responsibility in the company was public health issues. He had a small team of preventive medicine specialists, which handled everything related to disease and non-battle injuries. Paul and his team functioned like a small public health department, ensuring the safety and sanitation of the food and water supply, monitoring air quality, educating the population, and performing other fundamental public health functions.
Apart from his preventive medicine role, Paul was one of the officers who shared responsibility for battle captain duties in the medical facility’s tactical operations center. The battle captain was responsible for monitoring everything in the RC South battle space, including when teams were engaged and when the company might be receiving casualties.
“As the battle captain, you are the point person for managing the real-time operations of the hospital that are not directly related to patient care,” said Paul. “This includes coordinating with medevac assets in order to know how long it will take the medevac helicopter to get to the battlefield and back so our medics are in place when the casualties arrive, responding to requests for information from the Task Force’s leadership, and supporting the casualties’ own unit in its efforts to provide support.”
The monitoring was a 24/7 responsibility. Paul recalls pulling an all-night shift or a 24-hour weekend shift watching over the battle space at least once or twice every week, all while continuing to perform his primary duties as the 173rd’s preventive medicine officer.
“It was amazing to see the amount of coordination that was required in order to provide medical support to a region as large as RC South. The company succeeded because we had outstanding soldiers working together to make it happen,” added Paul.
Life on the battlefield made a lasting impression on Paul, but it is where his military journey began in Atlanta that spurred his interest in going to law school.
“I actually went to law school thinking I was going to be an environmental lawyer,” said Paul. “Getting down into the weeds of medical and hazardous waste regulations during hospital facility audits got me interested in law. I enjoy what I do now, but kind of fell into the practice I have in the energy space.”
Paul’s career journey continues, but this time as a lawyer.