New Army Surgeon General Is First African-American to Head MEDCOMM

by U.S. Medicine

March 7, 2016


In another first for the Army, an African-American woman became the new surgeon general last month.

In addition to being the first African-American to hold that position, Lt. Gen. Nadja West, the 44th surgeon general of the U.S. Army and Commanding General of U.S. Army Medical Command (MEDCOM), also is the highest ranking female to have graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.


Army Lt. Gen. Nadja West takes the oath of office after promotion to her current rank as her husband, retired. Army Col. Donald West, holds a Bible during the ceremony last month on the Fort Myer portion of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, VA. Army photo by Nell King

The Senate confirmed West as the new surgeon general in December, and she received her third star during a promotion and swearing-in ceremony at Conmy Hall on the Fort Myer portion of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia.

During the ceremony, Gen. Mark Milley, Army chief of staff, said West’s appointment was the latest great achievement in a long familial history of military service, explaining, “This is quite a family. It’s an incredible military family, and it has an impressive history of service to our nation.

“Her father served in the Army for 33 years,” Milley said. “He joined our Army in 1939, before desegregation. He believed then, and I would tell him it’s true now, that the Army is a great leveler … He’s not with us today. But his daughter is living proof of his dream.”

West’s parents adopted 12 children, of whom she is the youngest, Milley noted, adding that 10 of them served in the military, including the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

After graduating from West Point, West received her medical degree from George Washington University. She most recently served as the Joint Staff Surgeon at the Pentagon.

“I’m a living testament that I have only gotten this far by going together with the literally thousands who have supported me along the way,” West said.

In an interview after the ceremony, the new surgeon general said one of her top priorities would be force readiness.

“My job will be to ensure that, from a health care aspect, that I can enhance the readiness of our soldiers, their families and those who are entrusted to our care,” she said.

West was preceded as surgeon general by Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, who was the first female and first Nurse Corps officer to hold that appointment.

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