Defense Media Network

Interview: Maj. Gen. Barbara R. Holcomb

Commanding General, U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and Fort Detrick, Maryland, and Chief, U.S. Army Nurse Corps


Maj. Gen. Barbara R. Holcomb is a 1987 Distinguished Military Graduate of Seattle University Army ROTC where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. She earned a master’s degree in nursing administration from the University of Kansas, a master’s level certification in emergency and disaster management from American Military University, and a master’s in military strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Holcomb’s military education includes the AMEDD Officer Basic Course, AMEDD Officer Advanced Course, Faculty Development Course, Combined Arms Services and Staff School, resident Command and General Staff College, AMEDD Executive Skills Course, Interagency Institute for Federal Health Care Executives, Medical Strategic Leadership Program, Army War College, Army Strategic Leader Basic, Intermediate and Advanced courses, and CAPSTONE.

Her previous assignments include Clinical Staff Nurse, Post Anesthesia Care Unit and Department of Emergency Medicine, Madigan Army Medical Center; EMT Section, 47th Combat Support Hospital, Fort Lewis, Washington, and deployment to Desert Shield/Desert Storm; Staff Nurse and Clinical Head Nurse, Mixed Med/Surg Ward and Head Nurse, Troop Medical Clinic and 111th MI Brigade Family Clinic, Fort Huachuca, Arizona; Officer Basic Course Nurse Advisor, Department of Nursing Science and Commander, A/187th Medical Battalion, Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Chief Nurse, Department of Outlying Health Clinics, 67th CSH/Wuerzburg MEDDAC, Germany; Medical Detachment Commander (Provisional), Camp Able Sentry, Macedonia; Chief Nurse/XO, 14th CSH, Fort Benning, Georgia; Commander, Special Troops Battalion; Chief, Base Transformation Office, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Chief, Ambulatory Nursing, Brooke Army Medical Center; Chief, Nursing Administration, Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center and Commander, 21st CSH, Fort Hood, Texas; Commander, Medical Task Force 21, Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn;  Chief, Army Nurse Corps Branch at Human Resources Command, Fort Knox, Kentucky; Commander, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl, Germany; Command Surgeon, FORSCOM HQs, Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Army Action Officer for the Military Health System Review; Commanding General, Regional Health Command-Central (Provisional), Fort Sam Houston, Texas; and prior to becoming Commanding General, Medical Research Materiel Command and Fort Detrick, she served as the Deputy Commanding General for Operations, U.S. Army Medical Command. She was designated as Chief, Army Nurse Corps on Nov. 2, 2015.

Holcomb’s awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal (1 OLC), Legion of Merit (2 OLC), Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal (5 OLC), Army Commendation Medal (3 OLC), Army Achievement Medal (1 OLC), National Defense Service Ribbon, Iraq Campaign Medal (2 campaign stars), Kosovo Campaign Medal, NATO Service Ribbon (Kosovo), Southwest Asia Service Medal (3 campaign stars), Kuwait Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia and Kuwait), the Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon (1 OLC), and the Expert Field Medical Badge. She is a member of the Order of Military Medical Merit.

Veterans Affairs & Military Medicine Outlook: What made you want to make your career in Army Medicine?

Maj. Gen. Barbara R. Holcomb: I initially had no intention of making Army Medicine a career. I worked in the Military Science Department as a clerk typist for my work-study program. At the end of my freshman year, I realized the grants and scholarships I received for the first year didn’t cover all of the subsequent years. I applied for and received a three-year ROTC nursing scholarship between my freshman and sophomore year of college. I saw it as a way to help pay for my school and I was drawn to the military customs and traditions I observed working in the department. About two years into my first assignment at Madigan Army Medical Center, in Tacoma, Washington, I was returning to my work area, having been pulled to help cover the ICU that night. The sun was coming up, the mountain was out [Mount Rainier] and I got a sense of peace and realization that I loved what I was doing and wanted to continue doing it. After that, I always said I would stay as long as I was enjoying it and felt like I could still contribute.

Army nurses have many opportunities to advance and grow throughout their time in the military. All Army nurses come into the Army with a Bachelor of Science in nursing.

This year marks 115 years of the Army Nurse Corps. What would most impress a nurse from more than a century ago about the nurses of today?

I think understanding the levels of technology; the medications available and the ability of nurses to make decisions are all so much different today. We’ve learned so much about health, the disease process, and human responses even since I first became a nurse. I believe the collaborative teamwork we have within the military between providers, nurses, physical therapy, respiratory therapy, [and] nutrition care, among others, is probably much different. We have many more options, and the risk is that we must take care to not allow our nurses to become completely dependent on machines and technology.

What would remain familiar? What aspects of care endure?

The need for care and compassion has not changed. The ability to use our senses – hearing, touch, smell, visual – and to communicate what we are doing and why with both the patient and the family is still keenly important. Many of the principles of healing haven’t changed; patient’s attitudes, understanding of their situation, rest, nutrition, mobility, involvement in their own care, including the family in their care, are all things that would be familiar.

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