First black Army Surgeon General visits Fort Bragg

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The first black Army Surgeon General visited Fort Bragg on Wednesday (WTVD)

For Lieutenant General Nadja West, this moment is surreal and humbling.

West, the nation's first African-American Army Surgeon General, is back on familiar ground. Eight years ago, the commanding officer oversaw operations at Womack Army Medical Center. On Wednesday, she returned to her old stomping ground in her first facility visit since her historic appointment in late 2015.

In addition to the Army Surgeon General and MEDCOM commander, West is the first black female three-star general and the highest ranking female of any race to graduate from West Point.

"I know myself and I'm just little old me so it's hard to wonder sometimes why it's such a big deal," said West. "But for those around me, I just try my best to work the hardest I can to be an inspiration for others who come from all different backgrounds, from all different beginnings."

West's background is unique. The youngest of 12, she said she was once an "orphan with an uncertain future." She and her siblings were adopted by an Army father and journalist mother who broke barriers in their own fields. West's father, Oscar George Grammar, Sr., would enlist as a Private and rise to the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 4 before his retirement 33 years later.

"He joined the Army in 1940 when it was still segregated, but he believed in the institution of the Army as one that provided for opportunities, provided for an example for our nation, which it did," said West. "A lot of advances, a lot of the integration efforts started with our military."

Ten of the family's 12 siblings served in the military.

"One of my earliest memories was of my brother walking me to kindergarten with his Army uniform on," West said. "I remember how proud I was of my big brother."

When West was 12, one of her sisters joined the Navy. She would retire as a Chief Master Petty Officer.

"I knew I was just waiting for my turn when I'd be able to serve, as well," West said of her childhood aspirations.

Fast-forward to 2016, and West has a simple goal as Army Surgeon General.

"What I want to accomplish is to take Army medicine to the highest heights it can reach," she said. "The Chief of Staff of the Army, General Milley's priority, is readiness. He says 'readiness is my number one priority and there is no other number one,' and so as his surgeon general and the MEDCOM commander that has to be my priority, too- readiness."

That readiness includes finding solutions to the military issues that also plague the civilian community-obesity, poor nutritional habits, self health awareness, and sleep deprivation.

Calling Army medicine "an example of the best medical capabilities the country has ever seen," West also noted the milestones that welcome her at Womack this week. Since her 2010 departure, a lot has changed at WAMC. There's been an Emergency Department expansion providing better access and customer service for patients. There are individual birthing suites in the Mother-Baby unit.

During a town hall with the Fort Bragg medical community, West said the feedback was hopeful. Groundbreaking research and work is being done on the installation, and there is a positive outlook on what's to come, she said.

In a time of major downsizing and budget cuts, West said the Army is dedicated to fulfilling a care promise to troops, retirees and their families.

"I know we've gone through hard times and ups and downs, cuts swells of the population of the military and decreases after every war," West said. "Throughout we've always managed to maintain a healthcare system to take care of our own, and I assure them that this is another time in that continuum that we'll continue to be there to support our soldiers, our family members and our retirees who are entrusted to our care."

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