On a hot and buggy coastal Georgia morning, soldiers, civilians, and civic leaders assembled at Marne Garden to see Col. Patrick Ahearne assume command of U.S. Army Medical Department Activity Fort Stewart from Col. Kirk Eggleston.
Eggleston has been the commander of Winn Army Community Hospital on Fort Stewart for 24 months. Ahearne is coming from Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he served as the chief of the Army Nurse Corps Branch at U.S. Human Resources Command. He is joined by his wife, Becky, and two daughters.
Maj. Gen. John Murray, the commanding general of 3rd Infantry Division, who is currently serving in Afghanistan, spoke in a video message to Eggleston and welcomed Ahearne to Fort Stewart.
“I’ve been impressed each and every day watching you improve the quality of care, improve the service that Winn is providing. And really, as you and I both know, fight for what we know is a quality institution and a quality facility and to keep it to where it is today,” Murray said to Eggleston. “I know it’s a fight every day for manning a lot of other fronts, but you’ve done a phenomenal job, and I’m proud to have worked with you.”
Murray told Ahearne, “You’re going to make great contributions, I have no doubt in my mind. And we both look forward to working with you andseeing you take Winn to the next step of its journey to greatness.”
Brig. Gen. Barbara Holcomb, the commanding general of Southern Regional Medical Command and presiding officer at the Wednesday-morning ceremony, spoke to Eggleston about the work he’s accomplished the last two years in command.
“Col. Eggleston, Kirk. You’ve done a fantastic job for Army medicine, the southern region and especially the Fort Stewart community during the past two years,” she said. “You are a true champion of patient-centered care, and you inspired your staff to increase efficiencies and improve the patient experience to benefit the 90,000 beneficiaries entrusted to your care.”
After 29 years of service and two years as commander, Eggleston had many people to thank during his speech. But he first made sure the soldiers standing at parade rest in the sun were able to relax for 15 seconds, because of the heat and bugs, before they returned to parade rest and he continued his speech.
“Today, I consider myself the most blessed man (in) the world, to paraphrase Lou Gehrig,” Eggleston said. “And I had the honor of commanding a MEDDAC at Hunter and Fort Stewart for the past two years. I’ve been allowed to serve in our nation and our Army for 29 years. And I’ve been blessed with an education, given interesting and exciting jobs and duties, and got to see exciting and varied areas of the world.”
He thanked his wife, children and family, and he especially thanked the emergency room staff at Winn.
“On the 26th of September 2013, I decided to go down to the ER, and they gave me, between sitting up, nitro and some other things, I went flat-line on them for about 50 seconds. In my own ER. And they brought me back. And I want to thank you personally for that, OK? That’s a day I won’t forget soon,” Eggleston said.
Eggleston is retiring after nearly three decades of service and plans to move to Texas to practice family medicine at Harker Heights Medical Home.
Ahearne spoke briefly during the ceremony, saying that he is “honored to have been selected to be the next commander of Winn Army Community Hospital. It is truly a privilege to join the Winn team. I’m looking forward to serving the soldiers and staff as we continue the honorable and glorious work providing health care to the Fort Stewart community.”
After the ceremony, Ahearne said that during his command, he is most looking forward to working with the people.
“I’ve had an opportunity to work on a few command teams, and the professionalism of the group of people that you work with is actually the most enjoyable portion of being a leader and having that opportunity,” he said.
Ahearne said wellness programs in the community and increasing the health and readiness of the force are going to be among his priorities.
As a parting message to his former staff, Eggleston told them to have fun and enjoy what they do.
“We’re blessed to take care of the best patients in the world, our soldiers, our family members, our retirees. I truly believe that is an honor that we have and we should come to work every day excited that we are honored to do that,” he said.
“So, enjoy it, enjoy the people you work with, enjoy the people you take care of, because life’s too short not to like what you’re doing.”