USAMMDA Welcomes First NCO to the Organization
It may have taken nearly 35 years, but the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity welcomed its first-ever Non-commissioned Officer to the organization this past December. Upon his arrival, Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel P. McGarrah made history for the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, USAMMDA's higher headquarters, by becoming the first enlisted Soldier assigned to USAMMDA. Stationed at the organization's headquarters at Fort Detrick, Maryland, McGarrah now serves as the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the USAMMDA commander, Army Col. Gina E. Adam.
McGarrah feels honored to have been chosen as the first NCO to serve at USAMMDA, especially in light of the command's mission to develop and deliver quality medical capabilities to protect, treat and sustain the health of Service Members throughout the world.
"I think it's a great mission," he said, "and I can see why USAMMDA would need an NCO here, after all of these years, to help facilitate some of the changes taking place with the Defense Health Agency and the USAMRDC – and all of the things that are happening in our world right now. I believe an NCO might be able to see certain situations from a different perspective, because many of our Officers are engaged with so many other things going on throughout the Army."
Considering McGarrah's heritage, it's safe to say he understands the military milieu pretty well. As an eighth-generation Army Soldier, which includes being third-generation special operations, he has the Army in his blood, he says.
"My dad served in Europe during the Vietnam Era, in the 5th Special Forces Group, my grandfather was in World War II and the Korean War, and my great-uncle was a member of Merrill's Marauders (Unit Galahad)," he said. "And we traveled up to Gettysburg recently, to see where one of our ancestors fought in the Civil War."
Growing up as an "Army brat," McGarrah was born at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and spent his childhood traveling quite a bit. From Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, from Germany to Indiana, he relocated regularly until his family finally settled in Tampa, Florida, upon his father's retirement from the military. McGarrah said he enjoyed spending his middle and high school years in the south, where he developed a passion for fine foods and cooking. In fact, after working in restaurant management for a number of years, he dreamed of owning his own eatery until a family event led him to consider a military life of his own.
"In 2002, I had just gotten married," he explained. "My dad and I talked about my serving four years and then going to college afterwards. I expected to go back into the restaurant business, but that didn't happen and I'm still in the Army – obviously, I made it a career."
Yes, the Army is in his blood. And it's no wonder he was chosen as USAMMDA's first NCO, when you review his military history and previous assignments.
With more than 17 years of service, McGarrah's overseas experience includes three combat deployments to the U.S. Central Command's Area of Responsibility, and three additional assignments to the U.S. Southern Command's AOR. He served as a combat medic with the 864th Engineer Battalion, and conducted improvised explosive device route clearance missions for three years, deploying to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Admittedly, this tour was rough on him – both mentally and physically – and McGarrah was not sure if he would continue in the military. However, he once again sought the advice of his father, who encouraged him to remain a Soldier, suggesting that he follow in his footsteps and apply for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. McGarrah trusted his father's recommendation and submitted his application, and he was accepted to join the SOCOM team soon after. This new assignment meant a return to Fort Bragg, where he had spent much of his childhood; but this time, he would spend more than a decade on the post with a family of his own.
During this time, McGarrah had many roles, including an eight-year assignment to a Special Operations Civil Affairs team. Often working with civilian agencies and organizations, this specialized unit supported humanitarian aid operations, counter-narcotics investigations, and human trafficking and hostage rescue missions, among other tasks.
"I really loved working with that unit, until I was injured in a training exercise in 2013," he explained. "I shredded my knee and tore my shoulder very badly, which limited my mobility. But surprisingly, that was the catalyst for my college career."
A blessing in disguise, you say?
"I turned my focus towards the education I planned on years ago, and I earned my bachelor's degree in two years, then completed a one-year master's program in strategic studies from the National Defense University," said McGarrah. "I'm currently pursuing a doctorate in public health from Walden University."
McGarrah's keen ability to successfully complete a task, be it an academic degree or one of his many military assignments, has certainly played a role in his selection as USAMMDA's first NCO. He hopes to use this valuable trait to help whenever and wherever he is needed within the organization, from the commander to each of the project management offices, and everyone in between.
"Leadership felt that my background would fit nicely with this position," he said. "They wanted someone who's been on the ground fighting, and who has guided and worked at an operational level – and at a strategic level, from my history with multiple COCOMs."
"I'm really looking forward to working with all of the project managers, to provide them with up-to-date guidance and/or recommendations, with regard to our medical products and devices," he added. "I have personal knowledge of many of these products downrange, and I can use this experience to help identify their success or failure in the field, so we can work to create the best products for our Warfighters. And if I don't have the answers, I know plenty of people that do."
Adam agrees with this assessment, and she is looking forward to what McGarrah can provide to the entire USAMMDA team.
"Having a senior medic here will be a great help to the project management teams, and I have no doubt his experience and first-hand knowledge will be invaluable for them as they assess what medical products will be most useful on the battlefield," said Adam. "I am looking forward to having his perspective as part of my leadership team."
When asked about his relocation to Fort Detrick, and the surrounding area of Frederick County, McGarrah said he and his family are very excited to explore the historical sites in the region as well as all of the museums and points of interest in Washington, DC. Comparing Fort Detrick to Fort Bragg, he said it will take some time to get used to the smaller post and its fewer amenities, but he is looking forward to visiting the many restaurants and shops of historic Downtown Frederick. McGarrah is very confident that his new home will provide much to satisfy his family's interest in the great outdoors, including hiking, camping and fishing.
While McGarrah may be the first NCO to serve at USAMMDA, he believes he will not be the last. He is already thinking about his future replacement – which should not be a concern for another two to three years, he said. For now, he plans to build many positive relationships to advance the mission of USAMMDA, doing whatever it takes to help support our nation's Warfighters.
As for that restaurant he still hopes to open one day, he knows that dream will always be there for him – it will just have to simmer on the back burner for a little while longer.