Photo by Jeff Soares
By: Jeffrey Soares, USAMRMC Public Affairs
This past June, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command welcomed a new deputy commander to its team, Capt. Keith A. Syring of the U.S. Navy. Syring is the second naval officer to serve in this role, taking the baton from recently retired Navy Capt. J. Christopher Daniel. While an Army command, the USAMRMC is supported by the Navy and U.S. Air Force in its effort to create and deliver medical information and products for warfighting families throughout the world.
A native of southern New Jersey, Syring earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Rutgers University and a master’s in public administration (health care) from Troy State University. In 1985, he accepted a commission as ensign in the Medical Service Corps, U.S. Naval Reserve, and one year later he earned his wings and was designated Naval Physiologist #147 at the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute, Pensacola, Fla. Upon serving as a Preceptor at the Aviation Physiology Training Unit, NAS Norfolk, Va., he was assigned as the Aeromedical Safety Officer for Marine Aircraft Group Eleven, MCAS El Toro, Ca. After various tours during nearly two decades as a naval officer, Syring was promoted to captain in 2006 and was selected to fill the deputy director position of the Marine Corps Safety Program. In 2007, he was assigned to the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery as the Aerospace Physiology program manager and specialty leader.
Syring’s two most recent assignments place him in a unique group of Service members. In 2010, he became the first commanding officer of the Naval Medical Research Unit–Dayton at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and this year he relocated to Fort Detrick, Md., to serve as deputy commander for the USAMRMC. With this most recent assignment, Syring’s resume will now include tours in support of all four branches of the U.S. military. His awards include the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal (3), Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (2), and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
Recently, I sat down with Syring to discuss his first three months as USAMRMC’s deputy commander, and the captain’s jovial nature rose to the forefront immediately. Combining business with pleasure, Syring’s attitude is not only very positive, but it is also highly mission-focused.
JS: How have the first three months been for you as deputy commander of the USAMRMC?
KS: The first three months have been a whirlwind, to say the least. It has been amazing to see just how far-reaching this command is, and how large it is. When I was at the MNRU in Dayton, I saw only a small piece of the medical research side of the military. Here at the MRMC, you see the whole picture – from basic research and development all the way through to fielding the systems, and then supporting them once they’re fielded. And I really enjoy meeting and working with the people here at the MRMC. They’re fantastic and so hard-working. And my assistant Deborah [McLeod-Baumbach] has been so welcoming and helpful during my transition here, along with the entire staff, of course. It’s phenomenal to see the devotion everyone here has to the mission.
JS: As a Navy captain, what has it been like to move over into the Army command environment?
KS: Well, first of all, there’s a bit of confusion with regard to rank, because the rank names between the Army and Navy do not necessarily correspond. A captain in the Navy isn’t the same level as a captain in the Army, rank-wise, so that may confuse some people. I know it confused a lot of people when I was a Navy lieutenant on tour with the Marines, and it provided many entertaining stories for me! Also, many acronyms aren’t the same for the two branches, so I’m doing my best to learn the Army acronyms so I don’t send out the wrong message! It certainly keeps me on my toes, but I still come to work every day, so that’s good!
JS: What are your thoughts on being the second naval officer to serve as deputy commander for the command?
KS: I believe the Army took a big risk in reaching out to the Navy for a deputy commander in the first place, and Capt. Daniel did such a tremendous job in this role. His background was a bit different than mine, and he accomplished quite a bit during his tour here. I don’t know Chris well, but I certainly know of his achievements as a naval officer, so I feel I have to continue to raise the bar for our branch as we progress forward with the Army in this operation. In working together successfully, I believe this sets the tone for other branches and organizations to show them that we need to collaborate more in order to be more successful and further our accomplishments. This really is a very important joint effort for everyone involved.
JS: In light of this, what do you hope to accomplish as you complete your tour here at MRMC?
KS: Well, as I said, one of the things I’d like to do is to build upon my predecessor’s accomplishments. My tour here is three years, although I will be up for retirement in about two and a half, so during this time I hope to continue to build the relationships between all of the Services with regard to the MRMC’s mission of protecting and maintaining our warfighters. As you know, the Army, Navy, and Air Force all work together in fulfilling the mission of the MRMC, and I’d like to do my part in making sure that collaboration continues to strengthen and prosper as a joint operation for our Service members and their families. On that note, I have to say that in coming over to the Army side, I was really impressed with how the Army places primary focus on its Soldiers and their families. Throughout the many meetings and functions I’ve attended, it is very clear to see that the MRMC’s mission is a very sincere and passionate one. And I’m happy to be a part of that.
JS: Finally, how do you and your family like living in the Frederick area? How does the Fort Detrick community compare to that of your last assignment in Dayton, Ohio?
KS: Oh, we love it here! The people are just wonderful, and the farmland is what we’re used to, coming from southern New Jersey. We love that we have mountains in view, and lots of farmland. It’s only my wife and I here in Frederick, but one of our daughters lives nearby in Owings Mills, and another daughter lives in Morgantown, W. Va., so we see them often. Our third daughter is in Abu Dhabi, so that’s not as close! But we’ve settled in a really nice community in Walkersville, and we just love it. What has amazed me the most is how supportive the people in Frederick are towards Service members in the area. I can’t tell you how many folks have come up to me in stores and restaurants, when I’m in uniform, to thank me for my service, and to share heartfelt stories of their own time in the military. I’ve met veterans who served in World War II and Korea, as well as other missions. We couldn’t have asked for a better place to live! And on top of this, I really like that we’re so close to Civil War historical sites, as well as the culture and museums of Washington and Baltimore. We’re really going to enjoy our time here – it just the icing on the cake!