EPHRATA - Just in case, the U.S. armed forces have built a backup system of medical units that can be activated if needed. The United States Army has such a Reserve unit stationed on the West Coast. And if the Army ever needs to activate the unit, the first person that will get a call is Robert Reeder.
Reeder took command of the Army Reserve 1st Medical Brigade, headquartered in San Pablo, Calif., on Aug. 5. Reeder's tour in command will last three years and covers the units in Washington, Oregon and California. It's the largest medical brigade in the Army Reserve system, he said.
Prior to the promotion, Reeder was commander of the 352nd Combat Support Hospital, based in Oakland, Calif., for 4-1/2 years.
In his other job, Reeder is administrator and CEO of Columbia Basin Hospital in Ephrata.
The command includes three combat support hospitals, and ambulance, dental and logistical battalions, Reeder said. Right now the job is to stand by, but that could change.
"Could we be deployed? I guess the answer is yes," Reeder said. In the event of deployment Reeder would command the whole shebang.
Typically units are notified nine months to a year before deployment, Reeder said. But then, when he was called to active duty in Iraq he was notified on Saturday afternoon that he should be in Spokane Monday.
It's the commander's job to ensure that all personnel have the continuing training they need, and the unit's equipment is in good condition, Reeder said. The unit's medical personnel are mostly emergency medical technicians, and the biggest challenge is making sure certification is kept updated.
But a medical unit also needs tons of equipment, from beds to syringes to bandages to blood pressure cups. That's all assembled in advance; "80 to 85 percent of it (equipment for each unit) is sitting down in the High Sierra Desert," Reeder said.
The hospital unit has personnel and equipment for 248 beds and can expand if necessary, he said.
The three-year tour, Reeder said, will make it an even 30 years in the Army and Reserve. "It works out just perfect for my swan song, if you will." Officers, except generals, must retire after 30 years, he said.
On the other hand, Reeder said he would like to follow in his dad's footsteps; his father Richard was promoted to general in the reserves. "He's kind of been my role model," he said. His son Brad recently graduated from officer training school, he said.
Reeder always intended to join the Army, he said, and was accepted into the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at Weber State University. He graduated with a computer science degree.
The Army was looking for computer science experts to work in health care; his wife is a registered nurse, and the job worked for them, Reeder said. He took a course in medical administration, "no computers, and I loved it," he said.
Reeder served two tours of duty in Germany, interrupted by a medical administration course at Fort Sam Houston, with a degree from Baylor University. After returning stateside he spent eight years at Fort Lewis. "I just enjoyed it. You never knew what was going to happen that day," he said.
The Army wanted computer specialists but Reeder wanted to stay in medical administration, he said, so he entered the reserves and got a job a Samaritan Healthcare in Moses Lake, working as an administrator for the hospital's medical group. He got the job at Columbia Basin Hospital three and a half years ago.
Juggling a full-time job with command of a medical unit, with a permanent staff of 20 people, is a big time commitment, he said. "My weekends are not typically spent at home with my wife, doing my honey-do list," he said. Duty usually calls two to three weekends a month, he said.