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Air Force Physician Chosen to Lead Military’s Largest Medical Network

Image of U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Harrell, the new Defense Health Network Central director, San Antonio Market director, 59th Medical Wing commander, and Air Force Medical Agency Alpha lead, meets with members of the 59th MDW during commander immersions at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Sept. 12, 2023.  As network director, Harrell oversees the military’s largest medical network with 39 hospitals and clinics to include the military’s premier readiness, education, and training platforms. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kelsey Martinez). U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Harrell, the new Defense Health Network Central director, San Antonio Market director, 59th Medical Wing commander, and Air Force Medical Agency Alpha lead, meets with members of the 59th MDW during commander immersions at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Sept. 12, 2023. As network director, Harrell oversees the military’s largest medical network with 39 hospitals and clinics to include the military’s premier readiness, education, and training platforms. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kelsey Martinez)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas, Oct. 5, 2023 – An Air Force physician with over 30 years of service became the first director of the newly designated Defense Health Network Central, the military’s largest medical network, on Oct. 1.

“I am incredibly honored to lead DHN Central,” said Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Thomas W. Harrell, a board-certified cardiologist and flight surgeon who also serves as director, San Antonio Market, and commander, 59th Medical Wing. “It’s a privilege to serve on this global team of exceptional healthcare professionals.”

As DHN Central director, the general oversees a joint, integrated health network of 39 hospitals and clinics to include the military’s premier readiness, education, and training platforms. The network, headquartered in San Antonio, encompasses Brooke Army Medical Center and Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center -- the military’s largest inpatient and outpatient medical facilities -- along with hospitals and clinics spanning the world from New Jersey to Japan.

“Our network may span several time zones and coasts, but I have no doubt we have the right leaders and individuals in place to get after our shared mission of ensuring ready medics and medically ready forces and families,” Harrell said.

The new network structure is an integral part of the Defense Health Agency’s plan to modernize and stabilize the military health system. For the first phase, effective Oct. 1, DHA moved from 23 geographically aligned military medical markets to nine defense health networks, each with a general officer at the helm. Future phases are aimed at ensuring support systems and work-flow processes are running smoothly and effectively. The intent is to standardize processes, empower decision-making, and improve communication at echelon across the enterprise.

Additionally, each network director will be dual hatted as a military medical readiness leader, ensuring unified guidance and support for both healthcare delivery and service-related requirements, noted Army Lt. Gen. Telita Crosland, DHA director.

"The military health system is changing,” the general said in a recent interview. “By simultaneously modernizing and stabilizing our health system, we will meet this change head on."

In his first message to the force, Harrell reiterated the importance of evolving to ensure the military health system in in lockstep with the Defense Department and ready to meet any emerging challenge or threat.

“We’ve risen up to face many challenges in recent years, to include an unprecedented pandemic, MHS GENESIS [electronic health record] implementation, an enterprise-wide DHA transition, fiscal constraints, and much more,” he said. “I have no doubt we will continue to meet every challenge, whether local or global, with professionalism and excellence.”

In the meantime, Harrell encouraged his network teammates to share their ideas and feedback.

“Innovate and collaborate, find ways to optimize resources and leverage technology to meet our patients where they are, and share those ideas with leadership so we can continually improve,” he said. “It will take the entire team to ensure mission success.”

Additionally, the general encouraged the team to take time each day to reflect on what’s important to them both personally and professionally and to strive for harmony in all areas of life.

“It’s important to discover your ‘why’ or true north and how it aligns with the mission,” he explained. “By doing so, you will be pursuing a passion, not just a job.”

Above all, Harrell stressed the importance of putting people first. “I believe in people-first leadership,” he said. “I want our most important resource, our people, to feel valued, included, fulfilled, and working at the top of their credentials.”

“By taking care of ourselves, we’re better able to take care of those around us,” he added.

Moving forward, Harrell said he is committed to supporting his teammates at every hospital and clinic aligned with DHN Central.

“I am honored to have joined this exceptional team of military and civilian professionals and look forward to our teamwork and close collaboration as we embark on the next stage of DHA’s evolution,” Harrell noted in his message.

“At the end of the day, we may look organizationally different, but our shared mission remains the same: to deliver ready combat medical capability as individuals and as a unit, and to deliver personal, safe, effective care to our patients,” he added. “We can’t go wrong if we continue to focus our attention on our people and on our patients.”

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Last Updated: October 13, 2023
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