COL Martha A. Cronin is a Living Pioneer in the Army Medical Specialist Corps. She was first commissioned in 1965 and retired in 1990, after a career of several “Firsts” for the SP Corps. She graciously agreed to write this article about her career. We hope to have additional articles of other pioneers in future SP News.
"I grew up in the City of Medford a few miles north of Boston, MA the youngest of three children all close in age. We lived on the first floor apartment of my Grandparents two story house, the same house my Father was born in, attended the same public schools he had attended, and my Grandfather played the organ at Mass every Sunday.
At the age of nine, I decided I wanted to become a Dietitian and planned my life accordingly. I started working after school at age 13 to earn money to pay for my college tuition. While in high school, I learned about the Army Dietetic Internship Program and that sounded like it would be interesting. I attended Framingham State College to study in the Foods and Nutrition Department knowing I would also have to earn my teaching certificate. Since I already knew about the Army, I was really excited when the Army Recruiter came. In 1963, the fall of my junior year in College, I enlisted in the Army Student Dietitian Program for a six year commitment which included my two years in college as a PFC and paid $96.00 a month, my 12 month internship, then three more years. It was the perfect program for me.
After graduation from Framingham in 1965, I flew to FT Sam to be commissioned and attend the AMEDD Officer Basic Course. Following OBC, I went to Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center (FAMC) for my Dietetic Internship, along with my fellow interns (class of 7…6 females and 1 male) we had a great time. We worked hard, learned a lot, polished our shoes, did our case studies, were prepared for class and met all the requirements for ADA. During that year, a negotiation of the union contract was taking place with our employees so we really learned a lot about union contracts. I really loved my internship and it certainly started me on the right track for years to come. But “they” needed a Dietitian at Ft Polk and I left my Internship a month early, thus never appearing in the Graduation picture class of 1966. Ft Polk was a challenging assignment for a girl from Boston who was not used to landing on a dirt runway, working in old containment type hospital running ramps, or living in a trailer. I had a great time in spite of it all. I was there only about 9 months when I was assigned to AMSC Recruiting at Ft Meade with duty station at Forest Glen, Walter Reed covering a seven state area and DC. Next off to Heidelberg, Germany 130th Station Hospital as Chief. I loved Germany, the people, the food, the wine and the culture.
A year later I was off to DaNang, RVN to 67th Medical Group with duty station on the 5th Trans CMD compound. I was the only Military female on the compound but we did have 2 females with Special Services. The Dietitians before me did a great job getting garrison equipment so when water and electricity were available things went well. Next was ensuring the availability of rations especially milk as the train was often blown up. I had 8 Hospitals and 2 AirAmbulance companies to visit from Qui Nhon, to the DMZ and into Pleiku. We provided consultation to each unit and insured the patients were feed properly. Food Service was staffed with a Warrant Officer, a 94F and a clerk. We flew on Medivacs mostly, but also C123, or C130, Otters, or anything we could get as we were on the road at least 20 days a month. We had new problems to solve everyday none that you would find in a text book. It was indeed a challenge. After several months, I was assigned to 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon. This Hospital presented a new set of problems. We had more severe malnourished children, patients with renal problems, lots of wounded troops and even VIPs visiting country. Vietnam was a very maturing process for me both personally and professionally. In Aug of 71, I was off to Lincoln, Nebraska for graduate school to pursue a MS in Institutional Administration and minor in Business.
My next assignment was at BAMC where I was Chief of Production and Service and then Internship Director. I taught all aspects of administrative dietetics, administered the Internship and made sure we were ADA compliant. We had a Clinical Instructor teaching all aspect of Clinical Nutrition. I also was part of ADA’s committee on Internship Standards. This was a great assignment, enjoyed teaching the Interns and they taught me a few things too.
My next assignment was a student at CGSG class of ‘78 at FT Leavenworth,KS, then Washington DC to administer the AMSC recruiting programs at Buzzards Point, followed by an assignment as Deputy Director of Food Service, WRAMC. The new Walter Reed had been opened about 2 years but it still had many challenges, was a very large facility, with a Dietetic Internship. From 79-81 I completed ICAF’s Defense Management Program at night learning a great deal about DOD, logistics and deployment. I stayed at WRAMC about 2 years before going to Fitzsimmons as Chief of Food Service and COR monitoring the food service contract while keeping Clinical Dietetics in house. This was a very different assignment insuring the contractor stayed within limits of the contract.
I left FAMC after about 18 months as I was selected to be the first AMSC to attend the Army War College. This was not only an honor to be one of three females in the class, but also a challenge to succeed as an AMSC Officer something most of my classmates never knew existed. While studying there, I had the opportunity to personally interview 2 of the 4 AMSCs who had been POWs of the Japanese from April 1941 to February 1945 in the Philippines. One was a PT Brunetta Kuehlthau and the Dietitian was Ruby Motley. Their stories were fascinating. They were considered Nurses to retain military protection while POWs. They were commissioned in 1943 but unable to take their oath of office as 1LT until 1945 at Leyte, PI upon liberation.They told how they kept their patients treated or feed, and how they survived the ordeal. I learned a great deal at AWC, made great friends and graduated in the Class of 1984. I am so glad this has become a tradition in the Corps and is far exceeded by todays Corps accomplishments.
In July 84 I reported as the first AMSC Staff Officer in the FORSCOM Surgeon Office. Since this was a newly established position, I had to learn how we as a Corps would fit. That came easily as we were extensively established in the Reserve Components. As an additional duty, we designed 5 Medical Reserve Training Center throughout the US and began getting them established. This project was moving along quite well when I left FORSCOM in Dec 85.
I moved to DC (Baileys Crossroads) to assume the duties of Chief, Dietitian Section and Assistant Chief of the Corps. As all Chiefs before me, we built upon what had been done and also guided us into new directions. Task Force 2000 was established by SECDEF thru DSLOG to examine how to feed deployed troops and patients in the year 2000 and beyond. It was run by a Retired 4 Star with several committees. I led the committee which explored what was available currently on the market in terms of packaging, shelf life, suitability for troop feeding, patient feeding, etc. I had a Veterinary Officer, and 3 industry/ university executives. We looked at industries in Illinois, Michigan, Natick Labs, Germany and England and made our recommendations. Not much in industry meet our shelf life requirement beyond 18 months. Field Feeding had always been a priority of mine. These duties were done along with the “routine duties” of the Chief Dietitian and we were also able to convert 94F to 91M through the help of the Academy.
In April 1990, I medically retired after 26.6 years of service. Any accomplishments I may have made or any firsts I might have done were not made by me alone. All the Chiefs of all our specialties that proceed me, taught me and made way for the future, and all the junior officers and enlisted personnel and civilians who helped me see the way was greatly appreciated. May God Bless the Leadership of the Army Medical Specialist Corps past and present.
As with any profession, I have seen many, many changes. The growth of Dietetics and Nutrition has paralleled the growth of science and technology. We did not have computers in food service when I was an Intern but that development was soon to come. First with mainframes and punch cards to the modern day computerizations. We did cooks worksheets by hand, ordered by menu and experience, had weekly menu meetings, and if supplies weren’t available we substituted with what we had on hand. Medical Nutrition Therapy has changed tenfold with research thru Applied Science and Performance breakthroughs. The work being done by our current Dietetic Interns is a prime example. They, now in a Masters program with Baylor, study bone scans, performance standards, weight lifting, ration requirements and more all in trying to recommend adjustments to the nutritional requirements and intake of soldier's. Their challenges and their potential will help multiply the fighting strength of soldiers in all weather conditions, altitudes and build upon the research being done in conjunction with research by PT, OT, Natick Labs, etc. There is no limit to the achievement of AMSC research and I see great things to come. However we must not loose site of the requirements of basic nutrition and feeding especially our patients and the greater USA population. We must help filter through the abundance of TV ads that state “supplements” or other products will solve all our problems as money often goes down the drain. We must educate the differences in these products between the good and the worthless.
From the few to the many ... yes, I have seen many changes in the Army over the years especially where women are concerned. At one time you may have been the only female officer on post/compound, there are now many since the removal of the combat exclusion clause and others restricting the number of women. Women who can meet the physical and mental demands of combat specialties are now allowed. This is indeed a positive change for it allows women the opportunity to schools that were once eliminated thus opening more opportunity for promotions and higher level jobs. You also see more rank among the enlisted and officers from SGM to 4 star GEN. If I am not mistaken, when I was an intern the highest rank we saw in Food Service was a promotable LTC. To have a BG within our corps not only is history making but represents pride in the work done by all of our specialties."
COL Martha A. Cronin