Navy Command Master Chief Charles "Chip" Collins has transferred his duties as senior enlisted leader for the Defense Health Agency to Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael L. Gragg. The change of responsibility ceremony took place Friday at the Defense Health Headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia. COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on large gatherings required the audience to attend virtually.
The ceremony signaled "an important moment for these two leaders, and an even more important moment for all of us in the DHA and those we serve," said Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald Place, the DHA director.
"Throughout my career, my successes in uniform would not have happened without the wisdom, the courage, and the skills of the men and women in our enlisted ranks," Place said.
Gragg began his military career almost 31 years ago when he enlisted in the Army. His most recent assignment was as the top enlisted soldier of the U.S. Army Medical Command.
"We're exceptionally fortunate that a leader of his talent and his experience is coming aboard," Place said, adding that Gragg has "come close" to having seen and done everything. His experience "represents the spectrum of the DHA mission," Place said, including helping families, assisting men and women in combat, and managing the recovery of wounded warriors.
Gragg's experience includes assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Italy, Korea, and Germany. He's held numerous leadership positions including medical evacuation NCO, flight medic, and command sergeant major of Warrior Transition Battalion Europe.
"I'm honored to have you join the DHA at such an important time," Place said.
Gragg said it was difficult finding the words to express "my excitement …almost giddiness … to represent and serve for and alongside" those in the Defense Health Agency. "It is truly an honor and a privilege."
Gragg said Collins left him "very big shoes to fill" because Collins provided "sage advice to two directors, and a calming presence to a transitioning organization in a turbulent environment."
Collins is retiring after a 35-year military career that he began as a Navy corpsman and then served as a pharmacy technician.
Place said he was "incredibly grateful" for Collins' "exceptional service and leadership on our headquarters team."
"He's exactly the type of senior enlisted leader that we needed in the Defense Health Agency," Place said. "He immediately knew how to recognize the strategic issues facing military medicine and the agency specifically, and then how to engage our enlisted personnel in a way that crystallizes what we're trying to accomplish."
In particular, Place noted Collins' role in the Department of Defense-wide initiative to collect donated units of plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 to support development of an effective treatment against the disease.
"It's a huge global effort," Place said, adding that military members are a recruitment target for the plasma, and a significant majority of those who were infected are enlisted members.
Collins recognized that outreach through his network would be "just as effective as the formal chain," Place said. "We're still early in the process, but that communication chain carries weight, carries authority, carries trust."