Monday marks Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In addition to providing an important annual reminder of the significance of public service, it’s also an opportunity to reflect on his rich legacy.
Dr. King believed in the best of what our nation could be. And it was for that reason he fought dearly against injustice, inequality, and racism against Black Americans, and prejudice against other marginalized groups. He understood that it’s our differences that make us great—and fought to lift all people, as well as to help others understand that we share much more in common than we may think.
His life’s work provides many important, inclusive lessons. One that I return to, both personally and professionally, was his example of individual sacrifice. Whether seeking fair housing, safer working conditions and higher wages, or, of course, righting human injustice, he put the whole above self-interest.
Selfless service has always been one of the tenets of military service, an ideal we continually strive for, and a timely reflection point given the unique challenges facing our communities and military medicine.
The pandemic lays these collective challenges bare every day. While the virus doesn’t recognize race, rank, tax bracket, or geography, it continues to demonstrate the continued inequities and injustices that Dr. King fought so hard against. This necessitates our collective response — specifically to uplift and care for those the pandemic affects the most.
And, for more than two years now, that’s precisely the kind of leadership you’ve provided. The MHS has been a model of collaboration and selfless service. Your focus on the whole ensured our Service Members were safe and at the ready and saved the lives of countless more.
The health and wellbeing of those that you serve has always been top of mind, and you never wavered. I know the national response often pulled many of you away from your families and loved ones — and continues to. Thank you. We’re all incredibly grateful.
Focusing on the whole is also why you’re leading by example and encouraging vaccinations. Omicron is unrelenting, and the only way to protect both ourselves and our communities is by ensuring we’re both vaccinated and boosted. It’s vital that we continue to bang this drum!
A lot has been asked of you over the last year, and the New Year has already proven just as challenging. But I know we can meet this future if we continue to view our service through Dr. King’s legacy of selflessness and pursuing the common good.
And I look forward to taking this work on together.
Dr. David J. Smith, M.D.
Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense – Health Affairs