WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --
Lt. Col. Russell Kohl, M.D. took command of the Missouri Air National Guard’s 131st Medical Group from Col. Patti Fries, O.D., here Dec. 1.
After nearly three years as commander, Dr. Fries, a trained optometrist and academic researcher, will continue her military service as the commander of the Nebraska Air National Guard’s 155th Medical Group, a subordinate unit of the 155th Air Refueling Wing, at Lincoln Air National Guard Base, Nebraska.
Dr. Kohl, the new medical group commander, was handed the medical group’s flag from Col. Ken Eaves, 131st Bomb Wing commander. Kohl’s previous assignments have included overseas service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Colonel Kohl is combat-tested at home and deployed. He is calm, cool, and collected,” said Eaves.
“You have earned the honor and privilege of leading an amazing group of Airmen who happen to be an amazing group of medical professionals. Lead them boldly,” Eaves stated to Kohl.
In his civilian capacity, Kohl is also a trained family physician and serves as the chief medical officer for a non-profit focused on bringing quality improvements and innovation in healthcare delivery.
He wasted no time working to inspire the medical group Airmen, recounting the history of the unit and tracing its lineage back to 1861, where the unit was part of a military hospital on historic Jefferson Barracks, in St. Louis. This makes the group the oldest military medical unit west of the Mississippi River. They continue to service Jefferson Barracks, where the bomb wing also has major units assigned.
Kohl’s charge to the group is to, “Leave things better than you found them.”
The new commander broke down this charge and shared the importance of its key components – leave, better and found them.
Kohl reminded everyone how all positions are temporary, that we will all leave at some point. Better is subjective and objective, but “you must agree on what it is, decide and measure.” On found them, he said, “things don’t happen to show up – you have to look.”
He encouraged the group members to always be on the lookout for solutions.
“When you walk past something that’s wrong, you accept that’s the way things are,” Kohl said. If you see a problem, “roll up your sleeves, get to work, and fix it.”
The medical group is made up of a diverse group of Airmen, who work in various career fields, from flight medicine through the gamut of allied health professions.
“This is the only group command without subordinate units—you lead at the strategic and tactical level,” Eaves said.
When Fries took command in 2016, she said, “You deserve nothing less than my best, and I’ll give it to you, that is my promise.”
Prior to her relinquishment of command, Eaves’ comments suggest she kept her promise, particularly in building up the 131st partnerships.
These partnerships were highlighted during the ceremony, as Maj. Gen. Jerry Fenwick, the dual-hatted joint surgeon of the National Guard Bureau and Air National Guard assistant to the Air Force surgeon general, and Brig. Gen. John Nichols, the 509th Bomb Wing commander, were in attendance, as well as numerous other senior military leaders.
“You made [Total Force Integration] exceptional – job exceptionally well done,” Eaves told Fries.