Oncologist James Hu (crouching, fourth from right), recently served with the 325th Combat Support Hospital in Kuwait.
HSC Weekly 2012-03-09
USC Norris oncologist takes leadership, medical skills to Kuwait hospital
By Leslie Ridgeway
When James Hu was deployed to Kuwait in October 2011 to serve as deputy commander of a combat support hospital serving military personnel in the Persian Gulf, he knew he was witnessing history.
The patients and soldiers that the 17-year United States Army veteran, hematologist and oncologist was encountering at the 325th Combat Support Hospital were among the 30,000 personnel who left Iraq when President Barack Obama’s order to withdraw troops was implemented. After returning to Los Angeles in January 2012 following the three-month deployment, Hu reflected on what the experience taught him about leadership.
“I realized leadership is a complex thing,” said Hu, an Army colonel and oncologist at the USC Norris Cancer Hospital. “A good leader cares about the troops and is willing to take risks. The military isn’t driven by innovative weapons, but by leaders and soldiers who build a culture of service to drive new technology. People think we rely on technological superiority, but it’s the leaders and soldiers we groom that make us the powerful military force that we are.”
Hu, active in the Army for 13 years, learned many leadership skills during a two-year course at the Army War College, but his experience in Kuwait showed him great leadership in action and enabled him to practice what he had learned. “Fortunately, I was well trained and well prepared for this deployment, and I needed every bit of that knowledge to understand the complex situation in this operation,” he said.
It was Hu’s job to make sure the 30 military health care providers and ancillary staff under his command had the resources and understanding to do their jobs.
The hospital, about an hour and a half from Kuwait City at Camp Arifjan, is under a joint command and was responsible for outlying hospital sites close to the Iraq border.
The hospital has the capability to stabilize traumatic injuries of military personnel and civilians and also provide mental health services. Those with the most severe wounds are airlifted to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. The 325th Combat Support Hospital, which closed in November, was the last combat support hospital remaining in the Iraq-Kuwait Theatre by the end of Hu’s tour.
Hu commands the 325th combat support hospital based in Independence, Mo., and composed of more than 800 soldiers.
The hospital responds to natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, as well as expeditionary operations such as in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world. Hu travels monthly to the hospital to participate in drills to ensure that soldiers are trained to provide hospital services and humanitarian relief for global deployments. This requires substantial preparation to ensure that the soldiers have the resources and training to set up a mobile hospital in austere conditions.
Hu is a USC alumnus and native of East Los Angeles who grew up in the neighborhood next to USC Health Sciences campus. A physician for more than 20 years, he sees parallels between military leadership and oncology.
“Commanding is about risk management in achieving the end state,” he said. “Oncologists are probably the best risk managers. We are dealing with toxic therapies. We talk to our patients about the risks and help them think about what they’re gaining from therapy—a cure? Extended survival? A commander weighs risks and benefits every day when accomplishing a mission.”
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