USAMRMC PAA Kenneth Bertram Retires after Nearly Two Decades of Service
It was a bittersweet day for the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command family March 29 as all gathered together for a farewell luncheon in honor of outgoing Principal Assistant for Acquisition Dr. Kenneth Bertram, after nearly two decades of service to the command.
Over 100 colleagues, friends and family members gathered together at Dutch's Daughter in Frederick, Maryland, to celebrate the many years of service and countless accomplishments of Bertram.
Joined by his wife, Gail, father, Alvin, stepmother, Judy, son, Matthew, and daughter-in-law, Kylie – with an added surprise appearance by his daughter, Emily, who called in via video conference all the way from the American Somoa – it was an afternoon filled with awards presentations and the sharing of personal stories; an afternoon honoring one man's tireless and faithful efforts in support of the USAMRMC mission.
In his position, Bertram held the responsibility for the advanced development and acquisition of medical products, such as drugs, vaccines and devices, for the U.S. Army.
What exactly does that involve?
"If you think of discover being the labs, we [the Office of the PAA] have the middle space, the develop space," explained Bertram in a more short and sweet summation of what it has really meant to be the PAA for the USAMRMC. "In the develop space, we are primarily concerned with: 'How do I get things through clinical trials?' 'How do I actually show that they are safe and effective in human beings?' 'How do I convince the Food and Drug Administration to license it?' 'How do I find a commercial partner?'
The government does not make things, so we have to find someone in the economy to make things. We have to be able to buy it, so that involves things like getting a contract; getting things delivered; making sure that the people who get it know how to use it, that's the training package; keeping things from breaking, or if it breaks, repairing it Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ So, putting all those things together, that is the middle space that my team occupies."
Since Bertram's arrival in 1999, he has served in a variety of capacities at the USAMRMC, including as director of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs; chief of staff; and as commander of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research; ultimately finding his perfect fit as a member of the Senior Executive Service as the USAMRMC PAA in 2009. He has also served as The Surgeon General's Sponsor's Representative to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and as the U.S. Army's Milestone Decision Authority for medical products; a man of many hats to say the least.
Despite his acuity for the job, this career path was not always what Bertram envisioned for himself when he was younger.
A self-proclaimed "science nerd," Bertram saw himself following a much more traditional path of research and development at a university.
"I was very interested in doing research," explained Bertram. However, in the midst of graduate work, surrounded by medical doctors, "I became much more aware of the fact that if your science is actually going to make a difference, it's got to be more than something just published in a textbook. You've got to find a way to make an impact on the lives of people. And the sooner you can do that, the better."
This realization inspired quite a career change, switching gears to pursue a medical school scholarship through the United States Army. Bertram ultimately ended up serving 24 years of active-duty service in the U.S. Army, retiring as a colonel in August 2009.
Despite the many paths his professional journey could have led him, Bertram found his "home" at the USAMRMC; a command unlike any other, where he has been able to be that change, to make a real difference.
In his 20 years of service to the command, that change has included establishment of the Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium through an Other Transactional Agreement for prototypes; oversight of 41 milestones and the fielding of six products across 110 programs; the driving force behind the creation and implementation of the USAMRMC lanes demonstrations, used to tell the command-wide full lifecycle story; and the return of the Adenovirus vaccine. His efforts have improved the outside world's view of the command, putting the USAMRMC on more people's radar; which has not only brought in more research funds, but more partners and opportunities in support of the Warfighter.
"Out of this command, we see better ways for people to train; better ways for people to perform; we find better ways to take care of people after they're injured; and ultimately, we have research that looks at 'how can I restore form and function?'" said Bertram. "There is no other activity within the Department of Defense that spans that range. We can do what others cannot do."
In addition to his many accomplishments throughout his time at the USAMRMC, Bertram is also board certified in Internal Medicine and Medical Oncology; a Fellow of the American College of Physicians ; a member of the U.S. Army Acquisition Corps, Acquisition Level III certified in both Program Management and Science and Technology Management; and his military honors include two Legion of Merit awards, The Surgeon General's "A" Proficiency Designator in Hematology/Oncology and the Order of Military Medical Merit.
The unparalleled insight and expertise into all facets of the command, as well as the Army Medicine Command as a whole, that Bertram has brought to the PAA role leaves large shoes to fill. After an afternoon of heartfelt farewell messages shared, thoughtful gifts presented – and even a parody tribute video titled, "All About that BOSS" – there is no denying that Bertram is leaving behind his own unique impression on many.
When asked his own feelings in regards to his upcoming retirement, Bertram expressed feelings of both excitement and trepidation.
"Right now, it is difficult," explained Bertram. "Doors open and doors close. Clearly, it's very easy for me to identify points in time where doors opened and other doors closed. Right now, there is a new door to open and I don't know what lies beyond it. So, there is some degree of excitement – 'what new is out there?' – but there is also a degree of trepidation. I am leaving a command that does incredible things, with incredible people, to do something new and different and I don't know what that is yet."
What does lie ahead for sure? A set last day of April 13 and a move to their newly built home in Minnesota.
Best wishes, Dr. Bertram, you will be missed!