Built to Last: Sprunger Takes a Bow, Keeps Pushing Forward
If you scratch the surface just a little, past the folksy humor and the well-worn turns of phrase that have become his trademark, you'll find that Command Sergeant Major Timothy Sprunger has a serious side, too. In fact, it's that intense commitment to the Mission – more so than his colloquialisms, even – that have made his time at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command (USAMRDC) and Fort Detrick so memorable.
"I've met some spectacular people in some spectacular places doing some doggone spectacular work," said Sprunger at his Relinquishment of Responsibility ceremony on Blue Gray Field on July 1, somehow weaving all aspects of his multi-faceted personality into one meaningful statement.
On July 15, Sprunger will take over at his new position, as the Command Sergeant Major for the U.S. Army Regional Health Command Central, which is headquartered out of Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Whereas his USAMRDC efforts were focused on medical research and acquisition, his position in Texas will in turn be focused on healthcare delivery efforts. In all, he'll be responsible for eleven total medical treatments facilities and large number of dental, veterinary, and occupational health clinics across 20 states.
Viewed through a certain lens, the move can be seen as a return to Sprunger's Army roots, as he attended Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston many moons ago. This, of course, was before stops at Fort Bragg (NC), Fort Drum (NY), and a deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The ribbons, badges, and assorted individual accolades flow from there, of course, but talk to Sprunger long enough and it becomes apparent that the journey itself – as opposed to the destination – is the only reward he seeks.
"It's going to be a new challenge," said Sprunger during a pre-ceremony interview in late June. "And I think everyone likes a new challenge."
But at the same time, that excitement is clearly tempered by the bittersweet proposition of leaving a place he's called home for more than two years. Sprunger talks in glowing terms about the friendships he's made at USAMRDC and, beyond that, the overarching goals the entire Command has achieved together. His ability to reel off the challenges met and conquered since he began his tenure in April 2018 – budget cuts that same year, the transition from the U.S. Army Medical Command (MEDCOM) to the Army Materiel Command (AMC), then the conversion to USAMRDC and the ensuing placement under the Army Futures Command (AFC) – is almost uncanny, and that's before he even starts talking about the work accomplished in the USAMRDC's various labs, which remain a point of pride.
"You develop working relationships with people at your current location," said Sprunger, "and especially when you see how hard everyone works to accomplish all the things that we've been through in the past few years - it's just amazing to watch the challenges occur and then watching everyone respond."
Surely that response takes a toll; if nowhere else than the always-maddening efforts to balance both work and personal obligations. But there, too, Sprunger has a knack for achievement. Buoyed by his wife Sarah and teenage sons Jack (15) and Ethan (13) – Sprunger tackles his off-the-clock hours with the same verve his coworkers witness daily. A routine volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America, Sprunger has seen Jack recently complete his Eagle Scout certification, with Ethan slated to achieve the same goal soon. For him, home is truly where the heart is.
"I think it's very important to recognize the huge role our families play in support of us and the accomplishment of our daily mission," said Sprunger. "We don't say thank you enough in my opinion."
Of course, if anybody knows both Sprungers – both the at-home and at-work versions of the man – it's Brigadier General Michael Talley, Commanding General, USAMRDC and Fort Detrick. Talley has worked with Sprunger on two separate assignments.
"Sergeant Major's job was to keep the train fueled and running on time, and he did that exceptionally well," Talley said during Sprunger's ceremony on July 1.
There are quirks, of course. As Talley describes him, Sprunger is notoriously technology-averse and a person whose good-natured anger when overly-hungry (or "hanger pains," in Talley's words) are legendary. But those are background elements, comical stories that add to the larger, more complex picture. To wit, one of Sprunger's great points of pride is that he has visited all five states housing USAMRDC labs and, even more, six of the ten countries housing global USAMRDC labs.
Said Sprunger, "Just having the opportunity to travel and see the different teams in the OCONUS sites – it's humbling to see the work that's being done out there."
And yet the work taking place at USAMRDC now rivals perhaps anything Sprunger has tackled in his term, as the race to battle the novel coronavirus pandemic has put the national spotlight squarely on the USAMRDC. How appropriate then, that the man with three decades of Army experience under his belt and, also, a seemingly never ending supply of homespun one-liners (at his ceremony, he implored the USAMRDC team to keep "grabbing the bat and hitting home runs"), is leaving at a time when both he and the USAMRDC embark on a wide open future.
"There has been so much going on over the past two years since I've been here," said Sprunger. "I will definitely miss the team."