In memory of Vice Admiral John Mateczun, naval psychiatrist, visionary and faithful leader of military medicine (1946-2022)

In memory of Vice Admiral John Mateczun, naval psychiatrist, visionary and faithful leader of military medicine (1946-2022)

On November 7, 2022, Vice Admiral John Mateczun, the former Commander Joint Task Force National Capital Region and Deputy Navy Surgeon General passed away. He was 76 years old.

Vice Admiral Mateczun has charted a military career like no other.

During 38 years in uniform, he served as a U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician with two combat tours in Vietnam (1967-1968, 1969-1970).

After earning a commission in the Navy Medical Corps in 1977, he rose to the rank of Vice Admiral, becoming one of the few non-surgeon generals and, to date, the only Navy psychiatrist to carry 3 stars.

And in 2007, Vice Admiral Mateczun was chosen to lead the historic merger between the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) – a job that was once equated with the New York Yankees’ combination. York and Boston Red Sox ball clubs and rename Fenway Park “Derek Jeter Stadium”.

Vice Admiral Mateczun began his journey in Albuquerque, NM the younger of two sons born to Alfred Joseph Mateczun and Margaret Costello Mateczun. Growing up near Kirtland Air Force Base and being the son of a Navy veteran, Mateczun and his brother Al were, as he later said, “acculturated to the idea of ​​military service”. Al attended the Air Force Academy and became a pilot in 1964. John briefly followed his brother Al to the Air Force Academy, but not being “smitten with the engineering-centric curriculum” decided to leave school. He enlisted in the army in 1966 hoping to fight in Vietnam.

In 1967, the two Mateczun brothers deployed to Vietnam – Al as an Air Force reconnaissance pilot flying RC-4C Phantoms, and John as a fire control instrument repairman working with the 94th Maintenance Company in support of the 25th Infantry Division at Cu Chi. The Mateczun brothers both served in theater in early 1968 during the Tet Offensive, the large-scale offensive against U.S. armed forces and the South Vietnamese military that began the Vietnamese Lunar New Year (Tết Nguyên Đán).

His theater experiences inspired Mateczun to transfer notes and become an EOD technician. He returned to Vietnam in 1969 with the 184th EOD based in Qui Nhon, Vietnam where he was tasked with clearing strategic road traps. It was a life-changing experience that forced him to think more about risk as well as his own mortality.

“I will say that as I got more experienced in combat, I started to think about risk in a different way, and I really started leaning more on my experience, I became more confident in my abilities,” Mateczun recalled in a 2019 oral history. “As I embarked on my second tour in Vietnam, I had experience. I understood how to work in the chaos of the environment , and I wasn’t as scared of the chaos itself. Some people are immobilized by the fear of not knowing what’s going to happen. But the idea is to do something, even if it means choosing not to. You must be active in the process, otherwise chaos envelops you.

Vice Admiral Mateczun was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions in the theatre. After being honorably discharged as a staff sergeant in 1970, he returned to New Mexico where he earned his undergraduate degree and then attended medical school with his recently discharged brother Al. the Air Force. While in medical school, the Mateczun brothers were drafted into the Navy, entering in 1977 as part of the Senior Medical Student Program (1915 program).

Mateczun completed a psychiatry residency in Oakland from 1978 to 1982. He also earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of California, Berkeley (1982) before being assigned to the 3rd Marine Division as an assistant surgeon of division and division psychiatrist.

Over the next decade, Vice Admiral Mateczun held numerous clinical positions at National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, Md, and Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va. He served as Chief of the Counseling Liaison Division, Department of Psychiatry and Trainee Counselor, Director of the Transitional Trainee Program at Bethesda (1983-1987). This was followed by a tour as Chairman of Portsmouth’s Department of Psychiatry (1987–89).

Then as now, Portsmouth was a key base for the Special Psychiatric Rapid Intervention Team (SPRINT) program and Dr Mateczun supported high level interventions with the crews of USS Bonefish (SS-582) following a deadly fire (1988), USS Iowa (BB-61) after a turret explosion (1989), as well as aboard USS Vincennes (CG-61) after it mistakenly shot down an Iranian commercial airliner . His role in this latter intervention was later captured in the book Storm Center: The USS Vincennes and Iran Air Flight 655: A Personal Account of Tragedy and Terrorism (1992).

Throughout his career, Dr. Mateczun has always sought to expand his repertoire to better meet the challenges ahead. Although already certified as an adult psychiatrist, he passed his forensic psychiatry board in 1988. That same year, he earned a law degree from Georgetown University. As he said, “Having a law degree gave me another language. I came to see that law school was really like learning a language and learning a new culture. And lawyers and psychiatrists were adept at dealing with, as he put it, “ambiguity.”

In 1991, Vice Mateczun used these “languages” when assigned to explore issues with personnel deployed to the Gulf as a special consultant for US Marine Corps Central Command.

During the 1990s, Mateczun served as Deputy Chief of Staff and Force Surgeon, Fleet Marine Forces, Pacific, Camp HM Smith, Hawaii (1991-1994); Chief of Staff, TRICARE Region 1, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC (1994-1995); Senior Director, Clinical Services, Special Assistant to ASD (Health Affairs); and Chief Medical Officer, TRICARE Management Activity (TMA), Assistant’s Office (1995-1998).

After tours as Commanding Officer, Naval Hospital Charleston, SC (1998-2000) and Deputy Chief of Staff, Health Care Operations, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED), Washington, D.C. ( 2000-2001), Mateczun served as Joint Chiefs of Staff Surgeon, J4, Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pentagon, Washington, D.C. under two Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Gen. Hugh Shelton and General Richard Meyers. He was at D4 on the morning of September 11. 2001, when American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon.

“We watched on TV [from the office] after the first plane hit the World Trade Center, and everyone was puzzled when they saw it. Then a second plane,” Mateczun later recalled. “The immediate questions we faced were ‘What kind of support options do we have?’ We all went to the National Military Command Center and then there was a big explosion. The command center itself absorbed a lot of the shock, so we probably didn’t feel it as much as the other people in the building. I thought maybe it was a truck bomb, but anyway, the rest of the day became a lesson in disaster preparedness. They ordered the evacuation of the Pentagon, and those of us with clinical training started heading to the DiLorenzo Clinic, where the first casualties were seen.

Mateczun briefly served as Chief of Staff of BUMED (2003) before becoming Commandant of Naval Medical Center San Diego (2003-2005). This tour provided him with one of the most poignant memories of his career when one of his sailors, Petty Officer Third Class Fernando A. Mendez-Aceves, was killed in action in Al Anbar Province. “I had spoken with him about the deployment,” recalls Mateczun. “He was determined to do his best for the Marines. He volunteered for a position, when someone else couldn’t go, and was killed in action tending to the wounded. . . This is one of the prizes commanders can never forget when preparing their men. You have to commit yourself.

Vice Admiral Mateczun returned to BUMED as Assistant Surgeon General in 2005. He left in 2007 to become the new Joint Task Force Commander, National Capital Region Medical, Bethesda, MD. The position was created in response to the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Requirements (BRAC) in the National Capital Region (NCR). The joint task force oversaw the completion of the historic merger between NNMC and WRAMC in Bethesda to form the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center – the nation’s largest military medical facility – and the construction of what was known as the name Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.

He then put the role of the task force into perspective by stating: [It’s] a lot of work, with a lot of construction, equipment, transition planning, training and movement, and sometimes the details seem overwhelming. But when it all seems too much, as it does on some days, we remember our purpose, to maintain America’s alliance with these wounded warriors and their families. . . we have no higher priority, and these medical construction projects demonstrate that commitment.

In his 2019 oral history, Vice Admiral Mateczun strayed from personal legacies and instead spoke at length about his family and their influence on him – his mother, father, brother Captain (Retired) Al Mateczun, MC, USN, who served 40 years in the Air Force and Navy, his wife, Capt. (Retired) Elizabeth “Betsy” Holmes, MSC, USN, and children Laura, Adam and Erin. All left an indelible mark on his life, made his life even richer, and he credits them with their profound influence on him throughout his career, saying, “I can’t tell you how much the family experiences helped form my own point of view. It’s easy to go off on a tangent and course correction as a family is essential to keep your bearings.

Throughout his career, regardless of his job, Vice Admiral Mateczun remained that skilled EOD technician in Vietnam, always focused on the task at hand and always composing under pressure. And with his family by his side who guided and supported him, he was always able to keep his bearings straight.

Mateczun, John, Vice-Admiral. Oral history. (Directed by AB Sobocinski). Sessions held on October 18, November 13 and December 12, 2019.

Date taken: 14.11.2022
Date posted: 14.11.2022 14:49
Story ID: 433239
Location: FALLS CHURCH, Virginia, USA

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