He’s a nuclear mechanic, an engineer, a pilot, an inventor, a doctor and a farmer.
For the last 35 years, Capt. James Hancock, commanding of Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune since July 8, 2016, has seen every side of the , he said, and sees no sign of retirement in his future.
Hancock’s hands have helped him fly planes, save lives and invent life-saving mobile trauma units. Those same hands help keep the Kansan connected to his roots through hunting and farming.
Hancock sat down with The Daily News to discuss his time as commanding of NHCL, his journey within the and his goals.
What is the most rewarding part of being CO of the hospital? Every day I am surrounded by the heroes of our nation. It’s funny. You see them in this uniform and you just think of them as another corpsman. Then you see them in their dress uniform and start looking at ribbons and you start seeing Purple Hearts and Silver Stars and Bronze Stars. All the sudden that very young person who you believed had no life experience when you look at their chest and find out ‘Oh my goodness gracious, this person has worn the cloth of our nation in combat to preserve our way of life.’ That is the thing that is maybe a little different around this naval hospital than any other is that it seems to attract warfighters within the medical community. It is a bond that we share. It is what attracted me here. It is the reason I came here in the first time, the second time and now. It’s the people.
What is the most challenging part of being the CO of the hospital? Communication, without a doubt. In any large organization, how do we get something from a must-do from my mouth to the deck plate? How does that work? How do I get folks to buy in to the importance of something? … In a command this size how do I get the word out? We use a lot of different avenues… Everything that we have that’s a problem, whether it’s a personnel problem, a material problem usually when you track back, it comes down to one thing: communication.
What was your previous assignment before taking command of the hospital? I was the United States Fleet Surgeon in Norfolk, Virginia. I worked at the Fleet Forces Command. It was normally a two-star billet. I was the first O6 (captain) to fill it. You basically serve the global . I owned everything that wasn’t in a hospital medically. I had oversight over all the ships no matter where they were at. It was a great job.
How did that assignment as well as prior service experiences prepare you for this position? I would say the last 35 years have shaped this position. It is everything I’ve done. I’ve taken pieces and tidbits from each job and they have better prepared me for this position. In medicine this is the pinnacle, by in large, of where you’re at unless you’re a flag . Command at a medical center, especially one that is changing as fast as this one is has been good. I’ve been blessed. I’ve been able to be in all walks of life in a uniform. Whether from an enlisted man, to line, to the medical corps, but I’ve also been able to serve with the submarine force when I was enlisted in nuclear power. I’ve flown airplanes. I was with the in F18’s for four or five years. I’ve been on 19 different service ships. I’ve served with the Seabees and I served with Naval Special Warfare. I’ve spent about 14 wonderful years with my brothers in green. Add all that together and the multiple positions within the medicine from small, to medium, to large hospitals.
What are you visions for the hospital while you are in the CO position? The hospital will complete its transition into a medical center and become a trauma center in the near future. It will become a readiness platform for medicine. Undoubtedly we will provide the best quality care to anyone who walks through our door, and treat them like family.
What has been your biggest/most memorable accomplishment of your time as CO? To become the first trauma center in medicine. To have every corpsman, nurse and doctor being exposed to the highest acuity of patients in medicine to get better to be ready to fight tonight.
What encouraged you to join the ? I was a young kid from modest upbringing in the Midwest, from a small town with not a lot of options. It allowed me to get out. It allowed me to get an education. It allowed me to see the world. Zero regrets.
What does your resume look like? One of the things I enjoy the most is taking young kids and getting to see them obtain their goals. I’ve had quite a few enlisted guys become . I’ve had quite a few go to the Naval Academy, that I’ve helped get into the Naval Academy. If anything it is serving multiple combat tours and being inventive on the battlefield. I have two major medical combat systems that I have a patent and have invented, including the mobile trauma bay and the ERSS (Expeditionary Resuscitative Surgical System). It basically was a surgical suite that goes along any platform the has and can be set up and provide life-saving surgery… I built the first (mobile trauma bay) on a seven-ton (truck) with a conex box. I welded expansions and I burrowed a generator from the Brits. And I welded an environmental control unit on the top. I’m a country kid so I have a little bit of those skills. They were able to get mobile and move around the battlefields so we didn’t get shot. It also put us at the point of impact of injury so that we had far, far, far forward resuscitative capability and saved a lot of lives.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career and why? Task Force 27 in 2008 in Afghanistan. I am convinced the Lord put me on this Earth to save lives, invent systems to help reduce suffering and preserve life. Nowhere was that more evident than in southern Afghanistan in ’08.
Any plans of retiring anytime soon? I have been going to get out since I joined. When I quit having fun that’s when I am going to retire. The keeps offering me great jobs and great adventures and we keep taking them. I can serve legally until 2025.
What is one thing most people wouldn’t know about you? I own a farm — 250 acres in the middle of Kansas. It is set up for hunting. I do have crops like soybeans and corn, 110 acres for crops. The rest have been set up in hardwoods and creeks and it’s all about giving a great environment for the wildlife to give a place for me to go and chill, and for my kids to have for the rest of their lives, and their kids to go and find normal.
Why a farm in Kansas? I am an outdoorsman. I love to farm. I love working with the earth. I still plant all of my own crops. It is a lot of work every year but it is wonderful. I come back completely worn out, but completely relaxed and recharged.
When you’re not at the hospital where are you? I am a foodie. I love good food. I love to cook. I like to walk 18 holes and pretend I know how to golf. It is a passion. Around here I do a lot of fishing. I get out to the farm and hunt deer, turkey, pheasant.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers about your position or yourself? I am truly blessed to be a proud father, to serve as CO of the hospital, to continue to serve my country, be surrounded by America’s heroes, and live in a community that supports our , our country and our God.
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