On September 5, 2022, the United States assumed the chairmanship of the International Committee of Military Medicine (ICMM) at the organization’s World Congress held in Brussels. The U.S. was originally slated to assume this role to mark ICMMs centennial in September 2021. However, global travel restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a postponement until this year.
“The United States is honored to assume the role of chair for this body, and excited about the ability of ICMM to advance military medicine through shared scientific and technical knowledge and international cooperation,” said Dr. David Smith, acting principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, and head of the U.S. delegation at the World Congress. “For more than 100 years, ICMM has strengthened relations between military medical services around the globe and we are committed to building on this legacy.”
World War I identified the need for closer cooperation between Armed Forces Medical Services. In 1920, the Surgeon General and Commanding Medical Officer of the Belgian Armed forces, Major General Jules Voncken, met U.S. Navy Commander William Bainbridge at a session of the Association of Military Surgeons of the U.S. Together, they conceived the idea and formed the ICMM in 1921. The first world congress was held in Brussels in July of that year, with more than 500 medical personnel attending.
Attending the jubilee celebration of the ICCM were the grandchildren and great grandchildren of Voncken and Bainbridge. While the opening ceremony included a holographic welcome by Voncken and Bainbridge, one of the grandchildren had fond memories of his grandfather.
“When I was a very small child, about a year or so before he died, he visited us in Oxford,” said Christopher McIntosh, grandson of Bainbridge. “I remember playing in a cardboard box pretending it was a car and he came in and pushed me around. My memory of him is that of being a very benevolent man.”
It was that compassion and concern for the care and wellbeing of service members that led Bainbridge and Voncken to establish the ICMM. In addition to the U.S. and Belgium, founding countries included Brazil, Spain, France, Great Britain, Italy, and Switzerland.
Today, this international intergovernmental organization includes more than 118 Countries or member States and is recognized by the World Health Organization for its specialized role in addressing military medical issues and concerns.
Besides maintaining and strengthening the relationships among all medical services of member states, the ICMM promotes military medical scientific activities, participates in the development of military medical support of humanitarian operations in peace time, and organizes various training courses in International Humanitarian Law and Law on Armed Conflict.
The U.S. participation in this year’s conference included a variety of presentations and posters ranging from the battle against infectious disease, far forward care, to mental and rehab care. Additionally, Dr. Smith provided remarks and the opening and closing, and chaired the two sessions of the General Assembly. The U.S. also moderated a full day of presentations and discussions on Global Health Engagement.
“It was exciting and rewarding to hear some of the details related to the practical effects and accomplishments of our efforts to advance the collective knowledge and proficiency in critical areas of modern military medicine,” added Smith. “We have come a long way in military medicine since World War I. Our efforts have far-reaching impacts, well beyond simply military applications. The U.S. is proud to be a member of ICMM and look forward to our next two years serving as chair.”