A Time to Honor, Remember, and Reflect this Memorial Day
Steward Orthopedist Dr. Richard Harrison Recalls Fallen Soldiers
Among the thousand names and numbers in the cell phone of Dr. Richard Harrison, a Steward Medical Group orthopedic surgeon, is one he can no longer call but has carried with him for the past nine years: that of Ryan Savard, a Sergeant First Class assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Savard died Oct. 13, 2012 from wounds from small-arms fire while on patrol during combat operations in Khanabad District, Afghanistan, during Operating Enduring Freedom.
“I deployed with SFC Savard,” said Dr. Harrison, who provides care at Melbourne Regional Medical Center, a Steward Family Hospital in Melbourne, Florida. “I didn’t know him that well, but to this day, I still have his name and phone number in my phone. I can’t make myself take it out.”
As the nation prepares for Memorial Day- the 50th observation since it was declared a national holiday in 1971- it’s thoughts of SFC Savard, who was 29, and Colonel Brian Allgood that come to mind for Dr. Harrison. COL Allgood, 46, an orthopedic surgeon and the Army’s top medical official in Iraq at the time, was among 12 people killed when their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter was shot down in Iraq on Jan. 20, 2007.
“He’s the only orthopedic surgeon I know who died in service in current modern conflict,” Dr. Harrison said. “If either of their families were able to know decades later that there are still people who honor and remember their sacrifice, that is the true honor we can give to them.”
Dr. Harrison is the U.S. Army Reserve Orthopedic Surgery Consultant to the Surgeon General, and the Commander of the 8th Medical Brigade, based in New York. He has served 19 years in the military and deployed twice to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom with the U.S. Special Operations Command in 2009 and 2011, once to Germany in 2013 in Support of Operation Enduring Freedom and once to Iraq with the XVIII Airborne Corps as a part of Operation Inherent Resolve in late 2016 through January 2017.
He originally planned to join the U.S. Navy and become a fighter pilot however a broken back on the football field altered those aspirations. Instead, he became an engineer and, discovering a call to go into medicine, he began attending paramedic school at night. Two days into his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, his first wife died. Shortly after, in June of 2001, he called an Army recruiter and never looked back.
Military service runs long in Dr. Harrison’s family. His stepfather was his commissioning officer, an uncle attended West Point Military Academy and served in Berlin during the Cold War, and his grandfather served in World War II. A gift he treasures is a diary that belonged to his great-great-great grandfather, who had served with the Union for the Pennsylvania Guard during the Civil War. Dr. Harrison’s grandfather gave him the diary to commemorate his graduation from the U.S. Army War College in 2019.
Dr. Harrison’s military service has taken him from Fort Gillem, Georgia to the Middle East as well as serving stateside at a number of U.S. Army hospitals, including a two-year assignment as Chief, Hand & Upper Extremity Surgery at Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In October of 2011 he transitioned to the U.S. Army Reserve- Medical Corps and continued to serve as an orthopedic surgeon, overseeing medical support units and surgical teams.
During his deployment to Iraq in Sept. 2016-2017, with the 1980th Forward Surgical Team, Dr. Harrison established a walking blood bank for the Forward Operating Base where he was working and treating many battlefield wounds. A walking blood bank allows individuals with blood type O (universal donor) who have low levels of antibodies in their blood to provide an immediate donation to a wounded person who needs a transfusion. The use of whole blood is effective in treating traumatic blood volume loss and they had a large number of casualties who needed it, he said. The walking blood bank, with U.S. troops donating, also served to establish goodwill with the 6th Iraqi Army and helped continue to build relationships with allies.
Following his time in Iraq, Dr. Harrison became the commander of the 7454th Medical Backfill Battalion, based in San Antonio, Texas before taking command of the 8th Medical Brigade, which covers New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Soldiers under his command were at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic response in the Northeast, supporting hospitals in New York City and the Jacob K. Javits Center, which had been turned into a field hospital to treat COVID-19 patients at the height of the pandemic there.
In June of last year, he joined Steward Health Care and his practice in Melbourne is close to Viera where there is a veterans’ clinic. He enjoys treating the veterans who seek his care. “This is a very military-centric and friendly town,” he said. “We make sure we provide the access to them.”
During his service, COL Harrison earned the Expert Field Medical and Military Parachutist Badges. For his distinguished service, he has received numerous commendations including the Bronze Star, and in 2018, he was inducted into the Order of Military Medical Merit. For his service last year during COVID-19, he was also awarded the Armed Forces Service Medal.
Being willing to sacrifice one’s life for one’s country is part of the oath a soldier takes, and, as Memorial Day nears, it brings an opportunity to ensure those lives were not lost in vain, he said. “Having to lay down our lives for our nation is a part of our oath,” Dr. Harrison said of those who serve. “It’s important to remember that, and not forget those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.”