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Published in CenterView on February 15, 2010

Reservist nominates surgery chair for armed forces award

By Patrice Sawyer Guilfoyle

In the summer of 2005, Dr. Gregory Timberlake, a naval reserve officer, received the call to leave the University of Mississippi Medical Center for full-time service.

He had no idea at the time that it would be four years before his return.

After nearly 37 years with the U.S. Navy, 18 years on active duty, Timberlake considers the time spent serving his country an honor. He returned to reserve duty in November and to the Division of Trauma and Critical Care Surgery.

Dr. Marc Mitchell, left, receives the Patriot Award from Dr. Gregory Timberlake.
Dr. Marc Mitchell, left, receives the Patriot Award from Dr. Gregory Timberlake.

"It's not easy leaving home a little over four years and coming back, but I think the department, Dr. (Marc) Mitchell and the university have been very supportive," Timberlake said. "He and the department kept in touch with me and my family. I couldn't have done my job without that support."

Timberlake nominated Mitchell, chair of the Department of Surgery, for the Patriot Award from the Mississippi Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, an agency of the Department of Defense. The award publicly recognizes individuals who provide outstanding support and cooperation to their employees deployed in the armed forces.

A surprised Mitchell received the award Feb. 3. He had been told initially that the award presentation was for Timberlake.

"I don't know what to say," Mitchell said. "It's really ironic that the person who doesn't do the work gets the award. The folks like you, who serve in the reserve, make the real sacrifice."

Timberlake used his administrative acumen, not his skills as a trauma surgeon, during his time with the Navy. He was command surgeon for the U.S. Joint Forces Command and medical advisor to the Supreme Allied Command for Transformation. He worked with NATO on how to set up medical departments, on what the departments needed and how to deploy medical personnel.

"I work to make sure our reservists are ready, trained and used properly," he said.

Timberlake, who is in his third year as a two-star rear admiral - the highest rank in the U.S Navy Reserve - also worked on a Department of Defense and Veterans' Affairs Administration interagency program. For a year, he was the single point of contact for the agencies in working with Congress on how health-record data could be shared between the two agencies.

When the Haiti earthquake hit, Timberlake coordinated reservists' deployment to help the country.

"We sent 62 corpsmen, medics, and other personnel. Some of them had as little as five hours' preparation," he said.

Timberlake still travels to Washington, D.C. monthly, one or two weeks at a time. He will retire from the reserve in September, a bittersweet moment for him but not his wife, Catherine.

"She's been extremely supportive over the years, but she'll be extremely pleased I won't be missing weeks and months at a time," he said.

Timberlake said his time with the Navy afforded him the opportunity to travel across the country and internationally and meet people from all parts of the globe.

"I'm going to leave with some regret, but I'll leave with a lot of nice memories," he said.