USS Makin Island
“Gung Ho”
Learning Leadership: Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Baldwin
By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Princess L. Brown, USS Makin Island Public Affairs
ARABIAN GULF (Oct. 15, 2014) - The rumors spread around the scuttlebutt, also known as a water fountain, like wildfire in a dry forest. They were small in the beginning, eventually turning into large blazing flames of words and curiosity.  Some were curious about his physical appearance. While others wondered would he have the same personality he’d shown millions of people on T.V, or was it all just a show?  

Upon checking aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8), Lt. Cmdr. Andrew J. “Doc” Baldwin’s outgoing personality put out all of the flames of curiosity. He was known as the “Bachelor” from a previous adventure on a reality television show, but as time passed many of the Sailors onboard realized that he was simply “Doc.” 

“When I found out that Lt. Cmdr. Baldwin was the Senior Medical Officer (SMO), I did not know what to expect,” said Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Joe H. Espinosa. “I had heard that he had been on ‘The Bachelor’ and was a little bit of a celebrity, but once I got aboard and met him I could see that none of that stuff really changed the person he was and that he and I would have a great working relationship. He is a very easy guy to work for and it’s mainly because he’s such a down to earth person.”

Many of the Sailors aboard, especially within the medical department, have come to realize that the nickname of the “Bachelor” didn’t matter on Makin Island. Yes, it has brought Makin Island more attention on social media sites, but that is just one way “Doc” is helping Makin Island. His main goal was to create a successful integrated team. 

The medical team aboard is comprised of a variety of Sailors assigned to Makin Island, which includes the Fleet Surgical Team (FST) 5 and hospital corpsmen assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). Although Sailors assigned to the MEU are considered “green side,” or rather part of a different team, Doc sees no difference. They are all his Sailors. 

“Doc did a good job making sure both groups knew that this was going to be a one team effort and understanding that we would be working with each other and not against each other,” said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Johnecia Yancey. “When the ‘green side’ corpsman and physicians came aboard, he automatically implemented things like training together. We all muster together, train together, and run drills together. So it’s very integrated. He put it out early on that we came here for a mission and we were going to do it as a team. He prepared us to work as team and from there it just flowed naturally.”

Espinosa explained that Baldwin placed a big emphasis on teamwork and positive leadership within the medical department. He said Baldwin’s leadership style empowers Sailors to do their job, to do what they know is right, and to mentor Sailors, which contributes to the ongoing success of the medical team.

“I feel that the Sailors look up to him,” said Espinosa. “We have a little bit of a saying around here…we call it ‘Team Baldwin.’ The Sailors are the ones that came up with that because he is very much the team leader of the medical department. He stands up everyday at quarters and tells the Sailors what a great job they are doing. He wants everyone to know how important they are to the success of the medical team and ultimately how important they are to him. I think that goes a long way with the Sailors.” 

During a recent interview with Baldwin, he explained why he joined the Navy and his steps in becoming Makin Island’s Senior Medical Officer.

Lt. Cmdr Andrew Baldwin, Senior Medical Officer:

Why did you join the Navy?

“Family tradition, proud to be an American, and to see the world while doing my job being a physician, that’s why I wanted to join the Navy. My grandfather served in the Navy; he was actually in Pearl Harbor during World War II. And, my uncle was a Navy fighter pilot in Vietnam. It was a means to get an education as well. Growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania I didn’t have very much money. Through military service, I was able to attend college and also medical school. It’s great because you get to see the world. That’s why I think the military, especially the Navy, is the greatest service in the world.”

What are your responsibilities on Makin Island? 

“I’m in charge of all medical care and health related issues onboard the ship. All medical assets I oversee. It’s a big job and I’ve definitely learned a lot and it’s going to be sad to leave a great team here. When I really think of the amount that I’m responsible for on here I couldn’t do by myself. There are 103 personnel that I oversee that are a part of my team that I address at quarters every morning. I’m very grateful for the way they’ve come together as a team and serve. I tell them its all about service, especially in our field of health care, making sure that our medical readiness is at 100 percent and that we’ve prepared our Sailors and Marines to fight the fight when they are called upon. Right now I feel that we are performing very well.”

What goal did you set when you arrived to USS Makin Island?

“My biggest goal coming here two years ago was to create a team. I know that we come from a lot of different backgrounds within the medical field and from green side (Sailors assigned with the Marine Corps) and blue side (Sailors working aboard the ship), but to have respect for each other and constantly work together as one integrated unit was the goal. It was challenging at first. I know there were a lot of people before I got here that didn’t think in that same mindset, but I’m very much a team player. I’ve been committed to that vision from the beginning and I really think that we have developed an integrated team here on the USS Makin Island, and it shows each and every day.”

Explain your journey from Civilian to Senior Medical Officer.

“I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and I attended Duke University on a Navy ROTC scholarship. I graduated from there as an Ensign in the Navy and received the health professions scholarship (HPSP) to attend medical school at the University of California, San Francisco. I graduated from medical school in 2003, and I was promoted to Lt. I went to San Diego to do my internship in general surgery at Navy Medical Center, San Diego at Balboa. At the time I was into swimming and diving. I swam in college so one of the cool things I was able to do while there was become a Navy diver in efforts to qualify as an undersea Navy doctor. After my internship year at Balboa, I went to dive school and became a diving medical officer and served a three year tour in Hawaii with Mobile Dive and Salvage Unit 1. That’s where I really started to see the great experiences and opportunities you have in the Navy. I was able to travel throughout Southeast Asia on special operations missions into jungle regions treating villagers in Laos and Vietnam. 

At that time I became much more appreciative of all we have in the United States from a medical standpoint and I wanted to get more involved in humanitarian assistance missions. So after that I was able to go out on the ‘Continuing Promise’ mission with the USNS Comfort (T-AH-20). Then I did my family medicine residency at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton. When negotiating orders they asked ‘what do you want to do next? Do you want to go operational?’ I said ‘heck yes,’ I want to be out there in the Navy, not just in a hospital, but serving aboard a U.S. Navy ship. One of the biggest leadership jobs as a family physician is being the senior medical officer on a large deck. I saw the mighty USS Makin Island and its hybrid drive and its clean energy and it’s touted as the best LHD in the Navy and I said I’d love to be the senior medical officer. I was definitely nervous when I came here. It’s very intimidating when you see the amount that the SMO is responsible for. I’d been at an operational command before with several dozen Navy divers, but we were a much smaller command. 

When you are dealing with thousands of personnel and you are heading a department and you’re the medical authority talking to the commanding officer and giving him guidance, it’s a lot of responsibility. I was definitely nervous. It took me a couple of months to really feel like I knew what I was doing. When you are at an operational command you are a naval officer first, then you are a leader as a department head and then you are a physician. It is not the other way around. That’s what I truly learned here, how to be a leader. All the nuisances of being a department head in a line community are things that you can’t learn on paper, you just learn through an experience like this. I’m very grateful for the guidance I’ve received and all I’ve learned during this tour.”

Through great leadership and training, Baldwin has led the Makin Island medical team successfully through many training evolutions required to maintain mission readiness. 

The Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the embarked 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) are deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.

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