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First nurse serves as director of ANG Medical Service Office of the Air Surgeon

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Sarah McClanahan
  • Air National Guard

For the first time in Air National Guard history, a clinical nurse took command as director of the ANG Medical Service Office of the Air Surgeon at the ANG Readiness Center, Joint Base Andrews.

“Normally, it's been a physician or a flight doctor that has led the helm for the Air National Guard Medical Service Office … I'm the first clinical nurse,” said Col. Linda A. Rohatsch, who took command in late 2022. “I'm pretty excited about that.”

Clinical nurses are at the leading edge of nearly every conceivable medical issue a clinic, hospital or medical facility may face, explained retired Maj. Gen. Timothy LaBarge, who was Rohatsch’s former wing commander at the 105th Airlift Wing.

“[They are] the first to see the patients as they come in and the last to encourage them as they are discharged,” LaBarge said. “They are intimately involved in the complete patient care experience. That alone provides comprehensive credibility with respect to the requirements of the medical community.”

The ANG Medical Service Office of the Air Surgeon supports a larger mission to provide resources, oversight and guidance to the 90 wings located among the United States’ 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia.

As the director, Rohatsch shapes the ANG Medical Service and oversees the mission execution of its $60 million annual budget, which enables the mission readiness of the ANG’s 108,000 military and civilian personnel. Additionally, Rohatsch serves as a primary advisor to the ANG Readiness Center commander and the director of the Air National Guard.

With four decades of medical experience, ranging from serving as an active-duty aerospace medical apprentice, commissioning into the Nurse Corps while in the New York National Guard, holding numerous leadership positions from the squadron to the national level and providing care to tens of thousands of patients domestically and abroad, Rohatsch is uniquely qualified to lead the ANG’s medical professionals.

“As a clinician, I am an operator, I understand the needs of the field,” Rohatsch said. “I understand the needs of the Air National Guard Medical Service and the Air Force Medical Service, in what lies ahead of us with deployments in the agile combat employment concept.”

Hitting the ground running, Rohatsch laid out a number of priorities that focus on cultivating the best talent, developing leaders at all levels, refining communication practices, maintaining sound stewardship of limited resources and most importantly, maintaining a people-focused approach.

“If you invest in your team and you invest in the quality of the people on your team, you can create high performers with solid work and we're here to support the field.” Col. Linda A. Rohatsch, Air National Guard Medical Service Office of the Air Surgeon Director


She plans to build on the ANG Medical Service Office of the Air Surgeon’s legacy of work by streamlining processes, fostering relationships with sister services and organizations and improving training platforms.

“Providing quality training to our members [ensures] they can competently take care of themselves, take care of others and provide a solid clinical environment to take care of our readiness piece,” she said. “At the end of the day, it's about clinical quality, patient safety, keeping the planes flying and taking care of our Airmen.”

For Rohatsch, taking care of her people includes emphasizing the importance of mental health, resiliency and showing up for your people … something that hits close to home as a Gold-Star mother.

“My son was killed in Afghanistan in 2013,” Rohatsch said. “So, a lot of what I do is in honor of TJ.”

Staff Sgt. Todd "TJ" Lobraico Jr., who like his parents, was a member of the 105th Airlift Wing, was killed in action during a mission outside of Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.

Having taken command of the 105th Medical Group just a month prior, Rohatsch struggled to push forward and show up for her people. A conversation with her current wing commander encouraged her to give herself the space to figure out how to put the pieces back together.

“There is not enough time in the world to completely process the ultimate sacrifice that had been made by her son and only she could decide in what manner she would continue in her military career,” LaBarge said. “Outside of giving Linda the time and space to process what had happened and what her role would be going forward, I played no role regarding her decision to remain in the ANG. It was ‘all her’ … I can also say with confidence, that Linda and I had developed a robust mentor-protege relationship, I saw tremendous conviction, competence, courage and potential in then Maj. Rohatsch.”

Through all of the pain, Linda and her family intimately understood the complex dynamic of keeping an air wing focused, resilient and combat-ready in the face of the then extraordinary adversity, LaBarge explained.

“As cliche as it sounds, that's what TJ would want,” she said. “It's okay to be vulnerable. It's okay to grieve. But if you're going to be the leader that you want to be or that you are, you need to get back to work.”

In addition to her loved ones, Rohatsch found solace in her National Guard family who supported her through the challenging time.

“I was surrounded by people that were awesome,” she explained. “I was so lucky … I knew that humanity existed. But, you realize when the world falls apart, it's just overwhelmingly good.”

TJ’s memory is commemorated through a 501(c)(3) non-profit called Live for TJ - The TJ Lobraico Foundation, which Rohatsch sits on a board of directors for.

“Our goal is to recognize young adult champions in the community,” Rohatsch explained. “We award $8,000 in scholarships every year.”

The phrase “Live for TJ” was coined by her daughter, 1st Lt. Jessika Lobraico Fernandez, who serves in the 105th MG as a physician assistant and is something that Rohatsch tries to embody every day.

“It totally simplified the way I viewed things because I don't get rattled over silly things,” Rohatsch said. “Because at the end of the day, let's focus on the fights that are worth fighting.”

This new perspective on life lends itself to her people-focused approach and how she aims to lead the ANG’s medical professionals.

“What we do matters,” Rohatsch said. “And I know with 100% certainty, that the training we give our medics matters. I mean, I hate to say it, I got to live it firsthand … Our sons and daughters and brothers, sisters, dads, moms, cousins, they deserve for us to be competent and capable to take care of them.”