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Decorated U.S. Navy Flight Surgeon and Pilot Inspires New Physicians at VCOM Military Promotion Ceremony

Captain Kris Belland, DO, MPH, MC, US Navy (Retired) addresses the attendees of VCOM-Virginia 2024 military promotion ceremony
By Caroline Bennett -

On Saturday, May 18, the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) in Blacksburg, Virginia, held its annual Military Promotion Ceremony honoring the military graduates of the Class of 2024. Surrounded by classmates, friends, family, faculty, staff and administration, 12 graduates were promoted to the military ranks at which they will begin serving the United States Army, Navy and Air Force. These 12 service members were part of the 174 VCOM-Virginia graduates who received their Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degrees at the college’s commencement ceremony, which was held the following day.

The new physicians had been recipients of the Health Professions Scholarship (HPSP) from the military branch in which they will serve and will repay the scholarship by working one year in their respective military branch for each year they received the scholarship.

This year’s military promotion ceremony featured remarks by former military physician Frederic A. Rawlins III, DO, advisor to the Student Association of Military Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons (SAMOPS) and a graduate of the VCOM Class of 2010. VCOM Chairman of the Board John Rocovich Jr., JD, LLM, delivered the invocation.

The keynote address was given by physician Captain Kris Belland, DO, MPH, MC, US Navy (Retired). Dr. Belland is a highly accomplished medical professional with a distinguished career. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, he served more than 30 years in the US Navy. He was a rare dually-designated naval aviator and naval flight surgeon, as well as a surface warfare medical department officer. He accumulated 2,000 flight hours, 112 arrested landings and participated in 25 combat missions. His exceptional service earned him numerous prestigious awards. Captain Belland is board-certified in family practice and aerospace medicine, and he has been a fellow of the Aerospace Medicine Association and president of the International Association of Military Flight Surgeons and Pilots.

In his address, Dr. Belland called on the VCOM graduates to find their passion, as he did in the field of flight and aerospace medicine. He spoke of the responsibility and reward of providing medical care as a trusted physician and the importance of self-care when treating patients in the extreme conditions of military operations.

As the first osteopathic physician to lead the Aerospace Medical Association, Dr. Belland also highlighted the benefits of osteopathic training for these new doctors. “I love the osteopathic philosophy of looking at the patient as a whole. In our case, you might see an aviator who has to fly even though he or she is having family problems—you really have to look at that individual holistically,” Dr. Belland explained. He also noted that osteopathic manipulation is a valuable tool in treating the extreme conditions faced by pilots and soldiers, such as high gravitational forces and pain from long flight hours.

Beyond his military career, Dr. Belland has contributed significantly to aerospace medicine. He served as the southwest regional deputy flight surgeon for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), overseeing medical programs in five states and played a vital role in the Aerospace Medical Association's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

VCOM-Virginia was honored to have Dr. Belland visit campus to inspire these young physicians who have answered the call to military and medical service. Everyone at the College is deeply honored to have educated these graduates as they begin their service as United States military physicians.

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