By CAPT Rob Tosatto, USPHS (ret.) and RADM Steve Solomon, USPHS (ret.)

The Commissioned Officers Foundation for the Advancement of Public Health (COF) celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2020, and we will soon be releasing our Annual Report highlighting COF’s many achievements. However, our celebration was cut short by the COVID-19 global pandemic, the multiple challenges the world faced in combatting the disease, the tragic inequality of health outcomes that burdened underserved and disadvantaged populations, and the economic, social, and political dislocations that have touched nearly everyone in the world. The damaging effects of decades of underfunding and inadequate support of the public health infrastructure was made evident. But it was also a year that demonstrated the dedication and commitment of the public health workforce, including USPHS Commissioned Corps officers.

In assessing these events and their significance, the COF Board of Trustees felt compelled to reevaluate our mission and our “brand.” While our broad strategic goals remain the same (advocacy, education and training, governance and development, preservation of heritage, project and research support), we also saw a need to be clearer and more direct in our organizational focus and messaging. As a result, we have come together around the idea of Forging Leadership for Generations. You will begin to see this phrase more often in COF materials, publications, and communications. We believe this concept expresses the most important components of our mission.

We know that it is the youngest and the oldest among us who are often most vulnerable in a public health crisis. We know that underserved and disadvantaged populations of all ages suffer disproportionately, because for generations they have not been given the respect, the help, and access to services we should all receive. The pandemic has reminded us that everyone has a right to compassionate care and protection from health threats, without exception. Forging Leadership for Generations also reminds us that the Commissioned Corps and the USPHS, which traces its origins back over two centuries, has been serving Americans for generations. We expect that service to continue for many more generations.

Inspired, expert and compassionate leadership is as essential in public health as in any other part of our national life. Forging Leadership for Generations tells us that we can build and support leaders who help our communities — and our Nation — to meet its public health challenges and overcome years of constrained funding and lack of support from political leaders at all levels of government. The USPHS Commissioned Corps has a proud history of shaping national public health leaders like Anthony Fauci, Anne Schuchat, Kenneth Moritsugu, and many others. COF recognizes that heritage and supports nurturing and encouraging the next generations of public health leaders.

Leadership is clearly necessary in a crisis and crises help forge leaders. Increasingly, USPHS Commissioned Corps officers are being called to respond to emergent problems in the most difficult circumstances, across the U.S. and around the world. In just the 21st century, even before the pandemic, from 9/11, to Hurricane Katrina, to Ebola, the Corps has sent officers into situations that forge the experience, the temperament and the quiet confidence that creates the best leaders.

Recognizing these needs, the COF has recommitted itself to supporting today’s leaders and the leaders of the future who will be responsible for protecting and preserving the public’s health now and for generations to come.