JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
From the time he was a young private on his first duty assignment as a combat medic, Army Col. Richard Villarreal, dean of academics for the Medical Education and Training Campus on JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, aspired to do more in the healthcare field to help others.
While under the tutelage of his battalion’s medical officer, a physician’s assistant, Villarreal chose his path.
“My first unit of assignment in the Army was with an Airborne Combat Team in Vicenza Italy,” he recalled. “There I met our battalion medical officer. He was a PA. Up until that time, I did not know what a PA was. I had never met one in my young life.”
Villarreal learned firsthand from his battalion PA what it meant to serve, to train, and to take care of Soldiers. “During that first assignment, I started working on my prerequisites to apply for the Army PA program.”
Although it took him seven years to complete his qualifications and prerequisites, he applied and was accepted into the Army PA program (now the Interservice Physician Assistant Program, or IPAP) on Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant, and his career took off.
“The most important part of being a PA for me is taking care of people. Whether it is in a clinic in the states or forward operating base in Afghanistan, for me it is all about service to others and service to my country. As a military PA, I get to do both.”
Villarreal’s dedication and passion for his work have been the catalysts for a successful career spanning 37 years – 27 of those as a PA– and led to his selection as the 2020 recipient of the American Academy of Physician’s Assistants Military Service Award.
Villarreal said he is honored by the award.
“So many compete for it, and to be named the AAPA Service Member of the Year is a great honor,” Villarreal said. “I am one of the thousands of past and present military PAs. All of us chose to help people and serve our country. To be among that group is the greatest honor of all.”
So far his career has seen him through deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, a tour in the Republic of Korea, a PA Orthopaedic Surgery Fellowship, a Ph.D., and numerous clinical and teaching assignments. But it’s taking care of people that he enjoys most about being a PA.
“The gratification that I get from taking care of service members, their families, and all Department of Defense beneficiaries is hard to describe,” Villarreal told the AAPA, “but it is a feeling like nothing else I have experienced.”