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Meet Army Lt. Col. Craig Budinich, USU’s New Graduate School of Nursing Commandant

By Dominga Wilson-Moreno

John F. Kennedy once said that leadership and learning are indispensable to each other, so it is no wonder that Army Lt. Col. Craig Budinich, USU’s new Graduate School of Nursing Commandant, envisioned and brought to fruition his lifelong dreams of being a senior leader and educator.

Q. Did you ever envision yourself as Commandant? / What has your career path been?
A. I may not have envisioned myself as Commandant, but I have, for as long as I can remember, desired to become a senior leader at an educational institution. During my career, I have taken advantage of both operational and educational opportunities that would prepare me for this position. From my early college days, I knew that I would be a nurse anesthetist. I entered the US Army Graduate Program in Anesthesia at University of Texas Houston Health Sciences Center in 1997 as a first lieutenant and graduated in 1999.

My first assignment as a CRNA was as the Chief Nurse and nurse anesthetist of the 274th Forward Surgical Team (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, NC. In this position, I was exposed to a vast amount of operational medicine while attached to conventional and special operations units.  The 274th was the first Forward Surgical Team to be deployed to Afghanistan in 2001. During this deployment, I worked closely with Joint Special Operations Command units and was recruited to join the organization. In this role, I deployed multiple times to Afghanistan and Iraq.
USU’s new Graduate School of Nursing
Commandant, Army 
Lt. Col. Craig
Budinich, administers anesthesia to a
patient in the operating room. Budinich,
an Army nurse anesthetist, is a 2012
Neuroscience program alumnus of
USU. (Courtesy photo)

I had a break in service from 2004-2006. I intended to return to active duty as soon as possible, and this break period allowed me to develop a love for being an educator. In 2004, a small cell of practitioners and I were successful in developing and opening an anesthesia nursing program with Mercer University. I served as the assistant program
director for approximately a year and a half before reentering the Army.

I reentered the Army in 2006 and was selected to attend USU to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience. Following graduation in 2012, I was assigned as the assistant program director of the US Army Graduate Program in Anesthesia Nursing (USAGPAN) at Northeastern University. I feel that this role prepared me for many of the responsibilities of being a Commandant because, in essence, I filled a similar role in USAGPAN. I was responsible for coordinating distance learning among seven clinical sites, ensuring timely completion of military professional development requirements, disciplinary action, and also conducting regular didactic instruction.

I transitioned to become an anesthesia clinical site director in 2014 and served in that capacity for two years. For the past three years, I have been a chief nurse anesthetist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. With a staff of 30+ physicians and CRNAs, it has been a wonderful leadership experience.

Q. What is the most important part of a Commandant's job?
A. The most important part (responsibility) of a Commandant’s job is to be the living embodiment of the Warrior Ethos. A Commandant must be a role model, mentor, and guide. In this role, I can positively influence future nursing leaders.

Q. What motivates you in this role?
A. I hope to inspire those around me to push themselves just a little bit further each day. The path to grand personal goals is a long journey. Daily professional and personal development, no matter how small it may appear in the moment, possesses a potent compounding effect. 

Q. Your USU degree is a PhD in neuroscience, even though you are a CRNA.  How can/will you use that in your position as Commandant?
A. I think that obtaining a doctorate in a basic science helps one maintain a more complete view and understanding of clinical practice. It truly permits the "bench to bedside" process to be fully experienced. Pursing the PhD gave me exposure to a mode of thinking and academic demands that were different from what I've experienced to that point. It took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to generate novel approaches to solving problems. 

The central role of a Commandant is to serve not only a role model, but also guide and mentor. To do this, one must have needs to have broad life, clinical, and academic experience. The PhD helps me be a more well-rounded person. Finally, it also shows others that nurses can make significant contributions to areas outside of their chosen clinical specialty.

Q. Who do you consider to be your greatest mentor or mentors?
A. Retired Army Lt. Col. Milton Salter was my earliest and most influential professional mentor. As my ROTC commander, the ‘old tanker’ imparted life lessons that have served me well. I continue to pick his brain as time goes by and consider him a valued friend. Dr. Joseph McCabe in the Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Genetics at USU, served as my advisor during Ph.D. studies. His wise and inspirational input during those years was priceless.   

Q. What did you know about USU and USU students before attending the university?
A. Retired Army Col. Bruce Schoneboom had spent many years at USU in a leadership role and heavily recruited me to pursue my studies here. I was very familiar with the various programs and resources available prior to becoming a student here.
Q. What does it mean to you as a graduate to take on this role?
A. Serving in this capacity is a great honor, and I am humbled to be given the opportunity to contribute to USU and, more importantly, the students who will pass through during my tenure.  In a very real way, it feels like coming home.
Army Lt. Col. Craig Budinich,
left, discusses a scenario
with USU nursing students
during the University’s annual
medical field practicum,
(Photo by Sharon Holland)

Q. How did USU help shape your career?
A. My experience at USU has been instrumental in shaping my career. Of note, the broad exposure that I had to so many inspiring people from around the globe allowed me to see what traits promoted success in others and allowed me to incorporate those traits into my life.

Q. What opportunities did USU give you? 
A. From my graduation in 2012… everything! This is a difficult question to answer because my time at USU changed the trajectory of my career and presented opportunities that would have otherwise never been available. 

Q. What advice do you have for our future leaders in the Military Health System?
A. Be audacious! The Military Health System will likely undergo structural and operational changes that could make it unrecognizable from what it was just a few years ago. This situation offers exceptional opportunities for leaders to develop bold and unconventional solutions that make significant, lasting contributions to how the system will function. It’s a great time to be a member of the Military Health System.