Academy pharmacist receives 2013 Distinguished Practitioner Award

  • Published
  • By Amber Baillie
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
Upon receiving a Doctor of Pharmacy from Temple University in 2001, three months before 9/11, Maj. Andre Mach was offered a five-year job contract including a $117,000 salary and a BMW 3-series car, yet chose instead to serve in the Air Force.

To this day, Mach -- the 10th Medical Support Squadron Pharmacy Operations chief and Pharmacy Flight deputy commander here -- vows it was one of the best decisions of his life.

He returned to Temple University School of Pharmacy as a 2013 Distinguished Practitioner Award recipient Sept. 10 to speak to students on his deep-rooted commitment to serve the nation and society as a trusted health care professional.

"I wanted to prove to myself I was bigger than money," Mach said. "My gut feeling was 'this is my home and my country.' As an immigrant, I wanted to serve in the U.S. military for at least two years to understand how the country operates, and to be a patriot."

Mach said his friends were stunned by his decision to join the Air Force, and his parents disowned him for two years.

"My dad was upset because he'd brought his family away from our home country to provide us a better life, escaping the military and war," he said. "When I joined the Air Force, (my) having an opportunity to go back into war left him heartbroken."

Mach moved to the U.S. in 1980 as a refugee from Vietnam. He grew up in an inner-city area of Philadelphia, on welfare and a minority.

"Ethnically I'm Chinese and Cantonese," Mach said. "From the period of 1975-1980, approximately 400,000 immigrants from Southeast Asia migrated to the U.S. because of the Vietnam War. It was the largest migration in the history of the U.S., and I was part of that."

After encountering racial tension and realizing he didn't speak English as well as his classmates, Mach made it his number-one priority to gain better command of the language.

"I realized I'm not going to escape this," he said. "This is my home and country from here on. I realized in order to be successful in this country, I had to know English well to enunciate and express my thoughts effectively. To this day I still try to make it a goal."

Mach said his life changed drastically when he joined the Air Force in 2001.

"After 13 years in the Air Force, I feel I have a good grasp of the military," Mach said. "I think it's important for younger generations to understand how this country was formalized. The greatest asset of this country is our freedom and our people. It's important to pay tribute to past generations and the sacrifices they made for us to have those freedoms. I believe without that type of history and appreciation, you can't appreciate the future."

Serving in the Air Force tests any Airman's character, Mach said.

"How do you develop character and leadership?" he said. "Cadets need to realize it doesn't come easy and there will be sacrifices.'

Turmoil and suffering can build people's character, Mach said.

"I was fairly lucky with how I migrated to the U.S.," he said. "Some people took more of a tragic path to come to the U.S., who didn't survive and if they did, might not have the same outlook as me. Because of the infrastructure of this country, the freedom to get an education and a higher education if you really want it is here."

Mach arrived at the Academy 2011. He provides pharmaceutical care for 200 Academy preparatory school candidates and 4,000 cadets. Throughout his career in the Air Force, he's also implemented clinical programs such as Lipid, Coumadin and Smoking Cessations clinics.

"It's an honor to be able to serve in the Air Force for what I went to school for, and work my craft as a pharmacist," he said. "I think it's important to be humble, know where you're from and have a vision of where you want to go."

The Temple School of Pharmacy Alumni Association cosponsors the Distinguished Practitioner Award, initiated in 2005 to recognize outstanding achievements of alumni.

"It's an honor for me to accept the award and be able to express my experiences in the military," Mach said. "From base to base, mission to mission - being exposed to different cultures and people has galvanized my thinking and made me a stronger, more confident leader. My unprivileged background is no longer an embarrassment - it's my strength."

Lt. Col. Gregory Feltenberger, 10th Medical Support Squadron Commander, said it's always impressive when Airmen are recognized as experts in their field by the civilian community.

"(This award) confirms how close Major Mach is to his civilian counterparts and the incredibly high-caliber expertise he brings to the Air Force mission," Feltenberger said. "We're very proud of the work Major Mach and the pharmacy team does for the 171,000 beneficiaries in the Colorado Springs area. The scope of their mission is huge and they perform as true professionals doing a great job all day, every day."