PAO retires after 37 years of national media spotlight

by Chuck Roberts
Landstuhl Regional Medical Center Public Affairs
Courtesy photoMarie Shaw (center) assists a news team from CNN sent to cover the arrival of wounded warriors at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center during the early stages of the war in Iraq.
Courtesy photo
Marie Shaw (center) assists a news team from CNN sent to cover the arrival of wounded warriors at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center during the early stages of the war in Iraq.

She was born and raised as an only child on a working farm in a small village in Ath, Belgium. Her father didn’t have or need the help of sons to manage the farm — he had Marie.

Marie Shaw tended chores before school, rode her bike home at lunch in bitter cold weather to help out more and she continued to help out after school and on weekends tending livestock, baling hay and harvesting sugar beets in the dead of winter. A few years after graduating from college, Shaw landed a job in Kaiserslautern and continued to drive home on the weekends to help out with the family farm.

It was that kind of work ethic that led her to a 41-year U.S. government career, 37 of those years as chief of public affairs at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center where she retires today.

Her dedication and commitment to the job resulted in 24 career awards, including the Legion of Merit for the German Army, the Order of Military Medical Merit and two times as the U.S. Army in Europe PAO of the Year.

“It is difficult to describe the influence, compassion and professionalism of Marie Shaw,” said retired Maj. Gen. Bryan Gamble, who served as LRMC commander from 2005 to 2007. “As a nation at war for the last 14 plus years, at a center for all ill, injured and wounded to evacuate to, Marie has deftly managed the complexities of media, political, medical and international relations. No one does it better than Marie.”

For Shaw, there was much to do and numerous opportunities for success and failure. During her tenure, which included 15 change of command ceremonies, Shaw was directly involved with intense media coverage of patients treated at LRMC for the following events:

• 1981 — Iran hostage rescue attempt resulting in the death of eight U.S.
service members

• 1983 —  Beirut barracks bombing killing 299 U.S. and French service members

• 1983 — Terrorist bombing of U.S. Air Forces in Europe Headquarters at Ramstein

• 1985 — Terrorist bombing of the La Belle Disco in Berlin killing two and injuring 79 U.S. service members

• 1988 — Ramstein air show disaster killing 70 and injuring 346 spectators

• 1990-1991 — Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm

• 1993 — Battle of Mogadishu resulting in 18 deaths and 73 wounded

• 1995 — Sarajevo market place bombing killing 43 and injuring 75 civilians and subsequent establishment of a refugee center at the Landstuhl gym

• 1996 — Khobar Towers terrorist attack killing 19 U.S. service members and injuring 498

• 1998 — Kenya Embassy terrorist bombing

• 2000 — USS Cole suicide attack killing 17 and injuring 39 Sailors

• 2003 — Repatriation of Pfc. Jessica Lynch

• 2014 — Repatriation of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

Shaw has been the lynchpin and most crucial link between the U.S. military medical community and the national and international media in Europe. If a major event occurred in Europe or downrange that involved the likelihood of injured Americans, Shaw was among the first to be contacted by international media, including late-night phone calls at home.

When high-visibility patients such as Jessica Lynch were scheduled to arrive at LRMC, a horde of media was usually waiting in advance. To cope with dozens of media crews and satellite vans for live television feeds, Shaw developed and orchestrated the overnight conversion of the LRMC Learning Center into a media center that could be in operation for days at a time. In one instance, she was even required to act as a referee to physically separate two quarreling female reporters who almost came to blows while arguing about priority for an upcoming interview.

After 9/11, Shaw faced a decade of continued intense media interest in covering the wartime mission at LRMC. Reporters from 29 countries were among the approximately 80 labor-intensive media engagements that Shaw contended with annually. CNN, USA Today and the Washington Post were among the major media outlets requiring coordination to film and interview patients, doctors, nurses, chaplains and behavioral health specialists. Interviews about the tragic consequences of war sometimes resulted in tears by the reporter, interviewee or by Shaw, who was once asked by a young Marine patient if he could give her a hug because she reminded him of his mother.

“The work was tedious, but the rewards were great,” Shaw said. “I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with so many senior media representatives, patients and devoted staff members under so many diverse situations the past decades. There are so many memories I will cherish the rest of my life.”

In addition to media engagements, Shaw also made an impact through hospital community relations programs designed to enhance the medical work relationship between the various countries, allowing for the development of friendships and the exchange of information on medical issues important to the U.S. and Europe.

In the immediate aftermath of the Ramstein air show disaster where the overflow of patients spilled into the emergency room parking lot, Shaw played a critical role by using her knowledge of host nation hospitals to help relocate patients to local German medical facilities.

The air show disaster also revealed incompatibilities between U.S. and host nation medical equipment such as IVs. Shaw was instrumental in orchestrating the partnership activities between LRMC and the German military hospital in Koblenz that resulted in the official signing of the partnership agreement between the two hospitals in 1984. Additionally, she organized multiple partnership activities and partnership exchanges with the various local German medical universities and German military units.

“What a wonderful, warm, positive voice and face for Army and military medicine throughout these challenging times,” said Army Surgeon General retired Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker. “Was there anyone who did it better than Marie Shaw? She will be missed badly. We wish her nothing but peace and joy in her new phase of life.”