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US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick gets first female leader

COL Constance L. Jenkins. (U.S. Army/Released)

Col. Constance L. Jenkins assumed leadership of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases during a ceremony held Friday at Fort Detrick, becoming the first female commander of the institute during its 52-year history.

Jenkins, an Army Nurse Corps officer, is arriving at USAMRIID from a post at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, where she served as chief of staff for the Army’s Regional Health Command-Atlantic. She succeeds Col. E. Darrin Cox, who has led the institute since July 2019 and will become the command surgeon for the U.S. Army Forces Command Headquarters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Standing behind a podium at the Blue and Gray Field on Friday, Jenkins congratulated her predecessor for a “job well done” and thanked him for bringing so much of his time, talents and leadership to the position.

“I’m grateful to inherit an organization that has been expertly led, and I accept the challenge in turn to lead it to even greater heights,” she said.

Jenkins is a graduate of the Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis Army Reserve Officer Training Corps, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in nursing from Indiana University. She later earned her Master of Science in nursing from the University of Texas Health Science Center, her doctorate of nurse anesthesia practice from Texas Wesleyan University and another master’s degree in national resource strategy.

Before starting her position at Fort Belvoir, Jenkins served in a variety of leadership roles as a clinician, educator, staff officer and commander. These have included stints as chief anesthetist of the 759th Forward Surgical Team at Fort Bragg, with a deployment to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; chief nurse anesthetist at the 47th Combat Support Hospital, with a deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom; and director of the U.S. Army graduate program in anesthesia nursing at the AMEDD Center and School.

She has been awarded the Bronze Star, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Combat Action Badge and the Parachute Badge, among other accommodations, according to a news release.

Cox also addressed the gathered crowd, which included Brigadier General Michael Talley — the commanding general of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command and Fort Detrick — his wife, Dr. Kathleen Cox, and others stationed at Fort Detrick.

His voice cracking with emotion, Cox thanked everyone who has supported the work of USAMRIID under his leadership. During the colonel’s tenure, the institute contributed significantly to the national response to COVID-19, developing multiple animal models for testing vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics; evaluating novel drugs and antibodies as potential treatments; creating a novel biosurveillance approach to enhance screening for COVID-19 and other diseases; and providing diagnostic testing for mission-critical military personnel, the release states.

Early in his tenure, Cox had to deal with the shutdown of research at the facility’s top labs for about eight months by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The order came after the CDC noted lapses in biosafety protocols during a site visit June 2019. The labs were restored to full operations in March 2020. There was never any evidence that any of the breaches were found outside authorized areas, according to previous reports.

Before turning his attention toward the command suite, Cox had a message to the directors, deputy directors, special staff and “unsung heroes” who make it possible for USAMRIID to accomplish its mission.

“You are valuable, and you are valued,” he said slowly and clearly. “Thank you, one and all.”


(c) 2021 The Frederick News-Post

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