ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Maryland – U.S. Army civilian chemists protect U.S. troops by providing chemical and explosive forensic analysis to combatant commanders.
Army civilian chemists from the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Analytical and Remediation Activity (CARA) deploy around the world to detect a wide range of chemical warfare agents (CWAs), CWA precursors, CWA breakdown products, toxic industrial chemicals and materials, illicit substances and explosives.
Headquartered on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, the all Army civilian CBRNE Analytical and Remediation Activity is part of the 20th CBRNE Command, the U.S. Department of Defense’s premier all hazards command.
From 19 bases on 16 states, Soldiers and civilians from 20th CBRNE Command take on the world’s most dangerous hazards in support of joint, interagency and allied operations.
“Our primary mission is to provide combatant commanders and their staff, rapid identification of recovered suspected chemical warfare material with a high degree of confidence allowing them to make battlefield decisions based on the results,” said Matthew Kalfoglou, an analytical chemist at CARA.
From maintaining vehicles, equipment and instrumentation to developing new procedures for quicker or more reliable data, Kalfoglou said being a chemist requires the flexibility to provide world class support to combatant commanders.
A U.S. Air Force veteran, Kalfoglou served as a Communications, Navigations and Mission Systems Avionics Technician on the B-52H Stratofortress, where he maintained radios, navigation equipment and electronic mission systems that are required to put bombs on target. He was stationed on Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, Louisiana, and he deployed to Diego Garcia and Guam in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
After he completed his Air Force service and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, he decided to continue to serve his country.
“Upon graduation, I began searching for a job within the government knowing that I wanted to serve my country again in another capacity,” said Kalfoglou. “I found a job posting for a CARA internship in 2014, applied and since May 2015, I have been a member of the CARA team.”
CARA chemists help to prepare troops for all hazards operations by building mock clandestine Weapons of Mass Destruction laboratories for them to locate, seize and exploit.
“(Being a CARA chemist) requires an individual to be flexible and motivated,” said Kalfoglou. “One day could have an individual stateside performing preventative maintenance on a vehicle and the next day they could be on a plane headed to a deployed location to analyze suspected (Chemical Warfare material).”
Individuals are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from an accredited college or university to become a chemist at CARA.
“To become a successful member of the CARA team, an individual needs to have diverse experience in many fields,” said Kalfoglou. “Along with a scientific background, experiences with creative problem solving, mechanical equipment or prior military greatly benefit the organization toward achieving their goals.”
Kevin P. Wioland also serves as a chemist at CARA. He decided to choose a career with CARA because it was outside of the traditional “chemist” career that most envision.
“I believed my scientific knowledge, overall skillset and prior experiences aligned well with what CARA was looking for within a chemist,” said Wioland, who is from Jackson, New Jersey. “Being with CARA for some time now I look forward to coming into work each day knowing the work I and the other members of the team perform help to make this world a better and safer place.”
In addition to supporting exercises, Wioland has traveled the world in support of U.S. forces.
“I have traveled to many locations across the country as well as outside the U.S. within the Middle East,” said Wioland. “The highlight of my career was when I was given the opportunity to deploy with CARA in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, knowing the critical information I provided had an impact on real world decisions being made.”
“There is a lot that goes into being a part of the CARA team and one must be a well-rounded chemist who is motivated, willing to learn and not be afraid to get their hands a little dirty in the process,” said Wioland, who decided to pursue a career in analytical chemistry and forensic analysis while pursuing his master’s degree.
Franz J. Amann, the director of CARA, said Army chemists play a critical role in enabling mission readiness and protecting U.S. service members.
“Chemists help to field our expeditionary laboratory capabilities,” said Amann, a retired Chemical Corps officer from Spartanburg, South Carolina. “This is a challenging and rewarding career for chemists who want to serve and defend their country. Our civilian scientist are constantly in the laboratory honing their skills and developing new testing procedures. Our chemists run complex analytics with state-of-the-art equipment, which provides the combatant commanders confidence in our theater validation results. This helps the commander and his staff to make operational decisions based on our test results.”
CARA routinely has open job announcements for chemists. The announcements can be found on USAJobs.gov by searching APG – Chemist job series 1320. Grades can vary between GS-09 to GS-13 depending on the requirements and individual experience. There are also opportunities to do an internship with CARA’s lab. If an individual completes their internship, they could continue to work with CARA as a permanent employee or seek other government employment opportunities.