ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – A U.S. Army medical officer from the 1st Area Medical Laboratory passed the demanding American Board of Medical Microbiology exam that has a historical 20 percent success rate for non-fellowship candidates.
Maj. Mathanraj Packiam successfully completed the six-and-a-half hour, computer-based exam that has 200 multiple choice questions on clinical lab testing, administration, safety, security and consulting functions.
“The candidates must first meet the rigorous educational and experience eligibility requirements,” said Packiam. “Success in the exam was a collective effort attributable to education, experience, exam preparation and supportive leadership and colleagues.”
Packiam splits his time between the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland-based 1st Area Medical Laboratory and the Fort Detrick, Maryland-based U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.
The 1st Area Medical Laboratory is part of the 44th Medical Brigade and 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command, the U.S. Department of Defense’s premier multifunctional all hazards formation. Soldiers and U.S. Army civilians from 20th CBRNE Command deploy from 19 bases in 16 states in support of joint, interagency and allied operations.
The 1st AML deploys worldwide to perform surveillance, confirmatory analytical laboratory testing and health hazards assessments of environmental, occupational, endemic and CBRNE threats in support of force protection and Weapons of Mass Destruction missions.
In June 2021, a team from 1st Area Medical Laboratory and U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases travelled to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv for a Theater Security Cooperation engagement under the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency training initiative. The U.S. team trained their Ukrainian counterparts in diagnostic testing and field identification of biological threat agents.
“The training included lectures, hands-on training and field exercises,” said Packiam. “I fondly recollect the moniker ‘The Professor’ the Ukrainian colleagues conferred on me.”
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 1st AML deployed diagnostic capabilities to five different areas of the world, including Germany, South Korea and Japan. Soldiers from 1st AML also assisted with contact tracing for the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in Guam and helped authorities in the Northern Mariana Islands and America Samoa to develop surveillance laboratories and testing infrastructures
Packiam also serves as the officer-in-charge of Bio-Surveillance at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, the U.S. Army’s main institute for defensive research into countermeasures against biological warfare, where he is working to track strains of COVID-19 in the U.S. military.
“The Center for Genome Sciences sequences residual diagnostic COVID-19 positive samples submitted from various military clinics and treatment facilities,” said Packiam. “This surveillance plays a critical role in tracking the strains of COVID-19 circulating in the DoD population and it is crucial for evaluation of vaccine breakthroughs and for developing countermeasures against the predominant strains.”
Originally from Trichy, India, Packiam earned his doctoral degree in Microbiology and Immunology from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia.
Following graduate studies, Packiam completed two postdoctoral fellowships at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. Packiam has served in the Army for seven years and he was stationed in 121st Combat Support Hospital and Brian D. Allgood Army Community Hospital on Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, South Korea.
Col. Matthew J. Grieser, the commander of the 1st Area Medical Laboratory, said Packiam is an example of the expertise that the one-of-a-kind U.S. Army laboratory brings to the fight.
“Maj. Packiam exemplifies the high caliber of Soldier scientists serving in the 1st AML,” said Grieser, a native of Mulino, Oregon, who has deployed to Afghanistan four times and Iraq five times and served in Haiti, Panama and New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. “We have a world class team here that is capable of working together with joint, interagency and allied forces to confront and defeat the most dangerous hazards in the most austere conditions.”