ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Another chapter in the history of the 9th Area Medical Laboratory came to an end July 16 as the colors of the storied unit were cased during its inactivation ceremony at Top of the Bay.

The official party consisted of Brig. Gen. Leslie C. Smith, commander of the 20th Support Command (CBRNE); Col. Jeffrey J. Johnson, commander of the 44th Medical Brigade; and 9th AML Commander Col. Rachel A. Armstrong.

Master Sgt. Michael Sellars, 9th AML sergeant major and Staff Sgt. Dustyn Rose, senior platoon sergeant, assisted in the casing of the colors.

Smith presented Armstrong the Legion of Merit award during an informal ceremony prior to the inactivation ceremony.

He praised Armstrong's leadership, particularly during the unit's last two years during which it participated in five major exercises along with its humanitarian deployment.

Quoting noted American journalist Walter Lippmann who wrote: "The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on," Smith said that last year's Operation Tomadachi helped not only the U.S. forces stationed there but the nation of Japan and praised Armstrong's "outstanding leadership" for its successful execution.

"The troops from the 9th AML were always amazing with their knowledge," he said. "Units come and go and colors are raised and lowered but it's about the people and what the unit stands for. We are so proud of the Soldiers of the 9th AML and what they have done for our nation."

Johnson said that while it appears to be the closing act, understanding the 9th AML history makes it likely the unit will "rise again."

"Every mission has its risks and as leaders we must do our very best to mitigate those risks," he said. "This unit has accepted some of the most difficult missions since World War II -- in the India, Burma and China theaters and during Vietnam, earning 15 campaign streamers and three meritorious unit citations.

He said the 9th AML could not distinguish itself any better than it did during its "exceptionally meritorious performance in support of the natural disaster" in Japan.

"All of us can imagine what it would have been like [if the tsunami had hit] on our shores and we would have wanted a unit like the 9th AML on the ground," he said.

He credited Armstrong with providing invaluable technical advice during the Japan mission that allowed units -- numbering 50,000 service members -- to plan and execute their missions; for the unit's "outstanding performance in four joint task force exercises; and for increasing the unit's flexibility and deployability.

"It's clear that Col. Armstrong was the right leader at the right time for this unit," he said.

Armstrong said, "We did what we do best -- interpreting data to help commanders. I will cherish this opportunity for the rest of my life."

She thanked her team members who included Sellars and Executive Officer Lt. Col. Gregory Johnson along with "the great Soldiers of the 9th AML."

"I am so proud of the accomplishments of the 9th AML. It has been a tremendous honor to command this unit," she said. "You were brilliant and courageous and I wish you all the best."

The brass ensemble from the Maryland National Guard's 229th Army Band provided the ceremony's music.

The 9th Area Medical Laboratory Mission:

On order, deploy world wide as a unit or by task-organized teams to perform surveillance, confirmatory analytical laboratory testing and health hazard assessments of environmental, occupational, endemic and CBRNE threats in support of force protection and WMD missions.

The 9th AML was activated during the latter months of 1943. In early 1944, the unit began operations in Northeastern India to support the India-Burma and China theaters of operations. The unit served in both the India-Burma and China theaters until October 1945. For its important contributions the unit was awarded the Meritorious Service Unit Plaque in June 1945.

In September 1963 the 9th AML was activated at Fort McPherson, Georgia. The unit participated in 15 Vietnam War campaigns and was awarded three more Meritorious Unit commendations for exceptionally meritorious service in support of military operations in the Republic of Vietnam conducted between June 1966 and February 1972.

Inactivated again in 1972, the 9th AML was reactivated in September 2004. In 2011, its Soldiers deployed to Japan in support of Operation Tomadachi where they were instrumental in establishing theater sampling providing rapid, actionable information to senior mission commanders. For its actions, the unit has been recommended for the Army Superior Unit Award.