Ensuring Readiness from Capabilities Creation to Delivery

BG Michael J. Talley
Commanding General
U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command

From Combat & Casualty Care, Summer 2020

Brigadier General Talley volunteered for military service in 1983, serving with the 1st Infantry Division, 197th Separate Infantry Brigade, and William Beaumont Army Medical Center. He achieved the rank of Sergeant and was honorably discharged in 1989. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Texas at El Paso and commissioned as a Distinguished Military Graduate in 1991.

Brigadier General Talley has led in several previous command and key staff assignments, to include: Troop Commander, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment; Logistics Officer, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne); Observer/Controller (Project Warrior), Mechanized Infantry Task Force and USAMEDDAC Chief of Logistics, National Training Center; G3 War Plans Officer, XVIII Airborne Corps; Director/Instructor, Combined Logistics Captains Career Course; Senior Task Force O/C, Joint Readiness Training Center; Commander, Defense Distribution Depot Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania; Commander, 6th Medical Logistics Management Center; Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff G-3/5/7, Office of the Surgeon General & US Army Medical Command; Commander 44th Medical Brigade; US Army Forces Command Surgeon; and most recently, Deputy Commanding General, Regional Health Command – Atlantic.

He served OIF combat tours as the Executive Officer of 261st Medical Battalion (ABN) and S3, 507th Corps Support Group (ABN), in addition to a deployment to Saudi Arabia as the Assistant Program Manager for Health Affairs, Office of the Program Manager, Saudi Arabian National Guard (OPM-SANG) Modernization Program.

Brigadier General Talley’s professional military education includes the Combined Logistics Officer Advanced Course, Command and General Staff College & School of Advanced Military Studies, and the Army War College. He holds two Master of Military Arts and Sciences degrees from the Command and General Staff College; a Master of Strategic Studies degree from the Army War College; and a Master of Arts degree from Webster University.

Brigadier General Talley’s awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Expert Field Medical Badge, and Master Parachutist badge. He is a Military Historian designee, and a member of the Armored Corps’ Order of Saint George and Army Medical Department’s Order of Military Medical Merit. He is also a National board certified respiratory therapy practitioner.

Combat & Casualty Care magazine recently had the opportunity to speak with Brigadier General Michael J. Talley, Commander, USAMRDC and Ft. Detrick, regarding some current and ongoing focus areas both the Command and Installation are facing in light of current and ongoing pandemic mitigation efforts.

C&CC: It is fair to say that your first year at USAMRDC and Fort Detrick has been anything but routine. Please explain some of the challenges – including the current pandemic – that you’ve faced since you began your current role in 2019.

BG Talley: When I assumed command last July, USAMRDC had been through many changes. They had recently re-structured and were in the middle of realigning to Army Futures Command; an effort which required the standard shifting of various staffers and assumption of new mission priorities to suit our new directives. In the eight months before COVID-19 struck, I performed a number of deep dives to learn the intricacies that go on behind the scenes to make our subordinate commands so successful. I was blown away, not just by the incredible work this command does, but also by the team’s dedication to creating, developing, acquiring, and delivering capabilities for the Warfighter. However, in addition to having a new name, and a new chain of command, they had in me, a new commanding general; this was a substantial amount of change. The best way to meet these challenges successfully was with a team approach. I made team leadership-building a priority. This decision paid off because leadership and team cohesion are certainly key components needed to effectively support the whole-of-government response to COVID-19. Each day I am amazed at how hard this team works yet how effortless they make it seem – and I know it’s not effortless. As essential employees, many of our researchers and scientists and managers have been going to their workspaces and laboratories despite the pandemic. And, the non-essential staff on our workforce are overcoming challenges created by the need to work from home so they can continue to support both the COVID-19 response as well as keeping us on mission. I am so proud of the team at USAMRDC; despite the many challenges they are facing, when it comes to our priorities, they are not missing a beat.

C&CC: In general terms, what role has the USAMRDC taken in response to the pandemic?

BG Talley: Emerging infectious diseases, like COVID-19, are one of the reasons a global network of military infectious disease laboratories, conducting surveillance and programmatic research, exist around the world.

Military medical research and development is a constant force designed to support the Warfighter, and the public, in every conceivable circumstance. Through both emerging science and technological advancements, combined with development efforts and a refined acquisition process, our team here at USAMRDC delivers medical capabilities with agility and efficiency.

USAMRDC has research and development programs in many areas, such as combat casualty care, military operational medicine, chemical and biological defense, aeromedical medicine, trauma and burn care, and many others. A key in our ability to provide immediate support the whole-of-government response to the COVID-19 pandemic is USAMRDC’s existing extensive capabilities and international research infrastructure to combat infectious disease threats. Our program enables our scientists to anticipate and develop countermeasures against emerging infectious diseases. For example, back in March when the pandemic began, our laboratories were able to immediately design unique COVID-19 vaccine candidates based on their previous work and expertise on related diseases and pathogens. Their expertise, background, previous work, and relationships with other experts around the world made it possible for us to immediately pivot and rapidly develop vaccine candidates and identify treatment efforts, such as new drug candidates, to respond to COVID-19 infection.

Together, with our United States Government partners, we are progressing at a substantial pace in order to deliver effective treatment and prevention products that will protect U.S. and global citizens, and, preserve the readiness and lethality of our Service Members.

C&CC: A pair of USAMRDC labs – both the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) – seem to be at the forefront of COVID-19 vaccine research and, also, the overall pandemic response. How is their work progressing? What do people not know about the work USAMRDC is doing on the vaccine front, and the interplay between all USAMRDC labs in an effort like this one?

BG Talley: The USAMRDC, of course, is just one of the many DOD entities working to combat COVID-19. The support we receive from Congress, the Army Futures Command (AFC), and the Defense Health Agency (DHA) is integral to our efforts. Complementing those larger contributions is the USAMRDC’s unique ability to access diverse internal resources while also leveraging our vast network of external partnerships in order to find the solutions we need. Further, and using the current pandemic as an example, the Command routinely coordinates across the larger DOD to leverage expertise and capabilities to address the growing spectrum of related needs such as research and development for medical countermeasures, manufacturing, and more.

The examples here are legion, and include the USAMRDC’s partnership with the Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium (MTEC); a nonprofit corporation designed to accelerate the translation of medical technologies into solutions focusing chiefly on the health of U.S. military personnel and veterans. An integral part of MTEC’s partnership with the DOD – and certainly an integral part of its efforts as related to the COVID-19 fight – rests within its use of the OTA (or, Other Transaction Agreement), a unique tool which allows MTEC to operate a solicitation and award process in a more open, transparent, and collaborative manner; tearing down traditional acquisitions barriers restricting government-industry interactions. As part of that process, MTEC is currently working a number of short-turnaround efforts in topic areas related to COVID-19, ultimately seeking to solicit ideas and award funding as expeditiously as possible.
Then, of course, there’s the enduring benefit of USAMRDC with regards to the acquisitions process, as we house both science and technology (S&T) and advanced development (AD) capabilities under the same command structure. This feature allows USAMRDC to keep the hand-off of medical countermeasures from early development to late development under one, single roof. This capacity allows us to avoid in large part the so-called “valley of death” for medical products – or, in other words, the lag time associated with such a comprehensive process. This is the kind of USAMRDC-specific feature that makes us an integral player in the enduring quest to care for the Warfighter.

More specifically in this arena, I am proud to say that our scientists at WRAIR have designed a unique COVID-19 vaccine candidate. What makes it unique is the platform; its base can be used for targeting multiple strains of a coronavirus in one vaccine. For this vaccine, or the others that are part of the government’s Operation Warp Speed effort, I can tell you that safety will not be compromised. Certainly, getting the most efficacious vaccine candidate to the front of the line, or across the line is prevalent, but what we don’t want to do is jeopardize safety in the name of speed.
With respect to therapeutics we are well positioned in this fight. Early on in the pandemic, USAMRIID received samples of the COVID-19 virus which allowed them to safely replicate the virus. They then began moving forward on multiple countermeasure development fronts at the same time; two of which – convalescent plasma and monoclonal antibodies – are the subject of current research efforts regarding their ability to halt viral growth. USAMRIID and WRAIR are collaborating on a third effort, high throughput screening of existing drugs. Our laboratory capabilities allow us to screen tens of thousands of drugs on a weekly basis which means we are constantly looking for novel and repurposed drugs that could be used for treatment.

It’s this type of interplay and cooperation – coupled with our commitment to communication and readiness – that allows USAMRDC to pivot quickly and focus on a pressing national need.

C&CC: How has the larger DOD responded to the USAMRDC’s specific work with COVID-19? More simply, how is the DOD supporting your efforts?

BG Talley: Over the course of these past few months, the USAMRDC has learned a number of key lessons. Not only have we gained a greater understanding of our role in the myriad partnerships within both the DOD and the AFC, but we’ve also been able to broadcast that message – that message being the importance of our mission, of course – to both the greater public and our various stakeholders; which in turn allows for the transparency required to build and encourage trust. All of that to say, by understanding how our medical efforts – chiefly our ability to marry science and technology efforts with advanced development efforts under one roof – fit into the larger picture of the wants and needs of the U.S. military and the wider public, we can in turn ensure that we operate accordingly and in the most efficient manner possible to drive towards a solution. It is perhaps an overused metaphor, but by playing our own, dedicated role on this larger team to the best of our ability, we have been able to augment and facilitate the overall mission, which is driven currently (with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic) by the federal government’s whole-of-government approach to developing a vaccine and associated countermeasures. Further, by supporting our teammates within the DOD and in the private sector, and by using the guidance and support offered by Congress via our funding, we can ensure we are contributing to the solutions required at the moment and, also, the solutions that may be needed down the road.

C&CC: Outside of vaccine research, USAMRDC — and Fort Detrick as a whole — had a large role in the response; including (among many other functions) dispatching service personnel and ensuring proper supply chain coordination. What is your opinion of the larger USAMRDC and Fort Detrick effort regarding the pandemic?

BG Talley: The Fort Detrick response has been as robust as you might imagine. Many of the Installation’s tenants are now focused on pandemic response efforts using their own unique communities of research and acquisition personnel.

One example is the National Interagency Confederation for Biological Research (NICBR), a consortium of eight federal research agencies working together to secure the overall health of the nation. NICBR serves as a framework for facilitating action among member organizations with areas of mutual interest. The benefits for the Army, and its ability to respond to the pandemic, include the ability to share technical expertise and scientific services with other cabinet-level entities including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and others.

The National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC), which is also headquartered at Fort Detrick, is also a major player in this effort. NBACC is currently partnering with the Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, to conduct research that will help scientists better understand the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and methods to prevent its spread. NBACC’s unique combination of capabilities in Virology and Aerobiology are integral to this specific effort, and will allow researchers to evaluate the impact of a range of conditions can have on the virus’s ability to survive in the air, in respiratory fluids and on various types of surfaces.

The U.S. Army Medical Logistics Command (AMLC) – which is subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC) – ensured the delivery of life-saving medical supplies for three Army hospital centers charged with supporting both New York and Washington – two of the states hit hardest by COVID-19. Supply packages included syringes, suction tubes, various blood products and oxygen. Similarly, the Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care (MC4) team – whose Product Management Office is headquartered at Fort Detrick responded to the pandemic by supplying equipment and direct technical and training support to Army units who use MC4 IT systems. With regard to deployments, the 6th Medical Logistics Management Center (6MLMC) deployed 22 Soldiers across the U.S. to support federal efforts to combat the pandemic, with six teams originally dispatched to such hotspots as Washington, California, Louisiana and New York.

Beyond that, our Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care (MC4) office continues to sustain Army and Navy units deployed to aid pandemic relief efforts. Since mid-March, MC4 field service representatives (FSRs) – teams which include trainers, system administrators and engineers – have provided units with the appropriate hardware and software to support medical providers who document healthcare electronically. From mid-March to the mid-May, training was provided to 330 medical personnel from 72 Army and Navy units, with a total of 248 MC4 systems fielded to units assigned COVID-19 missions.
Additionally, and at the very beginning of the federal response effort, the 6th Medical Logistics Management Center (6MLMC) deployed 22 Soldiers across the U.S. to help combat the pandemic. Tasked chiefly with tracking medical materiel, supporting medical maintenance operations, and integrating with federal entities such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a total of six teams were dispatched to such hotspots as Washington, California, Louisiana, and New York during early increases in case numbers in those specific states.

Elsewhere on the Installation, the Barquist Army Health Clinic (BAHC) has initiated efforts to hold the bulk of their current appointments – including behavioral health appointments – virtually to meet social distancing requirements. Further, patients who must attend the clinic in-person are pre-screened via an outdoor “drive-through” to determine individual risk levels of COVID-19 exposure and transmission before entering the facility. Patients requesting COVID-19 testing outright are screened via the same “drive-through” process.

The entire Fort Detrick community – including those entities outside of the biomedical research field and including the U.S. Army Garrison (USAG) team – has answered the call for help in the face of the pandemic by relying on their own unique capabilities and partnerships.

C&CC: Please feel free to discuss other goals, challenges, and areas of importance for both USAMRDC and Fort Detrick moving forward.

BG Talley: Under our National Security Strategy and National Military Strategy we are asked to defeat and deter multiple threats at the same time. We don’t have the luxury of picking the time, the place, or the location. But the good news is that this is what we plan for, and the Department of Defense has been doing pandemic planning for the last twenty years.

While no one knows what kinds of challenges we’ll face in the future, USAMRDC is both ready and well-equipped to support the Warfighter and the nation. The novel coronavirus is demanding a lot of our attention and USAMRDC is dedicated to confronting this challenge head-on. While some of our workforce is supporting the whole-of-government response to defeat this virus, we haven’t taken the foot of the gas when it comes to supporting the Service Member. Each day we continue to work towards our mission which is to ‘responsively and responsibly create, develop, acquire, and deliver capabilities for the Warfighter’ and we continue to support both readiness and force lethality.

With a focus on the future, we will continue to leverage our unique capabilities and partnerships both inside and outside the federal government and the DOD to provide solutions for the Warfighter and the American public at large.