The commander who oversaw operations of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) during the height of the three-year Ebola outbreak in West Africa transferred command of the agency in a Tuesday morning ceremony.
Outgoing Col. Thomas S. Bundt handed control of USAMRIID over to Col. Gary A. Wheeler, a trained Army physician who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2007. The ceremony was overseen by Maj. Gen. Barbara R. Holcomb, the commanding general of Fort Detrick and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.
Bundt took control of the institute in August 2015, just over a year and a half after the World Health Organization classified the Ebola epidemic as an international public health emergency. At the time, USAMRIID was switching its focus from vaccine development to the development of new drugs to combat disease outbreaks, according to previous reports in The Frederick News-Post.
During Bundt’s tenure as commander, both sworn and civilian researchers with USAMRIID deployed to Liberia to investigate the Ebola outbreak and provide support to local health officials, Holcomb said Tuesday. The agency also developed the Accelerated Defense Against Emerging Pathogen Threats platform, a method of preparing new medical treatments for clinical trials within a year of their development.
That was the first Department of Defense toolkit to be adopted by the World Health Organization, Bundt said.
USAMRIID commanders do not work in research roles. They oversee and direct operations at the institute, said Caree Vander Linden, a USAMRIID spokeswoman. At the change-of-command ceremony, Bundt cited the Ebola response as one of the biggest accomplishments of his career at Fort Detrick.
“We didn’t stay in Liberia past our invitation. We stayed long enough to build their capacity to respond to Ebola,” he said. “We basically did nation-building in USAMRIID, and there hasn’t been an outbreak since. And it branded our reputation, because a lot of people don’t realize all the things we bring to the table in the fight against infectious diseases.”
Bundt will move from Fort Detrick to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, to serve as chief of staff at the U.S. Army Health Readiness Center of Excellence. The Readiness Center is a division of the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School.
Wheeler, his replacement, last served as the chief of Internal Medicine Service at Moncrief Army Community Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina. He also celebrated his birthday on Tuesday and was serenaded by Army staff members during the ceremony.
Before he assumed command, Wheeler said he was most looking forward to getting resettled in Maryland, where he earned his doctorate at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda. He also completed an internal medicine internship and residency at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where Fort Detrick operates a military personnel division.
“It’s tremendously gratifying to come back to Detrick because, in a way, it’s coming back to my Army roots,” Wheeler said. “This base is the cornerstone of Army medical research and it’s a huge honor.”