Biodefense Center Encourages Graduate Study by Military Students
September 11, 2013
By Michele McDonald
U.S. Army Maj. Jacque Fontenot is “pinned” by his wife, U.S. Army Capt. Merry Fontenot, and George Mason’s Charles Bailey (U.S. Army retired colonel) during his promotion ceremony. Photo courtesy of Crystal Propst
Retired Col. Charles Bailey knows firsthand how satisfying a research career in the military can be and wants to attract more military students to do their graduate work at George Mason University.
“My entire U.S. Army career was spent in the research arena,” says Bailey, the director of the George Mason-based National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases (NCBID). “It’s fantastic, especially if you’re focused on infectious diseases. I lived in or traveled to geographic areas in Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia to study viral and bacterial pathogens. In these areas the environment is your laboratory.”
Bailey’s proposal to the National Institutes of Health resulted in resulted in the Biocontainment Level-3 facility where the NCBID’s research is conducted. The Biomedical Research Laboratory (BRL) opened in 2010 and is one of only 12 nationwide. With more than 50,000 square feet of lab space, it’s specially outfitted to develop diagnostics, therapeutics and evaluate vaccines against pathogens that could be used as bioweapons.
Fontenot is congratulated by his advisor, Kylene Kehn-Hall, assistant professor at the National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases. Photo courtesy of Crystal Propst
“We would like to become known as a place where the military can send their infectious disease researchers to study for advanced degrees,” says Bailey, who retired from the U.S. Army in 1993 and is a former commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Maryland.
The BRL was a draw for U.S. Army Major Jacque Fontenot, who is working on a Master of Biology degree at George Mason. After he graduates next spring, the aviation officer will teach in the Chemistry and Life Sciences Department at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“The ongoing research at the biosafety lab includes research on therapeutics for emerging infectious diseases that personally intrigued me, especially after being deployed in Iraq where some infectious diseases are endemic to the population, such as tuberculosis,” says Fontenot, who served in Iraq from 2005 to 2006 and from 2009 to 2010.
Fontenot asked Bailey to be part of his “pinning” ceremony this summer when he was promoted from captain to major. The event was held at the lab. Fontenot’s family, including his wife, Capt. Merry Fontenot, an Army nurse at Fort Belvoir, and their two children were on hand along with other family members, some of whom live in the area.
It’s the unique combination of proximity and expertise that makes Mason ideally situated to offer advanced study to military personnel, Bailey says. Not only is Mason close to the Pentagon but also to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Fontenot plans to teach general chemistry at West Point. “I look forward to being a positive influence on the cadets and hopefully encourage them to major in a science field,” he says.