By Caree Vander Linden
Fort Detrick said farewell to one outstanding officer and welcomed another as Col. Bernard L. DeKoning assumed command of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases Sept. 27. He replaces Col. John P. Skvorak, who is retiring from the U.S. Army after more than 25 years of active duty service.
A board-certified family physician who received his Doctor of Medicine degree from Rush Medical College in Chicago, Ill., DeKoning most recently served as Director of Clinical & Healthcare Business Operations (J3B) Joint Task Force, National Capital Region-Medical, in Bethesda, Md."Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd command such an internationally recognized organization," said DeKoning. "I'm excited about USAMRIID's future.
"DeKoning has held a variety of military positions overseas, from his first assignment as Commander of the 6th General Dispensary in Brunssum, The Netherlands to leading the 30th Medical Command in Heidelberg, Germany. His numerous stateside posts have included Chief of Family Practice Service at Eisenhower Army Medical Center, Fort Gordon, Ga.; Combat Developer, Army Medical Dept. Center and School, Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Command Surgeon, US Army Training and Doctrine Command, Ft. Monroe, Va.; and Assistant Surgeon General for Force Projection at the Pentagon.Prior to directing Clinical & Healthcare Business Operations for the Joint Task Force, DeKoning served as Command Surgeon for the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq and as Senior Medical Advisor to the Iraq Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior.
During the change of command ceremony, Maj. Gen. James K. Gilman, commanding general, U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and Fort Detrick, praised DeKoning's experience, calling him an example of the quality leadership within the Army Medical Department.Gilman also thanked Skvorak, who had served as commander since June 2008, for steering the Institute through its "toughest times" - a reference to the FBI's naming of USAMRIID scientist Dr. Bruce Ivins as its sole suspect in the anthrax mail attacks in July 2008.
Dr. Ivins committed suicide before he was indicted, and USAMRIID was subsequently thrust into the national spotlight.Under Svkorak's leadership, USAMRIID passed inspection after inspection, setting a new standard for the Army's biological surety program, Gilman noted.
He also praised COL Skvorak for his commitment to establishing and supporting the Containment Laboratory Community Advisory Committee, a local body formed at the recommendation of the National Academy of Sciences to improve communication between containment laboratories and local citizens.
"Over and over, he faced his toughest critics with factual information," Gilman said. "Three years and three months is a long time to command, by any stretch. It was an extremely long time under these circumstance...Col. Skvorak has simply been the best."He also commended USAMRIID's employees for their dedication, saying "their commitment to protect Americans...has never strayed" despite the controversy.
USAMRIID's mission is to conduct basic and applied research on biological threats resulting in medical solutions (vaccines, drugs and diagnostics) to protect our Nation's armed forces, and its research often has applications that benefit society as a whole.
As the lead military medical research laboratory for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency's Joint Science and Technology Office for Chemical and Biological Defense, USAMRIID plays a key role in national defense and in infectious disease research.USAMRIID is a subordinate laboratory of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.