Military


520th Theater Army Medical Laboratory

Following the deployment of the 520th Theater Army Medical Laboratory in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, the unit was inactivated and its elements reorganized into the 1st and 9th Area Medical Laboratories, both based at Aberdeen Proving Ground and both assigned to the 44th Medical Command.

The mission of the 520th Theater Army Medical Laboratory was to, on order, deploy worldwide and conduct theater-level health threat surveillance to protect and sustain the health of the force. The unit was prepared to conduct split-based operations.

The 520th Theater Army Medical Laboratory (TAML) was activated on 16 October 1995 at Aberdeen Proving Grounds (Edgewood Arsenal), Maryland. It was organized as a reduced-size version of the original concept for the TAML, which was part of the Medical Force 2000 (MF2K), and had been in planning since about 1991. The decision to organize it initially as a reduced size version was due to ongoing developments in the Medical Reengineering Inititive (MRI), which called for the TAML to be reorganized, streamlined, downsized, and renamed as the Area Medical Laboratory (AML).

The initial 40 member unit was specifically tailored to be modular, flexible, tailorable, and high-tech in order to support various missions such as laboratory detection and identification of potential biological warfare threat agents, endemic diseases, and operational medical surveillance and assessment of troop health hazards for Task Force Eagle, Operation Joint Endeavor. The need for this unit's participation in Operation Joint Endeavor stemmed from US Army concerns over hantavirus and other infectious diseases. The PROFIS personnel were selected based on their special skills in performing high-tech laboratory support in a field environment. They interacted with several Army Medical Department organizations in order to receive specialized training, to develop and implement the high-tech laboratory, and to establish a working relationship for advanced laboratory support. The major organizations included the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), Center for Health Protection and Preventive Medicine (CHPPM), Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), US Army Medical Department Center and School (AMEDDC&S), and the US Army Medical Materiel Agency (USAMMA).

The new unit was notified in December 1995 that they would support the mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. A smaller team of the 520th TAML, under the leadership of Colonel David T. Zolock, was selected for deployment to Bosnia and designated as the 520th TAML (Forward). Approximately 1-2 weeks prior to deployment, the final members of the 10-member team were officially assigned to the TAML (Forward). At the same time, new equipment such as computers and laboratory and environmental testing equipment was received. The unit prepared for deployment by receiving winter driving classes, as well as training on the assembly and disassembly of temper tents.

Members of the 520th TAML (Forward) left Aberdeen Proving Grounds on 30 January 1996, and then left CONUS from McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey on 31 January 1996. They flew into Frankfurt and then were bussed into Heidelberg. The unit went through the Situational Training Exercise (STX) at Hohenfels, which trained members on dealing with the media and mine awareness. The 520th TAML was also sent to Landstuhl, Germany, to make contacts with medical colleagues. They left Germany on 14 February 1996, and arrived at the Intermediate Support Base (ISB) Taszar, Hungary, where they stayed for a few days. The unit finally arrived at Tuzla, Bosnia, on 17 February 1996. On that date, unit members waited 6 hours to be bussed to Camp Bedrock, Bosnia.

The 520th TAML found very muddy conditions and wooden burn-out latrines at Camp Bedrock. Living tents were erected in snow and rain, during which soldiers were required to wear full "battle rattle" (personal weapon, load-bearing equipment, and protective masks). Just before a visit from First Lady Hillary Clinton in March 1996, boardwalks were built and several tons of gravel were brought into camp to alleviate part of the mud problem. In addition, shower and latrine containers were brought in by Brown and Root, a Department of Defense contractor.

The Environmental Team visited all of the base and work camps 2 to 3 times to conduct testing, despite difficulties experienced with visiting sites due to the 4 vehicle convoy rule. Samples were taken at each camp of air, water, and soil for the presence of industrial pollution, and then sent off for testing, or tested locally. In order to build a statistical data base that could be utilized for tracking particular illnesses, viruses, and diseases in Bosnia, observations were made of soldier sick call complaints. The unit was also involved in dissemination of preventive information on diseases to various units.

In late August 1996, members of the 520th TAML received word that they were going to redeploy in October 1996. The 520th arrived at the ISB in Taszar, Hungary on 19 October 1996, whereupon they proceeded with redeployment tasks. They headed for Germany on the last leg of their homeward journey to the United States on 29 October 1996.

Following that initial deployment, the leadership of the 520th TAML and the AMEDD had numerous discussions with the leadership of US Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) and the various Commanders in Chief (CINC) to determine how and when the TAML should be employed in future deployments. During the next couple of years the 520th TAML was involved in numerous field excersizes and various field laboratory activities as well as further development of the skills of its personnel. The 520th TAML was called upon to deploy to Kuwait in the spring of 1998 (February to June) as part of Operation Southern Watch. The primary purposes were to provide laboratory detection and confirmation in the event that biological warfare agents were employed against allied military forces, as well as assessment of environmental health risks.

In 2003, the 520th TAML deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq.




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