By Cmdr. Dean J. Wagner, executive officer of NAMRU-3
Naval Medical Research Unit (NAMRU) 3 began its relocation from Cairo, to Naval Air Station (NAS) Sigonella, Italy, during a ceremony in which Capt. Marshall Monteville assumed command of the unit on Dec. 12, 2019.
“NAMRU-3 looks forward to continuing its important work out of Sigonella,” said Monteville. “No matter where our HQ functions are located, we will always meet our mission in supporting the health and enhancing lethality of our forces deployed throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East.”
The recent decision to relocate the command away from Cairo was made because of the necessary security upgrades that are required for the NAMRU-3 facilities. NAS Sigonella was identified as the most ideal location for headquarter operations, as Sigonella is geographically central to the three combatant commands it supports, U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command, and U.S. Africa Command.
The command began as the U.S. Typhus Commission in 1942, which was established to develop measures for the prevention, treatment, and control of the disease. Following World War II, the Egyptian government invited the U.S. Navy to continue collaborative studies of endemic tropical and subtropical diseases with Egyptian scientists. In 1946, NAMRU-3 was formally established as a command and based in Cairo.
The mission of NAMRU-3 is to study, monitor, and detect emerging and re-emerging disease threats of military and public health importance, as well as develop mitigation strategies against them. This is accomplished in partnership with host nations and international and U.S. agencies such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
NAMRU-3 has a variety of experts, stationed in Italy, Egypt, Ghana, and Djibouti; including entomologists, microbiologists, and infectious disease physicians who work together to ensure deployed forces remain lethal and ready to fight.
“Even after many years in the fleet, I had no idea that there were such smart and dedicated scientists and technicians who go into austere, and even dangerous, environments every day to ensure Sailors and Marines stay healthy and ready to fight,” said Chief Personnel Specialist Dwayne Smith, the NAMRU-3 senior enlisted leader. “There are many more laboratories around the world who are just as dedicated to the warfighter. This is another small reason why our Navy is the world’s finest.”
Specific tasks include vector surveillance, where insects such as ticks and mosquitos are collected from the environment or animals and analyzed. The species of insect may provide information on what diseases or pathogens may be circulating in the area. Microbes may also be cultivated and examined from a variety of sources for the same reason.
NAMRU-3 partners with the CDC and other organizations frequently. The unit provided collaborative research support with the Ministry of Health, CDC, WHO, and U.S. Agency for International Development during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia, and has also been instrumental in research capacity-building initiatives throughout Egypt, West Africa, and the Middle East.
Currently, NAMRU-3 researchers and collaborators are engaged in several areas of basic research, including acute febrile (fever) illnesses, drug resistance in malaria, Dengue fever, and other tropical and subtropical diseases in Egypt, Ghana, Djibouti, Cameroon, Liberia, Nigeria, and Jordan.
NAMRU-3 has had a significant permanent presence in Ghana, Djibouti and Cairo for many years and has deployed personnel to other locations. With the transition to headquarters operations at NAS Sigonella, the command is maintaining a presence in each of those locations.
The staff of NAMRU-3 is currently composed of 10 Officers and Sailors and is one of five commands that are part of a larger Navy and DoD research and development enterprise aimed at optimizing warfighter readiness. In addition to NAMRU – 3, NAMRU-2 is located in Singapore, and NAMRU-6 is located in Lima, Peru. Stateside, there is NAMRU-San Antonio, Texas and NAMRU-Dayton, Ohio.