Story by R.J. Oriez on 04/05/2019WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, OHIO - United States Army Col. Cary Honnold is about as purple as it gets. "Purple," in military jargon, means joint. It's a term used to describe a situation, or event, that includes people and units from different military branches who come together to accomplish a shared mission.
Honnold is an Army veterinary pathologist, attached to Naval Medical Research Unit-Dayton on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and appreciates that he's in an unconventional situation.
He likes trying to explain it to people he meets out in town, like at one of his children's sporting events.
"I usually just say I'm stationed with the base,' and they'll say Oh, are you Air Force?'and I'll say no, I'm Army.' Oh Army? I didn't know they had a unit out there.' Actually I'm in the Army, assigned to a Navy unit on the Air Force base,'" Honnold said.
NAMRU-D came to Wright-Patt as a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission, explained Megan Mudersbach, NAMRU-D public affairs officer. The Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory, located at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, at the time, was ordered to move to Wright-Patt to better align with the 711th Human Performance Wing, and to merge with the Naval Environmental Health Effects Laboratory, which was already on Wright-Patt.
Honnold arrived at NAMRU-D in the summer of 2018 filling a position that had been empty for several years. The Army is the only military branch that has veterinarians and, thus, veterinarian pathologists.
"It is wonderful to have that billet filled again," said Karen Mumy, NAMRU-D Environment Health Effects Laboratory director. "Because, we can go to him and say Hey, we're looking at this project, these are the exposures, these are the outcomes that we are concerned with, what would you want to look at on a tissue level to help guide our studies?' He serves as a wonderful resource for us in that regard."
Mumy explained there were times they would reach out to pathologists at other bases, but it came with drawbacks.
"What we did with a number of our projects was we tried to go through pathologists located at other bases. They were assigned to other commands, so we were not their first priority, and rightfully so." Mumy said. "We were on a long wait list and that hurt us to then be able to report on our results. It is something that you can, theoretically, go outside the DoD for but it is very expensive to go outside. If you don't have the funds to be able to do that you're kind of stuck waiting a year."
This is not Honnold's first experience working with the Navy. He did a stint with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, which is co-located with the Naval Medical Research Center in Maryland.
"I liked the joint environment, and I still like the joint environment. Coming to work for the Navy again was nice. And, it's fun! I haven't been on an Air Force base, so this is great," Honnold said.
The pathologist considers restarting a service that had been gapped a bigger challenge than navigating inter-service differences.
"I think the biggest challenge that I have here is that we are really starting something up," Honnold said. "The idea is to have the service we provide NAMRU mimic what we provide to some of the other DoD [facilities]. That is going to take some time, but that's why I'm here."
The idea is to have standardization from lab-to-lab, so a new comparative pathologist checking in can hit the ground running, without having to learn how to operate new equipment and software.
"You think that sounds simple," Honnold said. "They [NAMRU-D] are pretty standardized but when you haven't had someone in this billet for several years, now we are trying to build that resource, and build that capability, as their [NAMRU's] mission grows."
Love brought Honnold into the Army. He met his wife while they were both going through veterinary school at Purdue University. She was on a Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship and was commissioned into the Army upon graduation.
"I practiced wherever she was stationed," Honnold remembers, spending time in Kentucky, Texas, Indiana and Korea.
The constant moving of military life forced him to be versatile, working with small-animal practices at some places and large-animal in others. Eventually, he came to a realization.
"The Army was making all my decisions for me, so I decided to join," Honnold said. "When I joined, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology was still around and it was a world-class, historic institute, and I got to do my post-doc residency training there."
His wife retired last fall as a colonel and Honnold has five years left before reaching his 20-year career.
Veterinary pathology is also referred to as comparative pathology.
"You've gone to veterinary school and then you've done a residency, and we use the term comparative pathology because you're really, often time, looking at different species." Honnold explains. "We're looking at different species and we're comparing them."
Honnold said that is what he likes about pathology.
"That's the nature of comparative pathology," he said. "It bridges the human and animal. We talk about the one-health paradigm. Animal, human medicine and environmental health all intricately link, that is the draw of comparative medicine, comparative pathology."
Honnold feels he's not just here to help the Navy.
"My job here, as I think Dr. Mumy envisions it as well, is not just supporting the Navy, but also supporting Air Force initiatives too," the Army colonel said. "Even though I'm primarily assigned to NAMRU, and I am their asset on the books, we want to keep that collaborative, joint mission."
That would be the purple thing to do.