Following years of back-to-back deployments fighting terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, Capt. Jerod Brammer ’10 has set his sights on the ebola virus.

Elms Bio Grad Helps Army Fight Ebola

Microbiologist Capt. Jerod Brammer '10, officer in charge of the Tappita Ebola Testing Lab in Liberia, discusses procedures for testing blood samples for the ebola virus at an Army mobile testing laboratory. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Dani Salvatore, Joint Forces Command-United Assistance Public Affairs)

Bio Grad Helps Army Lead Fight Against Ebola 

TAPPITA, Liberia – Following years of back-to-back deployments fighting terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, Capt. Jerod Brammer ’10 has set his sights on a smaller – but still deadly – foe: the ebola virus.

After completing multiple tours with the U.S. Army, the Lakeville, Connecticut, native joined the Army National Guard and went back to school at Elms College, where he found his talent for biology.

“While Jerry was in my lab, he worked on cloning bacterial genes,” said Janet Williams, Ph.D., a biology professor at Elms. “He was an extremely diligent worker and a self-starter. He was not afraid to jump right in and get a lot of work done in the lab.

“He presented a poster at the 2009 Eastern Colleges Science Conference and received an award of excellence for his presentation. This was the top award in the category of molecular biology.”

Brammer received his bachelor of arts degree in biology from Elms College in 2010. Upon graduation, he received the Anne M. Bubnic Award, presented to a graduating major with a high average in biology courses and significant research contributions.

After Elms, Brammer earned his master’s degree in biomolecular sciences; in his final semester of graduate school, he applied to become an Army medical officer and, upon acceptance, completed his final exams early to rejoin the Army’s active component as a microbiologist.

He was stationed at Fort Bragg’s Womack Army Medical Center when he received a call to join his current unit for Operation United Assistance, a Department of Defense operation in Liberia providing logistics, training and engineering support to U.S. Agency for International Development-led efforts to contain the ebola virus outbreak in western Africa.

As the officer in charge (OIC) of the Tappita Ebola Testing Lab, staffed by soldiers from the 1st Area Medical Laboratory, Brammer is on the front line of the ebola fight. This is rare for his specialty, according to Brammer. “Scientists aren’t usually in the primary seat – it’s usually infantry,” he said.

Brammer’s unique background and extensive education led to his selection as the lab supervisor. He was sought-after for the position of OIC, said Staff Sgt. Joshua Biggess, a medical laboratory specialist who works with him in the lab. “They knew his special skill set and wanted to have him for this mission,” Biggess said.

Going from an infantryman completing combat missions to a microbiologist providing leading efforts in a humanitarian mission may seem like quite a change, but Williams said Brammer’s education at Elms, where social justice is a big part of the curriculum across majors, likely influenced his desire to help.

“My classes have long studied many infectious diseases that not only afflict the U.S., but also afflict the human and animal populations of the entire world,” Williams said. “We cannot properly study disease without studying disease in the context of the entire world and local economies, politics, ethnicities and rituals. It is only practical to study these sciences in light of human rights, animal welfare, the concern for the environment and the bioethical implications that extend over all of these topics.”

“Also, as a veteran, Jerry already possessed a high motivation to work and fight for human justice,” Williams added. “He had already shown himself to be a survivor and an individual who was highly adaptable to extremely difficult and life-threatening conditions. He is in the same situation now in Liberia. He must adapt highly specialized laboratory technology to primitive conditions by exercising innovation, improvisation and extreme care.”

Brammer was excited to participate in the initial U.S. military response to the Ebola outbreak in such a prominent role. This is a tip-of-the-spear mission, being part of primary operations rather than indirect missions supporting a main objective, he said.

Ebola is a particularly challenging virus because it has the potential to appear and be fatal in a small amount of time, he added. That means this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he said: “It’s Ebola – the holy grail for microbiologists.”

When he returns from Liberia, Brammer hopes to continue his education in a doctoral program studying the diagnostics of infectious disease. He also will rejoin his family, including his wife, fellow Elms alum Amber Hartblay ’10, whom he met in a physics class here. After she earned her chemistry degree, she went on to earn a doctorate in pharmacy and is now a practicing pharmacist in North Carolina.