Hundreds of tiny striped fish swim around in plastic tubs in a teal-tinted room in an Army research lab at Fort Detrick. Here, a colonel points to a poster of the zebrafish’s growth cycle.
“Why do we use zebrafish? Well, we know a lot about them. We even have maybe 16 generations of zebrafish that we have bred,” Col. Thomas Timmes said. “We can look at what changes occur as a result of environmental exposure.”
Timmes, 44, is an environmental engineer who volunteered to be an ambassador in a U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command program, where volunteers teach others about their organization and Army medical research locally, regionally and nationally.
Fellow ambassador Jerome Maultsby, associate director of the Office of Small Business Programs at USAMRMC, said the program gives him opportunities to learn, “while helping others become better acquainted with the command.”
Timmes said it’s part of his job to tell the Frederick community about his organization's work. He serves as commander of the U.S. Army Center for Environmental Health Research, under USAMRMC.
“I’m an Army guy, but this is like my battleship,” he said.
Once the lab becomes accredited, the zebrafish will be used in research to determine the effects of toxic industrial chemicals on specific organs — data that could eventually be used to evaluate soldiers’ injuries and illnesses.
Timmes himself is a third-generation paratrooper. His grandfather “jumped into Normandy” during World War II and later retired as a two-star general, he said.
Timmes has spent 22 years with the Army. He taught environmental engineering at West Point for six years and spent time at Aberdeen Proving Ground as chief of the field water program before coming to Fort Detrick.
"They're not asking me to jump out of planes anymore, but mentally, I'm engaged every day," he said.
The commander is president of the Society of American Military Engineers at Fort Detrick. He talks to that group and others about research at his organization and the Army's medical research. Kids like to see the aquatic laboratory at the U.S. Army Center for Environmental Health Research, he said.
As an ambassador, Timmes said, education about the Army's mission is essential.
"We consider ourselves partners with the Frederick community," he said.
Follow Sylvia Carignan on Twitter: @SylviaCarignan.