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Fort Bragg partners with local institutions to better prepare soldiers

By GREG BARNES | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: June 9, 2018

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — A newly formed nonprofit called the Fort Bragg Research Institute aims to seek millions of dollars in annual grants to bolster the operational readiness of soldiers and the health and economic well-being of Cumberland County.

Area leaders who helped form the institute "say this is a game changer. This has never been done," said Dr. Sammy Choi, director of the Department of Research at Womack Army Medical Center.

The institute's mission was announced at a news conference in Fayetteville State's Rudolph Jones Student Center on Friday. Attendees included educators, Fort Bragg officers and soldiers, researchers, community leaders and residents. Maj. Gen. Brian McKiernan, deputy commander of Fort Bragg's 18th Airborne Corps, gave the keynote address.

The institute is a partnership between Womack Army Medical Center and a group of area institutions known as the Cape Fear Research Consortium. The group includes Methodist, Fayetteville State and Campbell universities, Fayetteville Technical Community College, Fayetteville Veterans Affairs Medical Center, North Carolina Military Business Center, Cape Fear Valley Health System and the Southern Region Area Health Education Center.

In part, Choi said, the institute's function is to secure grants that will be used to support the research interests of Womack and Fort Bragg scientists and to enhance the operational readiness of soldiers.

The institute's mission is to optimize military performance through scientific innovation. It will employ a full-time staff engaged in research, design, testing and evaluation.

Choi said the institute will be the only nonprofit that solicits research grant money exclusively for active-duty soldiers.

"How do we make them faster, better, stronger?" he said.

In the past, Choi said, the Army could not seek grants from outside agencies. The institute's status as a nonprofit will allow it to sidestep the regulation, he said.

The grants won't go just for military use, though, said Choi, who is among the partners who have lofty goals for the institute. Those include:

--Doubling within two years the number of Cumberland County high school students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class and go on to attend local colleges or universities. Now, only 10 percent of those students remain in the county after high school, he said.

--Securing $20 million in annual grant funding within five years.

--Establishing 10 small start-up companies within five years.

Womack partnered with The Geneva Foundation to establish the institution. The foundation advances military medicine by delivering scientific, technical and program management expertise in the areas of federal grants, industry-sponsored clinical trials and federal contracts.

The institute exists only on Geneva's website now, but Choi said it will have its building at some point.

Choi said another major goal of the institute and the consortium is to secure grants that could be used to battle health and educational disparities in the county, including hypertension and opioid abuse. Choi said the institute hopes to provide $1,000 for students to get summer internships to area colleges to take science, math and other courses.

"It will take time to mature," the institute, Choi said, "but as far as bringing in resources, that's a guarantee."

The institutions in the Cape Fear Research Consortium will benefit in other ways, as well, partly through grants for research equipment, Choi said, and students working on their doctorate degrees will be eligible for academic credits.

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