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News | Feb. 9, 2022

WRAIR Scientist Recognized with Annual Distinguished Civilian Service Award

By Lee Osberry

The Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award was presented to Walter Reed Army Institute of Research's Dr. Sheila Peel on Feb. 9, 2022.

Brig. Gen. Anthony McQueen, U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, commanding general, formally presented the award during a town hall.

Peel serves as the Director of the Diagnostics and Countermeasures Branch and is a renowned subject matter expert in clinical diagnostics, assay development, and deployment of diagnostic countermeasures to support military capabilities and readiness. With more than 22 years of federal government service, she leveraged clinical diagnostic and research capacity to conduct readiness, operational, and public health research. The results helped inform DoD and Department of the Army policy development and to solve problems for warfighters, their beneficiaries, the general public, and global health populations.

"Dr. Peel epitomizes the Army values and displays an unyielding support for the mission and our warfighters," McQueen said. "She was the MRDC Employee of the Year for 2020, by-name requested by the White House to help combat the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, and has shown unparalleled commitment to the Army and our nation. I am proud of her achievements and honored to present her with this award on behalf of the Secretary of Defense."

The DCSA recognizes a small number of DoD civilian career employees for their service, professionalism, and significant impact to the DoD. Each nominee's contributions must reflect exceptional devotion to duty and contributes to efficiency, economy, or other operational improvements to the Department that are beyond the scope of their component. It is the DoD's highest award given to career DoD civilian employees.

Under normal circumstances, the award is presented to six to ten employees during an annual ceremony hosted by the Secretary of Defense or Deputy Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon. Seven employees were recognized for the 66th annual DCSA however, the public ceremony was canceled due to safety concerns related to the pandemic for a second consecutive year.

Adapting to the public health crisis has become a regular occurrence across the globe and is all too familiar with the honoree.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Peel led the DCB researchers' pivot to respond to the emerging COVID-19 threat, forming a Rapid Response Team. The RRT lead scientists and technical staff assessed the requirements for SARS-CoV-2 diagnostics, engaged manufacturers, validated clinical testing platforms, designed additional critical laboratory assays, developed strategies for implementing high volume testing for the U.S. Army, and supported surge testing for the Department of Defense. Within 30 days of establishing Peel's COVID-19 RRT, high volume clinical testing was implemented for surge COVID-19 test support for the Military within the National Capital Region, including test samples from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center.

Through Peel's leadership, DCB's lead scientists have designed multiplex and subgenomic messenger RNA assays to determine when SARS-CoV-2 infected patients are no longer infectious, which is crucial to informing the length of isolation required recommendations for return to duty of Service Members. Additionally, as Technical Consultant and Advisor to the White House COVID-19 Task Force, Peel doubled US SARS-CoV-2 test capacity during the ongoing pandemic.

"Across the Army and the world over, we can sustain readiness and implement strategies to continue the mission through efforts like those of Dr. Sheila Peel," said Col. Chad Koenig, WRAIR commander. "It's through her exceptional leadership and direction of 72 personnel that WRAIR is recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in the development of diagnostic countermeasures. I am enormously proud of her accomplishment and thankful to have her as part of the team."

Peel is the Principal Investigator for 12 research protocols and an Associate Investigator for an additional 39 protocols. She directs research to evaluate new technologies and devices for known and emerging infectious diseases in viral infections, including sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and SARS-CoV-2. Her laboratories have conducted FDA Pre-Market Approval clinical trials for more than 50 percent of all US FDA approved HIV screening, confirmatory, and monitoring assays used within U.S. clinical laboratories. She also serves as a principal on the DoD Global AIDS Program Technical Laboratory Working Group to develop national strategic plans for tiered laboratory services, standards for accreditation, consistent services training, and implementation of quality management standards for 15 Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief target countries.

Peel's comprehensive knowledge of regulations and investigations has led to informed pre-deployment revisions for Soldiers and policy development through the years.

"I have had the privilege of working with Dr. Peel for over 22 years on threats to the U.S. Military from HIV, malaria, Ebola, Zika, Leishmaniosis, and COVID-19," said Dr. Nelson Michael, Center for Infectious Disease Research director. "Her unwavering commitment to diagnostic excellence underpinned disease mitigation efforts for all of these global threats. She is a National treasure."

Following the presentation, Peel expressed appreciation for the honor and her fellow researchers within the scientific community.

"I am incredibly grateful and humbled to receive this award, however, I am even more proud of my team at WRAIR," Peel said. "Analyzing and solving threats that impact our Soldiers is a driving force in everything that we do, and WRAIR has many globally renowned researchers working toward this same goal."

See the full citation text below:

Nomination for the 66th Annual Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award (Competitive)

Dr. Sheila A. Peel is recognized for distinguished civilian service as a Supervisory Research Health Science Administrator and the Director of the Diagnostics and Countermeasures Branch, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Silver Spring, Maryland, from June 2010 to June 2020. Dr. Peel’s work has informed force health protection and deployment policies related to various infectious agents, including HIV and SARS-CoV-2. Under Dr. Peel’s leadership, the HIV Reference laboratory performs more than 405K HIV tests per annum, including all HIV screening for new accessions and at treatment facilities globally. Dr. Peel is the HIV Technical Consultant for Defense Health Agency decisions and policies on pre-exposure prophylaxis for high-risk individuals. Dr. Peel serves on the DoD Global AIDS Program Technical Laboratory Working Group for 15 target countries. With the Nigerian Ministry of Defense and Air Force, Dr. Peel opened the first World Health Organization Five-Star accredited laboratory in Nigeria, critical to the U.S. Africa Command Theater Security Plan. Dr. Peel enabled U.S. Southern and Central Commands to strengthen infectious disease surveillance with host nation militaries. As Technical Consultant and Advisor to the White House COVID-19 Task Force, Dr. Peel doubled US SARS-CoV-2 test capacity during an unprecedented National crisis. Dr. Peel’s exceptional accomplishments reflect great credit upon herself and the Department of Defense.