Department of Defense Medical Museum Joins Defense Health Agency

By Tim Clarke, Jr., National Museum of Health and Medicine

SILVER SPRING, Md. - The National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM), a Department of Defense (DoD) museum founded in 1862 as the Army Medical Museum, merged with the new Defense Health Agency (DHA), directed by Air Force Lt. Gen. Douglas Robb, on August 23, 2015. NMHM became an element of the DHA's Research, Development and Acquisitions Directorate (RDA), directed by U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Bruce A. Doll.

Several other DoD activities merged with the DHA this month, including the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System and the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center. The Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury will merge with DHA in 2016.

NMHM moves to DHA from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC) headquartered at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. NMHM was delegated to USAMRMC as an Executive Agency in 2010 and became part of the command's headquarters elements in 2011 when NMHM completed its relocation from the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center that year.

"USAMRMC welcomed the museum into its community with generosity and efficiency," said Adrianne Noe, Ph.D., NMHM director "That welcome invigorated the museum in ways we didn't expect, and we're grateful for the command's support over the last five years. Major General James Gilman and his successors Major General Joseph Caravalho and Major General Brian Lein were instrumental in leading the smooth transition of the museum into their command, and while that transition was challenging for all involved, our respective organizations have reaped lasting rewards from our collaboration. We appreciate all that USAMRMC has done for the museum and we're pleased that we'll be able to sustain that momentum and grow our relationship in the years to come."

One of the first acquisitions NMHM made upon moving to Silver Spring in 2011 was a thermal manikin from the U.S. Army Research Institute in Environmental Medicine (USARIEM), an element of USAMRMC. The manikin had been a vital part of research into the development of cold-weather gear during the Korean War, and was subsequently incorporated into an NMHM exhibit on advances in military medicine. In 2012, NMHM featured another USAMRMC element, the Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine, during the museum's 150th anniversary ceremonies: the ribbon-cutting included a strand of nerve scaffolding fiber that AFIRM had developed as part of a program to reconstitute injured nerve structures. The strand of fiber was then placed into the museum's permanent collection.

USAMRMC elements also routinely participated in a wide range of museum education programs. Speakers on issues such as malaria research, traumatic brain injury, and bacteriophage therapy came from USAMRMC labs such as the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the U.S. Army Research Institute on Infectious Diseases. Other elements such as the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs and the Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center both participated in the museum's signature education event, Brain Awareness Week, each March.

NMHM departs one military medical research headquarters for another as it joins DHA's research activity. RDA is advancing the collaborative work across all of the military medical services, while it implements best practices and improves the standards of care for beneficiaries of the military's healthcare system. RDA is led by Rear Admiral Doll, who is often quoted as saying, "If you wish to go fast - go alone. But if you wish to go far, go together."

"NMHM is uniquely positioned to demonstrate and promote the value of military medicine to the Department of Defense and to the American public" said Noe. "NMHM's staff and collections are regularly called upon to catalyze and reinforce the lessons of military medicine from conflicts past and present. Recent questions concerning topics ranging from regenerative medicine to the effects of chemical warfare have prompted engaging discussions between researchers and museum staff managing the collections that intersect those issues, and made the museum's collections useful to contemporary military medical researchers. Our exhibitions and education programs reinforce this message for visitors to the museum who otherwise might not be able to interact with the lessons of battlefield medicine from Gettysburg to Afghanistan, or with the pivotal role military medical research plays in saving lives in and out of the military."

"These three organizations are nationally renowned institutions that broaden our connection with other federal health partners, and with global health organizations," said Air Force Lt. Gen. Douglas Robb, director of DHA. "Whether it's identifying how to prevent or stem the outbreak of disease anywhere in the world; doing the challenging work to help determine where our research and clinical practices can be directed to increase survivability; or simply allowing us to learn through history, these organizations will advance our ability to support our warfighters and everyone who we serve."

NMHM, founded as the Army Medical Museum in 1862, is home to a National Historic Landmark collection of more than 25 million objects. NMHM was instituted as a center for the study of battlefield medicine during the Civil War. By the end of the 19th century, the museum had done pioneering work in photomicrography and the development of new medical technologies such as the X-ray. Major Walter Reed was the museum's curator while he was leading the team that determined the transmission vector for yellow fever, and Reed was instrumental in the founding of the Army Medical School. The museum and its mission grew to mirror the exponential growth in the concerns of military medicine after the start of the 20th century.

After moving to Silver Spring, Md. in 2011 from the campus of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center, NMHM has continued to grow its exhibitions, education programs and collections. New acquisitions have come to NMHM from across a broad array of DoD, Army, Navy and Air Force medical agencies in areas such as regenerative medicine, infectious disease and medical evacuation. Public programs at NMHM often feature researchers, program managers and clinicians of all types, who reflect on their experiences in their respective services while sharing valuable information about military medicine with the public. Tens of thousands of people visit NMHM each year, with visitors ranging from young children learning about the human body to Civil War history aficionados interested in the museum's sterling, one-of-a-kind exhibits about the war.

Learn more about NMHM online at