Career takes her to—and over—the edge

By December 10, 2019Faces of the Force
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Lt. Col. Mara Kreishman-Deitrick

 

TITLE: Director, Experimental Therapeutics
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, U.S. Army Futures Command
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 15
YEARS OF MILITARY SERVICE: 16
AAW/DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in science and technology management and in program management
EDUCATION: Ph.D. in biological chemistry, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas; B.S. in biochemistry, University of Cincinnati
AWARDS: Defense Acquisition Workforce Individual Achievement Award in Science and Technology Management, Army Medical Department 9A Proficiency Designator, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, U.S. Army Medical Service Corps Carmack Medal


 

By Susan L. Follett

Free rappelling classes brought Lt. Col. Mara Kreishman-Deitrick to the Army 25 years ago, and she has made good use of her time since then, playing a part in developing new treatments for malaria and being the first member of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command (USAMRDC) to win a Defense Acquisition Workforce Achievement Award.

“When I was in college, I noticed that ROTC was sponsoring free electives—basic rappelling and rifle marksmanship. I signed up with a friend, and was surprised by how much I liked it,” she said. “It was completely unexpected, but the Army life and the leadership principles really spoke to me. And it was wonderful to discover later on that serving on active duty would fit with my plans to earn an advanced degree.”

She became a part of the Army Acquisition Workforce during her very first assignment on active duty in 2004. “Our commanding general mandated acquisition training across the command, and I was fortunate to be introduced very early on to the ‘decision gate’ system our command was implementing for medical product acquisition,” she said. “The challenge of integrating science, FDA regulatory requirements and DOD acquisition immediately appealed to me. I got involved and never looked back.”

As director of the Experimental Therapeutics Branch at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), Kreishman-Deitrick leads the Army’s program to discover and develop new drugs to protect warfighters from battlefield health threats, including malaria, leishmaniasis—a parasitic disease spread by sandflies—and antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. “We develop new medicines to keep Soldiers safe and healthy on the battlefield, and our expertise can be applied not only to infectious disease, but to any operational or casualty care area in need of a drug intervention,” she said.

“The best part about science and technology research is that no two days at work are the same,” she added. “It’s really exciting to lead a product development effort where the science and data take it—it’s often not where you expect, and these unexpected turns often make the product better.”

Kreishman-Deitrick noted that the biggest challenge she faces “is the incredible magnitude and pace of change within Army and DOD medical product development.” Formerly known as the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, USAMRDC transitioned to the U.S. Army Futures Command (AFC) last year. “We are working hard to adapt to a new command and a fundamentally different approach to modernization and research and development investment,” said Kreishman-Deitrick. “We’re learning the AFC approach, being more innovative and moving faster, and looking outside of our traditional locations for new partners. We’re also looking at the way in which medical product development fits into AFC and the Army’s modernization priorities. Despite the fact that medical modernization isn’t explicitly mentioned in the Army’s top six priorities, USAMRDC has been given the task of maximizing human potential, and the Army of the future will still depend on having lethal, durable Soldiers. That’s the type of work we’ve been doing at WRAIR for over a century.”

MKD product displays

Kreishman-Deitrick briefs the malaria drug discovery portfolio at a USAMRDC product demonstration in early 2019. (Photo by USAMMDA Public Affairs Office)

 

Kreishman-Deitrick has been with USAMRDC for the entirety of her career, and her current position is her sixth with the organization. “I’ve loved them all,” she said. “My career path through the various stages of the product development life cycle has been an amazing experience, and really allowed me to understand the process from start to finish. Exposure to issues at all phases of development, from early drug discovery to late-stage clinical trials and commercial manufacturing, have taught me many lessons and made me a better product developer.”

Over the course of those assignments, she has learned a lot about what it takes to develop a viable, sustainable medical products for warfighters. Science and technology (S&T) decisions made early in the development process “have immense impacts on advanced product development and fielding, and integrating the S&T base with advanced development transition partners is absolutely essential,” she said. “The whole S&T workforce, whether it’s part of the Army Acquisition Workforce or not, needs at least basic literacy in the DOD acquisition process and how it applies to medical product discovery and development. We have to know the system in which we work in order to be successful within it. It’s critical to understand how the scientific, regulatory and DOD acquisitions processes all fit together, and how each phase of development impacts the ones that come after it.”

Her career has also taught her the importance of surrounding one’s self “with a team of experts that is empowered to provide expertise and challenge the leader and the team. A leader who makes uninformed, unchallenged decisions outside his or her own expertise puts the overall development effort at great risk,” she said. “But at the same time, the leader needs to receive input from the whole team of experts and use that input to decide what direction to go. It’s a balance between knowing your own limits and empowering your team, but ultimately being comfortable making the decision.”

Effective leadership was key to her winning the 2019 Defense Acquisition Workforce Achievement Award for Science and Technology Manager in October. As chair of the Next Generation Malaria Drug Integrated Product Team, she led efforts related to development, testing and ultimately data-driven discontinuation of the Army’s newest antimalarial drug candidate, a triazine compound. Taking an objective look at the data and making a tough but prompt decision allowed the team to pivot to new candidate solutions better suited to fill capability gaps on the future battlefield.

“Just being nominated for this award was an incredible honor, and to be the first winner from USAMRDC is truly humbling,” said Kreishman-Deitrick. “My reaction was first and foremost to thank my teams. I won the award for my teams’ navigation of some tough scientific and programmatic challenges. Without them, I never could’ve won.”

When she’s not in the lab or in the field, you might find Kreishman-Deitrick in a local elementary school, where she has spent eight years co-chairing the annual science, technology, engineering and math expo. “Getting kids excited about science and helping them learn the scientific method has many parallels to being a product development champion within DOD,” she said. “It’s all about building consensus and excitement among the team to overcome challenges and keep the product development effort moving forward.”


“Faces of the Force” is an online series highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce through the power of individual stories. Profiles are produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication and Support Branch, working closely with public affairs officers to feature Soldiers and civilians serving in various AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please go to https://asc.army.mil/web/publications/army-alt-submissions/.

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