Colacicco-Mayhugh Credits Family, Teamwork in Humble Awards Speech
Fresh on the heels of a more than year-long effort to help combat the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command's Lt. Col. Michelle Colacicco-Mayhugh was honored as a 2021 Hero of Military Medicine award winner on May 6 at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. The award, which recognizes outstanding contributions by individuals dedicated to advancing the ideals and reach of military medicine, is presented annually by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc.
Calling the award a "tremendous honor" in her brief remarks to the small, select in-person audience – in addition to the hundreds in attendance online, viewing virtually – Colacicco-Mayhugh was quick to thank her coworkers, teammates and USAMRDC leadership for their respective roles in helping her achieve such a substantial accomplishment.
"While I am being recognized, the real heroes in my mind are the people who stepped up to fill the gaps left by every person like me who was pulled to support the nation's pandemic response," said Colacicco-Mayhugh, flanked onstage at the time by both HJF president and CEO Joseph Caravalho and Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Mary Krueger, deputy chief of staff for support, Office of the Surgeon General and U.S. Army Medical Command.
Outside of her day-to-day posting as the Military Deputy for USAMRDC's Principal Assistant for Acquisition, Colacicco-Mayhugh was notably assigned to the COVID-19 Joint Acquisition Task Force during a critical five-month stretch in 2020. Established by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, the JATF was designed to support the acquisition and execution of the U.S. Department of Defense's response to the pandemic via interagency support to any number of external federal organizations. In her capacity as JATF Vaccine Delivery Product Lead, Colacicco-Mayhugh focused chiefly on securing the vast quantities of syringes and needles required to physically deliver vaccinations to millions of Americans. In all, she provided oversight of more than 400 million dollars in projects to ensure vaccine delivery during her time with the JATF; additionally assisting in advancing military medicine in support of public law 115-92, which ultimately ensured U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of three key products (a malaria prevention drug, a malaria treatment drug and the laboratory assay for traumatic brain injury).
"The concentrated effort of preventive medicine scientists such as Lt. Col. Colacicco-Mayhugh serve as a critical enabler to mission accomplishment for the Force," said Krueger during brief introductory remarks. "[She] has made an indelible impact on our nation's efforts to combat COVID-19 over the last year."
The award no doubt stands as career highlight for Colacicco-Mayhugh, who began her military career in 2001 following her graduation from Clemson University with a Master's of Science degree in Entomology. She later graduated with an advanced degree in Medical Zoology from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, before serving in a variety of high-profile postings, including – among others – as Chief of the Department of Vector Control, Entomology Branch, at the USAMRDC's Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. She arrived at USAMRDC headquarters at Fort Detrick, Maryland, in June 2018.
Typical of her team-first attitude, Colacicco-Mayhugh was similarly magnanimous upon first hearing of her nomination for the Hero of Military Medicine award earlier in the year, choosing to highlight the contributions of the larger USAMRDC team as opposed to her own personal achievements.
"Everyone I've worked with has been completely dedicated to helping our Nation get through this," she said during a separate interview in January. "One of the things that's been nice to see is that people have really come together and done a great job in figuring out where the gaps were and where they could help."
In addition to Colacicco-Mayhugh, the ceremony likewise honored Lt. Cmdr. (Doctor) Matthew Hall, USN, and Lt. Col. Patrick Kennedy, USAF, for their respective contributions to both military and global health initiatives over the past year. The event further featured recorded remarks from General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who offered key perspective to the accelerated (and ultimately successful) national effort to develop a number of now-available COVID-19 vaccines within a single year by noting it took more than 50 years to develop a vaccine for polio and more than a decade to develop a vaccine for diphtheria.
"The delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine is comparable in scale, scope, and significance to the Space Race, the development of the atomic bomb, or supplying the invasion of Europe or Africa in World War Two," said Milley, adding the U.S. military currently has 32 dedicated vaccine teams deployed across the U.S. to aid in COVID-19 inoculation efforts.
For Colacicco-Mayhugh, who late last year returned to her position in USAMRDC's PAA office full-time, that work – and its enduring significance – continues unabated. She still teams with the JATF upon request, an effort which, in her own words, remains a great source of pride. Indeed, just as the effort to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic remains a global priority, it remains a priority within both the halls of USAMRDC and Colacicco-Mayhugh herself.
"I would not have been successful juggling my responsibilities to the U.S. Army Medical Command and the COVID-19 Joint Acquisition Task Force and Defense Assisted Acquisition Cell without the leadership and support from [Brigadier] General [Michael] Talley [Commanding General of USAMRDC and Fort Detrick], and [USAMRDC Principal Assistant for Acquisition] Ms. [Dawn] Rosarius and all my teammates in the office of the Principal Assistant for Acquisition," said Colacicco-Mayhugh in a closing statement to the assembled audience on May 6. "Finally, I would like to thank my husband and children for their support, and my parents for teaching through their example, how to balance family and a military career."