Working in a small nondescript building on Forest Glen Annex here, a little over a dozen people have a mission that reaches from the youngest recruit to world leaders, helping alleviate scratchy throats, teary eyes and non-stop sneezing.
The small U.S. Army Centralized Allergen Extract Laboratory, called USACAEL by those who work there, is “a little gem, diamond in the rough,” according to Anita Bienlein, Chief, USACAEL, “that provides allergen extract to the Department of Defense, Public Health Command and Veterans Administration.”
“We have 14 people with over 200 years experience working here,” Bienlein said. “The average length of time people have been here is about 20 years, when people come to work here they don’t leave, because it is such a family-like atmosphere,” she said.
Formally located on the third floor of Building 1 of the old Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, USACAEL moved here in 1997 according to Susan Kosisky, Co-Chief, USACAEL, and said the organization has a, unique tri-service, Army, Navy and Air Force, worldwide mission of providing allergen extract vaccines and diagnostic testing allergens to over 24,000 people.”
Kosisky added that the lab sends out over 93,000 vials of vaccine, including diagnostic allergens, per year.
According to Bienlein, when a service member or family member is diagnosed with an allergy, the prescription is sent to the lab here, and entered into a centralized database. “Because military people move often, and they move all over, having a centralized database is important so we can track them and ensure they have their vaccines no matter where they are.”
She added that they also have a “very unique sharing agreement” with the Veterans Administration to ensure veterans continue receiving their prescriptions.
“We started with, I think, five VA clinics and now are up to 50, so it is a very successful agreement, and again, we are serving the men and women who have served for us” Kosisky added.
With just over a dozen people working to keep so many individuals free from the suffering of allergies, Kosisky said the job is, “a very labor intensive job, very methodical, and I am really very proud of what we do here. The people working here are former Soldiers, a lot of them, and many were a [Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge] we were able to hire when they left the Army. So they are experts at what they do, and we really do work as a well-oiled machine.”
As processes have evolved over the years, Kosisky said the care to ensure every vaccine sent off is perfect has led to what is now an eight-point quality assurance check, along each step of the process.
“We started with three checkpoints for quality assurance and have worked up to eight, and this is because the people working here are able to bring something up and we can incorporate it,” Kosisky said.
Getting medicine out to those suffering from allergies isn’t the only thing USACAER does, according to Bienlein. She said the lab also provides the pollen count for the Washington, DC area, which is reported daily in newspapers, on radio and TV, as the official Pollen and Spore Counting Center.
“We really are helping everyone, and I am really proud of what we do, and to serve with so many great people. It really is the most wonderful job,” she said.