By Michael Case

Pfc. Shante Sapp moves her head to see the landscape in a simulated virtual training environment using a Dismounted Soldier Training System in 2015. | Photo credit U.S. Army/DVIDS

When many think of the United States Army, they bring to mind service members guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or troops, tanks, artillery and helicopters working together on the battlefield.

The Army still does all those things, of course, but beyond these well-known images, the Army also has a tradition of being a leader in medicine and science. In celebration of the Army’s birthday on June 14 - the same day as Flag Day - here are five ways that the U.S. Army is at the tip of the spear in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) innovation:

# 1. The U.S. Army’s oldest medical unit is in the fight against the current coronavirus pandemic.

Photo credit U.S. Army/DVIDS

Army Sgt. Marlenny Medina asks a COVID-19 patient about his medical history.

The 1st Medical Brigade was established in 1917 for service in World War I. Known as the “Silver Knights,” the 1st Medical Brigade provides command and control, administrative and technical support to medical units in the field. This year, with only 24 hours notification, the brigade was able to deploy medical personnel to New York City and Seattle, as well as utilize a new concept for the first time in the rapid deployment of Army Reserve medical capabilities.

Soldiers test out prototypes for the Reconfigurable Virtual Collective Trainer. | Photo credit U.S. Army/DVIDS

Normally, the brigade operates outside of the United States, but deploying in the U.S. was extra motivation for the brigade’s commander, Col. Robert F. Howe II the Brigade’s: “There is something special and tangible in seeing the benefits of what you’re doing in your own backyard.”

# 2. The Army is exploring virtual tech for medicine and testing.

Medical units are testing portable virtual medicine technologies to perform complex medical procedures in the field. Virtual tech is also enabling the Army to test new gear and train in new skills without actually being in the field.

Photo credit U.S. Army/DVIDS

Surgeon Maj. (Dr.) Ian Cassaday utilizes a Telehealth in a Bag kit and a Transportable Exam Station in 2019.

# 3. The Army is testing new material to enable 3D printers to print replacement parts for its vehicles and gear.

U.S. Army Pfc. Jimmy Roe operates the Lulzbot Taz 2 Hard Plastic 3D Printer. | Photo credit U.S. Army/DVIDS

A cutting edge filament engineered by Army scientists will allow low-cost 3D printers to produce high-strength and durable replacement parts for almost immediate use in the field, instead of more traditional fabrication methods or having to wait for new parts to be shipped, saving time and money.

# 4. Innovation labs and fostering new technology isn’t just the domain of Silicon Valley or prestigious research universities.

The Army has an entire command dedicated to science and tech: the U.S. Army Futures Command With its own research and innovation labs, this unit is committed to cutting edge research in areas from quantum computing to advanced artificial intelligence (AI) to therapeutic drug research.

Photo credit U.S. Army/DVIDS

Army Futures Command holds demonstrations of technology and equipment on May 16, 2019.

# 5. Being a leader in scientific and medical research is not really new for the U.S. Army.

The first Army regulations to include a line for Research and Development (R&D) was in 1924. In 1900, Maj. Walter Reed, an Army surgeon, began experiments that proved that Yellow Fever was carried by mosquitoes.

Maj. Walter Reed | Photo credit National Museum of The United States Army

Being able to focus on the mosquito as the transmitter of the disease allowed researchers to come up with the most effective methods to control the mosquito population. This led to the near eradication of the disease around the world and as an additional benefit, a decline in malaria cases in areas that had been treated for Yellow Fever.

In the early 20th century, Yellow Fever outbreaks killed thousands of people every year and was one of the main causes of delays in the construction of the Panama Canal. Reed’s work quickly lowered the number of cases of Yellow Fever and saved the project allowing the strategically important Panama Canal to open in 1914. The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, is named in honor of Reed.