Whether in Central America, Bosnia, Afghanistan or Iraq, Jamie Blow protects the health of U.S. troops abroad.
Jamie Blow ‘84 has seen more than her share of poverty, disease and devastation.
The veteran Army major and Ph.D.-level entomologist has been deployed to many of the world’s hot spots since her graduation from Alma College more than 21 years ago.
Her assignment: Protect the health of U.S. troops.
“If I’m doing my job right, no one knows I am doing anything,” says Blow, who leaves this fall a year in Iraq. “The food and water are not making anyone sick, the pests are not causing any significant problems, and everyone is healthy.”
Her various military assignments have provided experiences that most people never could imagine. She has worked as a certified medical technologist in Germany, fought insect-transmitted diseases in Honduras, assisted with post-hurricane rebuilding efforts in Central America, inspected food and water facilities in Bosnia, and provided medical assistance to nomadic peoples in Afghanistan.
When not deployed overseas, she has studied the transmission of the West Nile virus and provided homeland diagnostics support following the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks.
Her work as a medical entomologist – the study, prevention and treatment of insect-transmitted diseases – has made a positive difference in the lives of people from around the world, including Central America, Bosnia, Afghanistan and now Iraq who have suffered because of war, poverty and disease.
Central America: Rebuilding after Hurricane Mitch
In the summer of 1999, Blow was deployed to Central America to help with the rebuilding effort after Hurricane Mitch. Her unit provided support to the National Guard and reserves participating in Operation New Horizon III, which involved rebuilding schools, homes and roads, drilling new wells, and providing medical care.
“My soldiers provided support to both the humanitarian assistance and ensuring that the base camps provided safe food and water for the service members,” says Blow.
“In many areas of Central America, people live in poverty that many American’s cannot begin to comprehend,” she says. “We were able to relieve some of the suffering by our efforts.”
Her biggest concerns were disease, such as dengue, yellow fever and malaria, as well as snakes, sanitation and water borne disease.
“I have spent time since then in Honduras doing research and found the people to be very friendly and interested in what we are doing,” she says. “They don’t understand why someone would come so far to catch mosquitoes, but at least I provide them with entertainment as I went about trying to determine what types of mosquitoes and what types of pathogens were in various regions.”
Bosnia: War, Inhumanity, Devastation
In 2000 Blow was involved in a peacekeeping mission to Bosnia where she inspected dining facilities and sampled air and water supplies. Her experience in Bosnia was quite different from Central America.
“I had seen poverty before, but never had I witnessed the devastation caused by a war on top of poverty,” she says.
During convoys to various base camps, Blow would see the remains of homes completely destroyed by automatic weapon fire and explosives. These were the homes of families who were not of the right ethnic origin.
“They didn’t just destroy the home, they did what was termed ‘breaking’ the home,” she says. “Basically, they would set explosives to damage the foundation so that the home could not be repaired. In addition, it wasn’t uncommon for the home to be booby-trapped to prevent them from returning.
“I was a commander at the time, and it was hard for me to reconcile what I was seeing let alone try to explain to my young soldiers,” she says. “Man’s inhumanity to man knows no bounds when left unchecked.”
Afghanistan: Isolated But Grateful People
In 2004, while assigned to the 30th Medical Brigade in Heidelberg, Germany, the Army put out a call for a medical entomologist in Afghanistan. Blow was the logical choice to go.
“I was one of only four entomologists in Europe at that time,” she says. “I worked with the Civil Affairs Group, helped to rebuild the infrastructure in the country, including hospitals, small clinics, veterinary services, and helped with public health inspections and water testing.
“I cannot put into words what I saw in Afghanistan to bring across the poverty and suffering but yet the hope,” she says. “Many of these people are living in conditions that even our poorest poor can’t dream of. They have very little but will share it with you. I can only hope with time and our continued presence and support that we can help them bring about change.”
The country, once one of the most progressive in that part of the world, now lacks even the most basic services and facilities. Blow traveled with the medical team that provided medical assistance to the local nationals. During her time in Afghanistan, she traveled west near the Iranian border, south near Pakistan and spent time in the central region.
“The cities are not much different from what I had seen in Central America and Asia — poor, no sanitation, no running water, but struggling to evolve,” she says. “The more rural areas are only accessible by four-wheel drive vehicles or motorcycles or by foot. Many of these people have never left their small village and have no idea of the outside world. They live like their ancestors did raising goats, sheep, cattle and growing whatever they could.
“No matter the hardships, it was often worth it to see the gratitude in a child, parent or elderly person as we were able to give them some basic medical assistance, food, or just a warm blanket,” she says.
Learning To Think, Make Decisions, Take Responsibility
As an Alma student, Blow never envisioned a military career and the development of her professional specialty, let alone working in troubled countries around the world. She credits Alma for preparing her for what eventually transpired in her life.
“Alma College taught me to think,” says Blow, who majored in biology and played basketball. “You are treated as a person at Alma College. You attend smaller classes. You learn to write, to think. You are not allowed to just get by.
“I’ve been in many situations during my military career where there was not a textbook answer,” she says. “Because of my Alma experience, I have the ability to assess a situation, do a quick analysis, identify options, make a decision, and take responsibility for the decision I made. In the Army, especially, the buck stops at my door.”
Blow, who chose to attend Alma College because “it was a small school, had a good academic reputation, and I could play sports,” says her college athletic experiences also provided important life lessons.
“Athletics taught me how to endure and not give up,” she says. “I learned the importance of being a part of a team. The Army is just a much larger team composed of many smaller teams. You are as good as your weakest link. Accomplishing a mission is a team effort. Not everybody can be a star; somebody has to step up and set a pick. It’s the same in the Army. It’s for the greater good.”
Born in Alma and raised in Clare, Blow enlisted in the Army after graduating from Alma. She later earned a master’s degree in outdoor recreation and field biology from Central Michigan University, where she also earned a Distinguished Military Graduate award from the ROTC program, and a Ph.D. in entomology from Michigan State University.
At MSU, she helped develop and implement an entomology outreach program for school age children. The “bug house,” which began as a pilot program in 1996, continues to offer displays that exhibit the various roles insects play in the world. Blow recruited, trained and supervised graduate students who became “bug guides” for school children who toured the facility.
She is the recipient of numerous military awards, including three Meritorious Service Medals, two Army Commendations, four Army Achievement Medals, two National Defense Service Medals, Good Conduct Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and Humanitarian Service Ribbon.
Current Assignment: Defending Freedom
Blow leaves this fall for her next deployment to Iraq, her fifth deployment as an Army officer. Her job is “to make sure our troops stay as healthy as possible so they can do their jobs.”
Protecting the health of American troops in Iraq includes looking for disease and environmental threats. She plans and conducts preventive medicine services, which include consultations, field sanitation training, pest profiles and risk assessments of arthropod-borne diseases. She researches, prepares and provides medical threat briefings to Army units in support of contingency operations. While her job is typically behind a desk and not on the front lines, she understands the risks that are part of serving in Iraq.
“I can’t deny that any assignment in Iraq is dangerous,” she says. “I’ve seen what terrorists can do, but I’m not scared. I’m not patrolling the streets. Most of the time I’m working in an office.”
Blow Has No Regrets About Joining The Army.
“Somebody has to stand up to defend freedom, to defend your right to write, say and do what you want,” she says. “I’ve been in places, like Afghanistan, where people don’t have those freedoms.
“In our country, students can go to Alma College and get a great education, and no one will show up in the middle of the night to illegally drag them away to prison because of the freedoms that we enjoy.”
– Mike Silverthorn