With Quick Thinking, Long Hours, USARIEM's Fagnant Nabs 'Employee of the Quarter' Award
Heather S. Fagnant, a project coordinator for the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command's U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, was honored as USAMRDC's Employee of the Quarter on March 30.
"Everyone was quick to congratulate me," said Fagnant, who points out that she didn't even know she was a nominee until a coworker gave her a celebratory high-five after the announcement. She was granted the award for her work during the fourth quarter of 2022. "Everyone from my division, everyone from across the entire Institute – everyone was excited for me, which is always nice," she said.
A dietitian by trade, Fagnant began her civilian career at USARIEM in 2020 after initially starting at the Institute in 2018 under a fellowship with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. In her position, she works closely with USARIEM's principal investigators to manage the various studies developed at the Institute; a process that involves dealing with logistics, staffing and volunteer issues, along with, naturally, a heavy dose of data collection. Fagnant credits her surrounding team – fellow project coordinators, supervisory staff and command leadership – with enabling her individual success.
"I told the team if I could split this award up into small bites and give them each a piece, I would absolutely do that – we definitely rely heavily on each other," said Fagnant. The Rhode Island native notes her position at USARIEM – one that relies on her academic and innate leadership skills – empowers her to make a positive impact on behalf of the Warfighter. "We feel that impact – we seek it out," said Fagnant. "When you look at our portfolio – there are new rations that get developed as a result of the work that we do. That's always a driver. We're always looking to enhance the food that we feed our Warfighters so that they're more capable."
Notably, during the fourth quarter of 2022, Fagnant was responsible for almost single-handedly ensuring the success of a long-running, collaborative research study investigating a nutrition intervention for improving human performance at high altitudes. Following news that key leaders of the research team would be unable to complete data capture on the final four participants, Fagnant assumed a massive new batch of duties, including integrating new staffers onto the team and volunteering to work a series of 14 hour shifts; all this, of course, in addition to her already-full plate of work requirements. Her leadership skills, coupled with those lengthy shifts in the lab, ensured that more than three full years of prior research efforts would not be compromised.
"Ms. Fagnant is a leader who is able to effectively and efficiently adapt to unexpected challenges to accomplish the research mission," said J. Philip Karl, a nutrition physiologist at USARIEM who nominated Fagnant for the award. In his nomination packet, Karl further noted the significant cost and resource savings that Fagnant provided during the fourth quarter of 2022; by wearing multiple hats and assuming a substantial increase in workload – an effort which Karl called a "selfless" act – she ensured laboratory-wide success. "Her ambition, constant positive attitude and effective communication as a project manager provided examples for others to follow and helped establish a cohesive team that significantly benefited the research mission," said Karl.
The way Fagnant sees it, being named USAMRDC Employee of the Quarter is a way to call attention to the work being performed at USARIEM each day; and further one of many ways in which she can aid achievement in the laboratory while also ensuring success for the Warfighter. For her, it is always a team effort.
"We make it work," said Fagnant. "We always make it work. Without the kind of collaboration I get from my teammates, we wouldn't be as efficient. That's easily the best part of my job, is working with my team."