USAMRIID Officer Retires After 30 Years of Military Service
Shaia, who served as director of administration for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases for the past two years, paid tribute to many of the people who shaped his career, which began in 1987 when he joined the Marine Reserves with a high school buddy at the age of 17.
"This is really our story, and I couldn't have gotten here without many of you," he said.
Raised on a small ranch in Billings, Montana, Shaia earned a B.S. in Animal Science from Montana State University and went to veterinary school at Kansas State University in 1994. He joked that he'd missed being around troops after his time in the Marines, so the decision to join the Army Veterinary Corps was a "no brainer."
"I raised my right hand with the expectation that I would knock out a stint in the Army and go home to Montana to work on cows and horses," he added. "That was 22 years ago."
He began his Army career as chief of the Barksdale Air Force Base Veterinary Treatment Facility in Bossier City, Louisiana, from 1998-2000. He and his family spent the next four years in Germany, where they made lifelong friends in Bavaria and had what he called "the most fun period" of his military service.
Later, Shaia deployed with the 21st Medical Detachment (Veterinary Services) in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2004, he began his residency program at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, which he described as "a mental version of Ranger School." Upon completion of that program, he spent four years at USAMRIID living out his dream of working in Biosafety Level 3 and Level 4 laboratories, providing pathology support to the research and development of medical countermeasures to protect U.S. service members.
In 2011 he was selected to head the Education Division at the Department of Defense Veterinary Pathology Residency Program at the Joint Pathology Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. According to Shaia, that role—which blended his diagnostic pathology expertise with leadership training—prepared him for the one assignment he couldn't leave the Army without completing: serving as commander of the 43D Medical Detachment (Veterinary Service Support) at Fort Hood, Texas.
Col. E. Darrin Cox, commander of USAMRIID, shared a conversation he'd had with Shaia about his most treasured memories of military service.
"In the Army, when someone asks us about our favorite assignment, we always say it's the current one," said Cox. "But in Carl's case, he had two. He enjoyed coming to USAMRIID and spending some time in the lab, and then being able to come back as the director of administration years later. The other thing he shared with me was his great love for the troops, as evidenced by how he spoke about his time as commander of the 43D. I'm convinced he made an indelible mark on those Soldiers."
The 43D is a deployable unit that directly supports warfighting Soldiers and Marines to provide medical care to Military Working Dogs and to ensure the safety of troop food supplies. Under Shaia’s command from 2014-2016, the 43D deployed to Kuwait in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Inherent Resolve. Following redeployment, the 43D MDVSS trained and assumed the Disaster CBRNE Response Force mission.
"If there ever was a calling for me, I felt that this was it," Shaia commented. "I couldn't leave the Army without serving in this capacity."
The position also came with personal sacrifice, as he left his wife and children in Maryland for two years and became a "geographic bachelor" in Texas and later Kuwait. Nonetheless, he made it clear the experience allowed him to serve alongside some of the finest Soldiers he had ever met, including Command Sgt. Maj. Darryl D. Bogan.
Bogan, now the Senior Enlisted Advisor for U.S. Army Public Health Command-Central, was NCO of the 43D during Shaia's tenure. He and several others from the unit were present for the retirement ceremony and spoke movingly of Shaia's impact on others.
"Many of America's sons and daughters are better because of your leadership," said Bogan. Then, reading a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, Bogan said, "Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment; full effort is full victory."
"That's Col. Shaia in a nutshell," said Bogan, capping his remarks. "It's not the achievements that we appreciate, it's the effort you gave to our family of Soldiers."
Prior to taking command, Shaia said, he attended a workshop on leadership where participants were asked to identify their four core characteristics—the point being that knowing your true nature gives you valuable insights to draw upon in challenging times. His four were family, fitness, optimism and service.
In addition to his wife and three adult children, Shaia's family circle has grown over the years to include many long-time friends and co-workers. With regard to fitness, Shaia's commitment to daily PT is legendary, and he has completed several marathons and ultra-marathons. He even has a favorite saying: "Fitness isn't owned, it's rented—and the rent is due every day." And his sense of optimism is contagious, even in the face of adversity, as his USAMRIID colleagues can readily attest.
Finally, with regard to service, Shaia said, "I've been told there are two types of leaders: those who demand to be served by those they lead, and those who live to serve the people they lead. I hope that, above all else, the latter is the type of leader I've been for many of you."
He closed with a quote from actor Jack Lemmon, who likened his career to riding an elevator all the way to the top, saying, "No matter how successful you get, always send the elevator back down."
Added Shaia, "This is me—getting out of the way for the next generation of Officers to follow."