Outgoing director of public health, safety reflects on commissaries’ actions to keep customers, employees safe during pandemic
FORT LEE, Va. – Army Lt. Col. Angela Parham, the Defense Commissary Agency’s director of public health and safety, has seen her share of the worst virus outbreaks.
During the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Parham deployed to Sierra Leone while serving a fellowship with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Epidemic Intelligence Service. There, she talked to family members and friends of Ebola victims, learning all she could about the impact of that horrific disease.
Fast forward five years and Parham is with DeCA, helping the agency determine protective measures against COVID-19 for commissaries on installations with different requirements and evolving public health recommendations.
“We were tasked with trying to maintain consistency in our risk mitigation strategies and in the customer service we provide when we are responsible for so many stores in so many different locations,” she said. “I knew DOD and DeCA policies would provide the safest working and shopping environment possible, but I also knew there was still a risk that we all had to work hard to mitigate.”
Parham, who joined DeCA June 21, 2019, is due to retire from the Army Jan. 31 and will exit DeCA on retirement leave Nov. 21. The agency is going through the selection process for her replacement.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Parham’s background in infectious disease epidemiology made her a force multiplier in the agency’s response to the virus, said Rogers E. Campbell, executive director of DeCA’s Store Operations Group.
“From the start of this pandemic, Lt. Col. Parham helped us set the tone on the protective measures we put in place to help safe guard our customers and our employees,” Campbell said. “She led a dedicated team of civilians and military members who ensured the products in our commissaries and the stores themselves were the safest possible.”
As DeCA’s director of public health and safety, Parham leads a staff in Asia, Europe and the United States that plans and implements the agency’s consumer and occupational safety and health programs.
DeCA’s food safety mission ensures all edible products destined for commissary shelves are inspected by military Veterinary Services personnel, who check items for documented place of origin, and ensure they are within appropriate temperature ranges and free of any pests or signs of contamination that could cause foodborne diseases.
In the area of occupational health and safety, agency specialists are charged with tracking U.S. federal requirements along with those governing the local national employees in the country where the store operates.
“I expected my position to mostly involve food safety issues like recalls, but it seems the types of public-health related issues that can arise are practically endless,” Parham said. “We have to stay ahead of any potential issues to ensure our stores and products remain safe and that we comply with all regulatory requirements. It has given me a new respect for the entire retail grocery industry.”
Parham came to DeCA in 2019 from the United States Army Central Command (USARCENT) headquarters at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, where she was the command veterinarian.
She has been a veterinarian for 23 years, graduating veterinary school in 1997 from the University of Georgia. She subsequently entered active duty as a captain in the Army Veterinary Corps. Her previous assignments included stops at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida; Camp Walker, South Korea; Fort Gordon, Georgia; and Fort Wainwright, Alaska, where she was commander of the Alaska District Veterinary Command.
During her assignment at USARCENT, Parham, though stationed in Shaw Air Force Base, traveled frequently to the Middle East, working in Kuwait, Egypt, Qatar, Afghanistan, Oman, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
From 2014 to 2016, she completed an applied epidemiology fellowship with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, working in Atlanta, Georgia, and deploying to Sierra Leone.
From 2013 to 2014, Parham served as the command veterinarian for the Area Support Group-Kuwait at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, where she supervised the food safety and clinical veterinary missions in Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Oman.
Parham earned both her Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree in biological sciences (1991) and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree (1997), from the University of Georgia. She also earned a Master of Science in Veterinary Public Health degree in epidemiology (2008) from Texas A&M University.
Parham is a board-certified Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine.
“I will always remember my DeCA assignment as one of the most interesting and rewarding assignments of my career,” she said. “I’m very proud of the work my team does and the work everyone has done in light of the pandemic.
“Despite having some COVID cases, which is unavoidable in a situation like this, DeCA has performed very well in keeping employees and customers safe,” Parham added. “I hope everyone realizes what a great job they are doing as they continue performing to such a high standard. Keeping up the mitigation strategies – the masks, the distancing and the endless gallons of hand sanitizer – is very taxing. Kudos to all those who keep on doing what needs to be done.”
PHOTOS: For more photos of Lt. Col. Angela Parham, please access DeCA's Flickr site.
About DeCA: The Defense Commissary Agency operates a worldwide chain of commissaries providing groceries to military personnel, retirees and their families in a safe and secure shopping environment. Commissaries provide a military benefit, saving authorized patrons thousands of dollars annually on their purchases compared to similar products at commercial retailers. The discounted prices include a 5-percent surcharge, which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones. A core military family support element, and a valued part of military pay and benefits, commissaries contribute to family readiness, enhance the quality of life for America’s military and their families, and help recruit and retain the best and brightest men and women to serve their country.