Soldier-scientist assumes leadership of medical unit

Story and photos by Sgt. Daniel J. Friedberg
221st Public Affairs Detachment

MANNHEIM, Germany — Col. Sandra L. Alvey succeeded Col. Otto Fiala as the commander of the 196th Medical Support Unit, 7th Civil Support Command, during an official ceremony held here March 5 at the post gymnasium.

The MSU is part of the 7th CSC, Europe’s only Army Reserve command, headquartered in Kaiserslautern. Brig. Gen. Jimmie Jaye Wells, the commanding general of the 7th CSC, officiated over the ceremony. 

The ceremony was attended by Maj. Gen. Patricia E. McQuistion, the commanding general of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, and her senior enlisted adviser, Command Sgt. Maj. James E. Spencer, as well as Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Biere, the 7th CSC’s command sergeant major, and commanders, Soldiers and civilians from the Kaiserslautern and Mannheim communities. Colonel Alvey and Colonel Fiala’s friends and family members were also present.

The change of command ceremony is a time-honored military tradition representing a complete transfer of responsibility and authority from one individual to another and provides formal recognition in front of the entire unit.

General Wells gave praise to the color guard and the Soldiers standing in formation during the ceremony.

“You look sharp,” General Wells said.

He thanked Colonel Fiala for his leadership of the 196th MSU and wished him great success. 

He praised the unit on its accomplishments ranging from the 773rd Civil Support Team’s validation and the restructuring of the MSU to better support the 7th CSC’s Foreign Consequence Management mission. 

General Wells expressed his confidence in Colonel Alvey to fulfill her duties as the 196th MSU commander and her personal commitment to the unit.  

“She has volunteered to make the trip across the ocean at least 24 times at her own cost,” said General Wells, referring to the unit’s monthly battle assembly that Colonel Alvey will attend.

Colonel Alvey resides in the Washington, D.C., area and is a civilian intelligence analyst with Defense Intelligence Agency. For her military duties, as the new commander she will travel to Germany once a month for two years.   

As an Army Reserve Soldier, transportation to and from the monthly battle assembly is paid by Colonel Alvey and is not reimbursable.

Colonel Alvey stressed the importance of preparedness for medical contingency missions. 

Colonel Alvey elaborated on the possible humanitarian challenges that a unit like the 196th MSU could face in the future, using recent developments in the Middle East and North Korea to show how volatile the political atmosphere of the world can be.

Colonel Fiala put the formation at ease and addressed the Soldiers of the 196th MSU, thanking them for their support and professionalism during his tenure.

He mentioned that his background in military intelligence and civil affairs was unusual preparation to lead a medical unit, but the support he got from the Soldiers standing in formation made the difference. 

The New York City native gave praise to his wife, Army Reserve Col. Christine Anne N. Fiala, thanking her for professionally mentoring him in the time he led the 196th MSU.

Colonel Fiala is currently pursuing a doctorate in strategic studies at the University of Reading in the U.K.

Although the Soldiers of the 196th MSU will miss the outgoing commander, they said they look forward to a future with Colonel Alvey as a Soldier-Scientist. 

“The last commander was excellent,” said Sgt. Juan Morales, a medical administration specialist at the 196th MSU, referring to the guidance and organization Colonel Fiala provided the 196th MSU during a transitional period. 

But Sergeant Morales also admitted interest in a commander with the medical-biological expertise to carry the unit in future missions.

Along with a bachelor’s degree in biology from Western Maryland College, Colonel Alvey holds a master’s degree in medical entomology from Georgia Southern University. She has a specialized technical understanding of diseases borne and spread by insects.

Colonel Alvey became interested in the study of insects through the influence of another Reserve-scientist:  her professor at GSU. The Coast Guard Reserve officer assigned her a graduate research project in entomology, Colonel Alvey


The 196th MSU has a long history of service under various unit designations that dates back to the 1920s.

In its last incarnation as the Medical Support Unit, Europe, the unit deployed to operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Joint Endeavor, SFOR, KFOR, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The 196th MSU supported various recent exercises in Africa and Europe. 

The unit has been located at Coleman Barracks in Mannheim since March 2009.