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Toby Palmer

Lt. Cmdr. Toby Palmer speaks to colleagues. Photo contributed

Entomologist on Watch

Insect-borne diseases could greatly impact the health of U.S. Navy sailors and Marines, and delay Navy operations. It’s Lt. Cmdr. Toby Wayne Palmer’s job to research and mitigate the negative impact of pathogens spread by arthropods and other animals.

Palmer (BSA – Poultry Science, ’01; BSA – Entomology, ‘01) is one of only 38 active-duty entomologists in the U.S. Navy, one of the military branch’s rarest jobs. As an entomologist, his job is to prevent the spread of new diseases by any bug or pest problem that lurks where troops are traveling.

“My job is to … look at the different countries, see what common diseases are present or endemic to the country, then balance those against what insects or animal species could pose a medical threat, or harbor or vector the pathogen,” Palmer said. “I also instruct military and civilian personnel on strategies to mitigate threats to lessen the chance of troops getting sick.”

Such instruction could include cutting down grass, removing a water source or prescribing pesticide application. Navy entomologists work in a variety of locations in the U.S. and abroad, and assist with humanitarian missions and disaster response.

In his 12 years with the Navy, he served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006, and has lived or worked in Iraq, Italy, Japan, Thailand, South Korea and Australia.

Palmer is stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and his unit is responsible for environmental concerns in all countries throughout the Pacific region. Currently, he also serves as a plans, operations and medical intelligence officer. This position involves providing global health engagement to different countries through outreach and education, and designing both preventative medical packages and disaster response plans.

He joined the Navy in 2004 after being recruited during graduate school at the University of Arkansas. The Moultrie, Georgia, native credits his current career path to the University of Georgia and Georgia 4-H, which he participated in from fifth grade to high school.

“My tools for success in my career began with the entomology and poultry science competitions and leadership responsibilities I was given at Georgia 4-H,” Palmer said. “I was able to hone the basis of my scientific knowledge and leadership through a variety of experiences, ranging from judging and speech competitions to serving as a district officer and 4-H camp counselor at Rock Eagle 4-H Center.”

“It’s a lot of fun working with individuals from different countries to ensure health and welfare,” Palmer said. “I could not have dreamed I would be doing this while I was at the University of Georgia, but now I could not dream of anything else. I would encourage anyone with an interest to pursue a similar degree and job.”