ALBANY, N.Y. – For the past couple of years, when Maj. Keith Casserly wasn’t on the job as unit commander of the New York Army National Guard’s Medical Command, he’s been in class, the library, or testing air quality in Albany.
The work paid off in May, when Casserly earned a Masters of Public Health from the State University of New York School of Public health.
Casserly was also recognized for unique research on air quality on bus routes he conducted to obtain his degree. He received the award for Excellence in Scholarship in the field of Environmental Health Science along with the degree.
He appreciated the recognition, Casserly said, because in masters programs you don’t get recognized for just having a high grade point. It’s the ability to conduct and present research that matters, especially in the field of Public Health, he said.
“This is one of the awards that show you stand out from your peers and gets your work recognized,” Casserly said.
Casserly stated working on his environmental science master’s degree in 2012.
This was two years after he became a Medical Service Corps officer and joined the 24th Civil Support Team as the team nuclear science officer.
As an Allied Science Medical Service Corps officer, promotion is based on education and credentials. Earning the masters set him up for success in his military career and when he retires, Casserly explained.
As the nuclear medicine science officer for a civil support team, which specializes in identifying chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear hazards and weapons, Casserly was responsible for overseeing the high-tech mobile lab used to test the environment and samples.
Before that job shift, Casserly was an infantryman.
He joined the 1st Battalion, 105th Infantry Regiment in 2002 and was commissioned through National Guard Officer Candidate School. He served in the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment and the 153rd Troop Command and earned the Air Assault Badge, the Ranger tab, and the Pathfinder Badge. He added the Combat Infantryman’s Badge during a deployment to Afghanistan in 2007-2008
But when the chance came to join the 24th Civil Support Team in Brooklyn, he took it.
“You can only pound ground for so long,” he said. “It’s fun to be an infantry officer, it’s great. But as you get up in echelons you need something else.”
Casserly served with the 24th CST at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn for four years and then moved into the same position with the 2nd CST at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia.
In 2017 he took over as the Medical Command Unit Commander and reenergized his quest for a masters of public health in environmental science.
He was able to use his CST-related military experience and training to check the block on some of the 61 credits he needed for the degree, Casserly explained.
That included checking the block on one of two internships required for the degree, he added.
For his other internship, Casserly decided to conduct the air quality study he was honored for.
Worldwide air pollution—especially in China and other places where coal is still a major power source—contributes to 4.7 million deaths annually, Casserly said. That is seven percent of all annual deaths.
He studied air quality along the two major bus routes that run through Albany.
His study looked at air quality for somebody driving in a car, somebody walking along the bus route, somebody riding a bike along bus routes, and somebody riding in the bus.
He spent nights and weekends this past winter and spring following buses or riding in buses with air monitoring equipment. Sometimes he’d bring his son and daughter—Ethan and Emma – along with him, Casserly added.
He was surprised to find that a bus passenger is exposed to more fine particulate matter –the kind that can cause cancer--than a driver, bike rider, or pedestrian. He and his advisor expected the greatest risk would be to the bike rider.
The culprit, Casserly explained, is what he called the “swoosh” when the bus door opens and closes
In the winter the change in temperature causes the air to rush in and out when the doors open and then close.
That action draws the diesel exhaust and its particulate into the bus, he said. It also kicks up any particulate matter that was on the floors, or on the passengers themselves and allows it to be inhaled, he added.
So at the end of May, seven years and three schools after he started, Maj. Keith Casserly earned his master’s degree. His very supportive wife Sylvie, he said, is very happy.
Casserly used Army and New York state education benefits to help finance his degree.
The New York State Veteran Tuition Aid program provides per-credit aid money veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. He also accessed the Go Army Ed program which provides money to serving members of the Army Guard, Casserly said.
More Soldiers considering advanced degrees should use these benefits, Casserly said.
“The money is out there. I don’t think enough Soldiers take advantage of it,” he said.