“Small-town kid.” “Science nerd.” “Fortunate fellow.” Those terms he might use to describe himself, despite serving some 20 years – including one in Afghanistan – in roles such as chemical warfare scientist and chief of chemical warfare threat assessment.
And, when the pandemic hit, Moser took up the charge of operationalizing COVID pooled surveillance testing for the U.S. Army. A native of Glen Dale, West Virginia, Moser earned his undergrad at a small Pennsylvania college. When it was time for grad school, he turned to West Virginia University, but hesitated.
“I thought, ‘Oh boy, am I able to fit in?’ I was a little West Virginia boy, grew up with a farm on all four sides,” he said.
He did fit in, thanks to some great professors in the chemistry department.
“Dr. [Fred] King in particular, took the time when I was visiting to actually sit down and ask ‘Matt, what are you looking for?’”
What Moser sought was outwardly practical. Inwardly, he wanted to love what he did and he wanted to do it with purpose.
“I wish there was some magic story in why I chose chemistry. I just found it fascinating and was pretty good at it. I wanted to find a job that was productive, that could provide something for the world. And, I figured, if you’re going to do something for the rest of your life, you might as well enjoy it.”
Moser is retiring after more than 20 years in the Army and hopes to come home to WVU in some capacity.
Moser landed an internship with the help of King at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the experience effectively changed the course of his life. Los Alamos’ main mission is to solve national security challenges through science, technology and engineering.
His three-month stint at Los Alamos turned into two years and a full-time position.
He then joined the U.S. Army in 2002, coming in as an officer — 71B, a biochemist, a direct commission to the Medical Service Corps.
“We’re sort of jacks-of-all-trades. There were only about a hundred of us in the Army.”
Moser’s job wasn’t just to do the science. He had to lead.
“I got a chance to be a company commander. That was definitely new to me. I was a young captain and they're like, ‘All right, listen, you're in charge of these 60 soldiers now, um go.’”
Much like at WVU, Moser found mentors right away — or maybe they found him. The young captain took the advice and guidance of his noncommissioned officers with a sense of gratitude.
Moser later earned a spot as chief of quality assurance and deputy commander at Tripler Forensic Toxicology Drug Testing Laboratory in Hawaii. There, he led one of only two labs that process and interpret drug testing for the entire Army. He said he enjoyed playing a chemical detective, uncovering the truth in each sample and figuring out how to package the results so his fellow officers knew how to interpret the data.
Moser then spent time with the 1st Area Medical Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, the Army’s first field-deployable biochem and environmental lab. He served as chief of chemical warfare threat assessment and “spent a year in Kandahar (Afghanistan). You know, that was completely different sand than Hawaii.”
Eventually, Moser would take over as director of lab sciences (he thought he was catching a break) at the Army Public Health Center. Then, COVID-19 struck. Moser and his team jumped into the thick of it. With more than 450,000 soldiers, that meant testing. Lots and lots of testing.
“We can’t test 10,000 individuals at once,” Moser said. “But we can pull together people who hang out together, whether that’s a squad or a fireteam up to 10 people. We pull them together and put all their samples into one and test it. If it was negative, they were good to go. If not, we had to call them back in and individually test each one.”
Moser’s plan would save military labs hundreds of hours of testing and thousands of individual tests. The method was a success, and Moser eventually oversaw testing at five labs in different countries.
No matter how much good he’s done in the world, Moser credits everyone else first.
“The Army is not a solo sport. I had a chance to serve with a ton of heroes, people who are extremely brave. I had a challenging mission and being able to accomplish it working together with my team — I really enjoyed that.”
His biggest accomplishment has been paying it forward as a mentor to civilians and soldiers alike.
“No one is going to remember that Matt Moser tested a bunch of samples or gave this killer presentation. But they might remember that I took the time to mentor them, help them grow their careers — that I made a difference in someone’s life.”