FORT DETRICK, Md. — By the time word reached the U.S. Navy, the situation was dire. A man was dying. At most, he had a few weeks left. There was an experimental treatment that might help — and one of the biggest stashes in the country was kept here, behind the checkpoints of a military base, in a lab directed by Lt. Commander Theron Hamilton. The patient’s family desperately wanted a few vials, but the Navy had never tested the stuff on people. What if it caused more harm than good? Would the Navy be liable? But what was a little liability when weighed against a human life?
Just thinking about it made Hamilton’s adrenaline surge. He was both an officer and a researcher — a chemist in camouflage and boots — and one of his duties at the Biological Defense Research Directorate was to oversee incremental lab work, preparing the country for disasters to come. Now, on that day in March of 2016, he found himself confronting an emergency so immediate that even the briefest of delays could prove lethal.