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Rossybelle Perales

Research helps soldiers win behavioral health battles

Rossybell Perales

Rossybelle Perales conducts research as part of the Behavioral and Social Health Outcomes Program in Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., to help identify behavioral and social health issues within the U.S. Army. Click image to enlarge.

Rossybelle Perales aims to help soldiers win a war waged not in a foreign land, but one fought within themselves.

The Florida native is in the midst of research in a Behavioral and Social Health Outcomes Program at the U.S. Army Public Health Command in Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. Administered by the Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education, Maryland Office, the BSHOP Research Participation Program conducts behavioral and social health epidemiology research to benefit soldiers.

Perales, an epidemiologist, works with mentor Dr. Shayne Galloway on the Army Suicide Surveillance project and several epidemiological consultations designed to investigate behavioral health issues in the Army population. She discovered BSHOP through her alma mater, the University of South Florida, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2007 and a master’s degree in public health in 2009.

“I think the research that I am involved in is very important,” Perales said. “The ongoing effect of the deployment of our soldiers needs to be researched and behavioral health programs need to be created to address its impact on our soldiers. I believe the research I will be doing will have a positive impact on these issues and will benefit the U.S. Army population.”

For Perales, her BSHOP experience showcases another facet of her field. “Although many people see epidemiology as a field with lots of number crunching, it is truly an exciting field of study,” she said. “It can be surprising what you may discover when you begin to analyze the data. I think this field is like solving a mystery. You have to act like a detective. You have to find a way to ask questions, collect the information and then, in the end, analyze the findings and make a conclusion to solve the mystery.”

In the program since May 2010, Perales has been pleased with BSHOP. “It has been a good experience,” she said. “I think this type of fellowship is a great way for students completing their master’s degree to transition into a work environment. With such a competitive job market, it is very difficult for students fresh out of school to obtain a job when they are being compared with people that have several years of work experience.”

She hopes to continue to work in BSHOP for two more years before earning a doctorate and obtaining a civilian epidemiology research position. In the meantime, Perales continues her exploration of military life.

“I have never been involved with any branch of the service,” she said. “Coming to Aberdeen Proving Grounds has been a very new and different experience. It is almost like experiencing a new culture. I have already learned some things about the Army and its structure, but I still have a lot that I need to learn along the way.”