Advancing Navy Medicine in Contracts and in Uniform: Lt. Brian Williams shares his daily life

Advancing Navy Medicine in Contracts and in Uniform: Lt. Brian Williams shares his daily life

This decision was a watershed moment for Williams’ budding career in military medical research.

Prior to joining the Army or the NMRC, Williams cultivated a strong background in medical science. Originally from Endicott, New York, he attended college at the State University of New York at Buffalo. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and a master’s degree in exercise science, he obtained a doctorate in physiology and biophysics. Williams has also taught as an adjunct professor for graduate, undergraduate, and medical school post-baccalaureate programs.

The opportunity to work at NMRC presented itself in the fall of 2017, when Williams was seeking a postdoctoral fellowship. Eager to get his foot in the door with military research, Williams left his teaching job in Buffalo and came to Silver Spring, Maryland to begin work at the Operational and Underwater Medicine Directorate (OUMD) of the NMRC. There he studied a range of salient areas of underwater medicine, including decompression sickness, salvage of disabled submarines, and hypoxia associated with mountain warfare.

At the time, Williams was working as a contractor for the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine. He wanted to take a step further into the world of military medical research.

“I worked with a couple of NMRC research physiologists – [Lt.] Geoffrey Ciarlone and [Lt. Cmdr.] Joshua Swift. Both were outstanding mentors in an already great research community,” Williams said. “I saw the impact of their work and thought to myself, this is exactly the job I want to do and the kind of people I want to work with.”

In early 2019, Williams submitted an application hoping to be appointed as a naval officer and research physiologist. Once accepted, he entered the Navy Medical Service Corps as a lieutenant and left in September of that year to complete a five-week course at Officer Training Command, Newport, Rhode Island.

Williams cites her father, a Vietnam War veteran and Navy reservist, as an inspiration to join the Navy.

“I come from a long line of US military service going back 80 years; to include grandparents, uncles and my father. Growing up, I saw my father serve in the navy and I knew that if I ever had the chance, it would be my chosen branch.

After training, Williams’ career came full circle when he returned to NMRC to continue working with OUMD, this time in uniform.

“It’s pretty unique,” Williams said of her comeback. “I’ve met many people at NMRC who were previously military, separated or retired, and then came back to NMRC to work as a civilian; I feel like I’m one of the only people I know who’s done the opposite: quit a contractor and come back as a military man.

Williams found working at the NMRC as a naval officer to be an almost completely different job from what he had been as a contractor. In addition to the expectations of his research work, he now carried the responsibilities that come with service.

“Like a [research] entrepreneur, you are first and foremost a scientist,” Williams recalls. “To come back in uniform, you are first a naval officer. Your secondary job is exactly that, secondary. You are expected and asked to be an outstanding scientist, and now you have multiple responsibilities and additional tasks on a daily basis.

With active duty status came opportunities for immersion in the underwater environment. In 2021, Williams set sail aboard the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Alaska (SSBN 732), to gain first-hand experience.

“Seeing how the work we do could affect the fighter put a very different perspective on our research mission. 99% of the time our work is going to affect another service member, and there is always the possibility that at some point the work and research you are doing may affect you. This gives a face and a new look at work.

In March 2020, much of the country shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The NMRC mission grew and alongside research colleagues, Williams assisted the command’s Naval Infectious Disease Diagnostics Laboratory in testing samples for COVID-19, work that continued for several months.

“It was one of my first opportunities to see the difference between being a civilian scientist and a scientist in uniform; the mission has changed, the priorities have changed. It really improved my perspective that your job as a naval officer is to complete the mission, whatever that mission is, and no matter how often that mission changes.

For Williams, these shifts in focus are always part of the broader pursuit of medical research. As Deputy Chief of the Department of Underwater Medicine at OUMD, he had the opportunity to research the unique medical needs of Navy underwater combatants, including scuba divers and members of submarine crew.

Williams is leaving the NMRC this fall to serve as deputy chief of the biomedical research department at the Navy’s Experimental Diving Unit in Panama City Beach, Florida.

“I look forward to evolving in a new and stimulating environment. It is an operational command, so a bit different from the NMRC and a great opportunity to enter a department under leadership.

While the NMRC will miss having Williams on its staff, his contributions to the NMRC have brought great credit to him and to Navy medicine in general. Williams himself has expressed his excitement about the OUMD’s future accomplishments.

The NMRC is engaged in a wide range of activities from basic laboratory science to field studies in austere and remote parts of the world to investigations in operational environments. In support of the Navy, Marine Corps, and U.S. combatants, researchers study infectious disease, biological warfare detection and defense, combat casualty care, environmental health issues, aerospace medicine and underwater, medical modelling, simulation, operational mission support, epidemiology and behavioral sciences.

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