Col. John Nuckols surveyed the group of several dozen friends and coworkers gathered outside, all of them standing on the southern bank of Nallin Pond on an unseasonably warm December morning, all of whom had arrived – some before sunrise, even – to attend his promotion ceremony.
“This is pretty cool, isn’t it?” said Nuckols, in trademark disarming fashion – scoring a laugh from the crowd to boot – before turning slightly more serious. “You know, I couldn’t have done this without all of you.”
If Nuckols is one thing more than any other, it’s a person who has a knack for bringing people together. While the setting may differ – and indeed, his new role as Military Deputy for the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command’s Principal Assistant for Acquisition certainly qualifies – his guiding principle always stays the same: every accomplishment in life is, to some degree, a team win.
“There are teams at Wal-Mart, there are teams at CVS – there are teams everywhere,” said Nuckols during his brief remarks to the aforementioned crowd – remarks attended by, notably, Brig. Gen. Anthony McQueen, Commanding General of USAMRDC and Fort Detrick. “But to be honest, the team at Army Medicine is the best team I’ve ever been on.”
That kind of dedication to the team has served Nuckols well his entire career, it has taken on perhaps a greater importance over the past few years. During his previous assignment to the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense, Nuckols was detailed to the U.S. Department of Defense COVID-19 Task Force as the Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell Product Lead for Screening and Diagnostics. As a part of that specific portion of the federal government’s pandemic response effort, he was assigned to the Defense Assisted Acquisition Screening and Diagnostics team, which executed some of the most complex medical acquisition efforts ever attempted by the federal government. Notably, the DA2 team – which is nested within the Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition – launched an aggressive effort to increase U.S.-based nasal swab production as part of a larger push to boost the production and acquisition of personal protective equipment. In the end, Nuckols’ team increased swab production from a pre-pandemic high of 14.5 million units per month to approximately 350 million swabs per month. Additionally, the DA2 team managed investments designed to expand diagnostic testing kits and their associated analyzer platforms; an effort which increased test kit production by 64 million tests per month.
“Just keep building teams, just keep breaking down walls and keep the communication lines open – that’s how you win,” said Nuckols about what he learned from the experience; which notably required him to work with a slew of contractors and vendors who had never engaged in business with the federal government before – leading to detailed, nuanced negotiations; all under the pressure of a deadline.
“John’s not just one of my former product managers, he’s one of my good friends,” said Col. Ryan Eckmeier, who serves as the JPEO-CBRND’s Joint Project Manager for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Medical, to the crowd prior to Nuckols’ own remarks. “I appreciate what he’s done, and what he’s going to do in the future.”
If past is prelude, then Nuckols will certainly have his work cut out for him in that regard. In December alone he was promoted to the rank of Colonel, received a Legion of Merit award for the work he performed with the aforementioned COVID-19 task force and was honored with an Individual Achievement Award for Program Management from the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology).
Yet despite all those honors, Nuckols makes it clear his work is just beginning. His years at JPEO-CBRND now fold into the work to be done at USAMRDC headquarters; a cycle that is continuously moving, continuously evolving – all by design, all for the good of both the Warfighter and the American public. Before he starts pulling together new teams and resources for those specific challenges, he’ll take a quick holiday break with another group of people: namely, his wife and kids – easily the most important team of all.
“My family sucked it up at home, on the battlefront, so I could help do this for our nation, so I thank them for that,” said Nuckols, referring – jokingly – to the ‘150 hours a week’ he worked during the early months of the pandemic. “Now it’s up to me to balance the time a little more consistently moving forward.”