For Lt. Col. Jacob Johnson, it’s all about work ethic – up early, stay late, push hard. You’d certainly expect that to be the case for someone just appointed to lead both the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command’s Joint Trauma Analysis and Prevention of Injury in Combat program office and, also, the Blast Injury Research Coordinating Office. But for Johnson, the workday starts even before he gets to the office. In fact, it’s the ‘getting to the office’ part that stands as one of the more enjoyable parts of his day.
“My daily rider is a 2015 Harley Davidson Softail Slim,” says Johnson of his favorite motorcycle – riding being an enduring passion of his for years. In his garage you’ll find three bikes total: the aforementioned softail, a Harley Davidson MT500 – which is, as Johnson proudly notes, a limited production military motorcycle prototype – and a Yamaha TW-200 dirt bike.
“If I had a bigger garage,” he says, “I’d have even more.”
Indeed, Johnson’s passion only builds once he walks into the office proper, digging into the workload required to keep both JTAPIC and BIRCO on course both for now and in the future. It is, in short, simply part of his nature, and perhaps the prime reason he is the first person in recent history to be assigned the directorship of both offices.
“The blast injury research community is working relentlessly to better understand injuries and improve their prevention, mitigation and treatment,” says Johnson, who was assigned the dual roles in late September. “As the nature of future warfare becomes increasingly complex and lethal, and prolonged field care is a more prevalent reality, coordination of effort to address new challenges will be critical.”
The new positions are just another step in a long and wide-ranging career for Johnson; one that’s intersected at times with a few major military – and global – medical developments. For instance, after completing the Army Medical Department Officer’s Basic Course in 2005, Johnson was assigned to the USAMRDC’s Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, where he conducted research on malaria and leishmania drug discovery. As such, his efforts coincided with WRAIR’s own efforts to study and develop the RTS,S malaria vaccine; the first vaccine of its kind and, notably, a treatment that was recently recommended by the World Health Organization for at-risk children across Africa. Research on RTS,S began at WRAIR’s Entomology branch in the 1980s, with scientists performing controlled human malaria infection studies. The first-ever study on the vaccine took place at WRAIR as well, with its efficacy later established in a Phase 3 clinical trial concluding in 2014.
“The new malaria vaccine (RTS,S) is a great advancement towards malaria eradication, with the Army and WRAIR having played a significant role in its development,” says Johnson. “This vaccine is a phenomenal example of significant private investment in public health measures.”
Following an assignment to the United States Army Medical Research Unit-Kenya in 2010, Johnson was assigned to Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington, in 2014. He came to USAMRDC in 2017 when he was assigned as the Military Deputy to the command’s U.S. Army Military Infectious Diseases Research Program. He then served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations since early 2020; a position in which he directed full-spectrum operations, plans, and training for more than six thousand employees and subordinate commands, laboratories, and executive agencies around the world.
Now, Johnson steps into a dual role with a pair of organizations that have a history of delivering substantial contributions to USAMRDC’s mission. Initially tasked with researching possible connections between fatal combat injuries and the circumstances surrounding those incidents, JTAPIC has since evolved into an established entity that uses high-end data analysis to mitigate battlefield risks to Service Members – an effort which has helped prevent injuries for millions of Warfighters. The BIRCO office was created in 2007, and has in the past several years coordinated U.S. Department of Defense blast injury efforts – including primary, secondary, tertiary, quaternary and quinary injuries – across the military, corporate and academic worlds.
For Johnson, who has served as an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine/Biometrics at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences since 2008, the opportunity to helm this pair of prestigious organizations represents the continuation of a career dedicated to Warfighter health and resiliency. Even better – and perhaps more in-tune with his nose-to-the-grindstone mentality – it’s a chance to keep revving his engines even when he’s in the lab, in the office, or in the conference room.
“Advancements in blast injury prevention and treatment for Service members require close collaboration among researchers, clinicians, engineers and other stakeholders domestically and internationally,” says Johnson. “I can’t wait to get started.”