This move was a pivotal turn in Williams’ burgeoning career in military medical research.
Prior to joining the Army or NMRC, Williams gained a range of experience in the medical sciences. A native of Endicott, New York, he attended college at the State University of New York at Buffalo. After earning a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and a master’s degree in exercise science, he earned a doctorate in physiology and biophysics. Williams also taught as an assistant professor for post-baccalaureate programs in graduate, undergraduate, and medical studies.
I offered the opportunity to work at NMRC in the fall of 2017, while Williams was pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship. Eager to advance military research, Williams left his teaching position at Buffalo and came to Silver Spring, Maryland to begin work in the Directorate of Operational Medicine and Naval Medicine (OUMD) at NMRC. There, he researched a range of notable areas of subsea medicine, including decompression sickness, rescue of disabled submariners, 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 go one step further in the world of military medical research.
“I’ve worked with a few research physiologists at NMRC – [Lt.] Jeffrey Ciarlon and [Lt. Cmdr.] Joshua Swift. “They were both outstanding mentors in a really great research community,” Williams said. “I saw the impact their work had, and I thought: This is exactly the work I want to do, the kind of people I want to work with.”
In early 2019, Williams submitted a package hoping to be commissioned as a naval officer and research physiologist. Once accepted, he joined the Naval Medical Services Corps as a lieutenant and departed in September of the same year for a five-week course at Officers Training Command, Newport, Rhode Island.
Williams cites his father, a Vietnam War veteran and Marine reservist, as inspiration for joining the Navy.
“I came from a long line of US military service going back 80 years; to include grandparents, uncles and my dad. Growing up, I saw my dad serving in the Navy and knew that if I had the chance, this would be my favorite branch.”
After training, Williams’ full career came when he returned to NMRC to continue working with OUMD, this time in uniform.
“It’s unique,” Williams said, regarding his comeback. “I have met many individuals in the NMRC who were ex-military, separated or retired, and then returned to NMRC to work as civilians; I feel like one of the only people I know who has done the opposite: I left a contractor, I went back to military work.”
Williams found that working for the NMRC as a naval officer was almost entirely different work than it was as a contractor. In addition to the expectations of his research work, he now takes on the responsibilities that come with the service.
“K [research] Contractor, you are a scientist first and foremost,” Williams recalls. “Back in uniform, you are a Navy officer first. Your secondary job is exactly that, secondary. You are expected and required to be an outstanding scientist, and now you have multiple additional responsibilities and tasks on a daily basis. “
Active service status came with opportunities for immersion in the deep sea environment. In 2021, Williams set out aboard the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Alaska (SSBN 732), gaining first-hand experience.
“Seeing how the work we do can affect the Warrior puts a very different perspective on our research mission. 99% of the time our work affects another fellow service member, and there is always the possibility that the work and research you do may affect you at some point.” It puts a new face and perspective on the business.”
In March of 2020, much of the country went into lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. NMRC’s mission grew and along with fellow researchers, Williams helped the Naval Command’s Infectious Disease Diagnostic Laboratory test COVID-19 samples, and the work continued for months.
“This was one of my first opportunities to learn the difference between being a civilian versus a uniformed scientist; the mission changed, the priorities changed. It really reinforced my view that your job as a naval officer is to meet the mission, whatever that mission is, and no matter how many times that changes the mission “.
For Williams, these changes in focus are still part of the larger pursuit of medical research. As Vice President of Subsea Medicine at OUMD, he has had the opportunity to research the unique medical needs of Navy SEALs, to include divers and submarine crew members.
Williams is leaving NMRC this fall to serve as Vice President of Biomedical Research at the Naval Experimental Diving Unit in Panama City Beach, Florida.
“I am looking forward to a new challenging environment. It is operational leadership, so it is a little different than NMRC and a great opportunity to join a department as part of leadership.”
While NMRC will miss Williams’ presence on staff, his contributions to NMRC have been a huge boon to him, and to Navy medicine in general. Williams himself expressed his happiness with OUMD’s future accomplishments.
NMRC engages in a wide range of activities from basic science in the laboratory to field studies in rigorous and remote regions of the world to investigations in operational environments. In support of the Navy, Marine Corps, and U.S. Combined Veterans, researchers study infectious disease, biological warfare detection and defense, combat casualty care, environmental health concerns, aerospace and marine medicine, medical modeling, simulation, operational mission support, epidemiology, and behavioral science.