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Former field artillery officer commissioned as Army medicine biochemist/physiologist

By Dr. Steven Galvan | U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Public Affairs | June 15, 2018


When he graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 2007 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology, then-Cadet Andrew W. Holt accepted a commission in the U.S. Army to become a field artillery officer.


For the next five years, he trained and led Soldiers in garrison in combat before his End Term of Service, or ETS, in 2012. Holt knew that he wanted to continue serving in the Army, but not in his current position.


His sights were set on his passion – scientific research. He had recently learned through a former VMI mentor about Army Medicine’s biochemist/physiologist program, or 71B.


Holt was aware of the requirements to apply for the program, and he needed a Ph.D. So, that’s what he set out to earn.


In 2012, he enrolled in the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University to begin that chapter in his life. Four years later, he had a Ph.D. in Physiology. A few months before he defended his dissertation, Holt submitted his application for Army Medical Department Center & School’s 71B program.


Meanwhile, he was searching for Department of Defense post-doctoral fellowships in order to combine his prior service experience with his passion for research.


In a roundabout way, Holt learned more about the post-doc opportunities at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, and he applied for, and was accepted as a fellow in January 2017.


A few months later, he learned that he was accepted into the 71B program and was commissioned as a captain to start his second job in the Army in June of that year.


“It has been great and I love it!” he said.


Holt was fortunate to be assigned to the USAISR for his first active duty assignment and continue his research that he began as a fellow with a new title as the officer-in-charge in the sensory trauma task area. He stated that there are some similarities between his two Army jobs, but for the most part, they are different as night and day.


“The similarities are that you work with and take care of Soldiers,” Holt said. “You also have to maintain physical fitness and readiness, set the example, and meet the commander’s intent, but as an artillery officer, you train to deploy and be ready for war. Here, all of that still applies, but now we are focused on our mission of ‘optimizing combat casualty care’ and delivering solutions and products for the combat wounded.”


Holt’s research is dedicated on developing successful treatment strategies to restore vision for service members who suffer from optic nerve injuries. He was recently assigned as the deputy director for the Department of Sensory Trauma. That title had belonged to Capt. Gina Griffith, who is transferring to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to a deployable unit where she will continue her Army career as a microbiologist.


Griffith’s Army career started off similar to Holt’s, except that she chose the 71A program as a microbiologist. After earning her Ph.D. in pathology in 2013, she applied for the program.


“When I first applied I was placed on the order of merit list for a direct commission, which meant that I was ranked on a list and if the top candidates were not selected for some reason, they moved onto the next person on the list,” she said. “I was not selected in the first round of applications, which meant that I had to wait another year for the board to reconvene.”


Griffith also applied for a post-doc position at the USAISR and was accepted. During that time, she met some officers at the Institute who helped her revise her application packet before she resubmitted it and was accepted for a commission as a captain.


“My first assignment was at the ISR,” she said. “Which was good because I was able to continue the research that I had started as a post-doc fellow.”


Holt’s and Griffith’s advice for anyone considering a career as an Army Medicine microbiologist or biochemist/physiologist is similar.


“Do your research and fully understand what you are committing to,” Griffith said. “Being in the military is a different lifestyle. It is critical to understand that a person is primarily joining to serve. When I was considering a military career, I received some great advice from a military veteran who said, ‘If you are joining for the job, you will probably hate it. Make sure that you are joining because you also want to serve.’”