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Home : News : News
NEWS | May 9, 2024

Army nurse finds calling in emergency medicine

By Christopher Hurd Army News Service

Less than two weeks ago, Capt. Michael Johnson, an Army nurse, was on his way to work at the Brooke Army Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, when an auto accident happened in front of him on the highway.

A jeep traveling at high speed slid and crashed into the back of a bus. Johnson’s instincts took over as he pulled over, grabbed his medical bag, and went to help.

The jeep’s airbags were deployed, and the driver was unresponsive. Johnson rendered aid until emergency medical services arrived to get the driver out and evacuated to the hospital.

Moments like this, Johnson said, reassure him he’s doing what he was always meant to do.

“Taking care of [people] has been the foundation of this passion that I’ve had for going the medical route,” he said. “I absolutely love to be that helping hand.”

His passion started while taking a sports medicine and emergency medical technician class in high school in Norfolk, Virginia. He fell in love with emergency medicine and wanted to become a combat medic.

That dream was put on hold after speaking to an Army National Guard recruiter and enlisting as an infantry Soldier in 2013.

"It was honestly a blessing in disguise,” he said. “Absolutely loved the Army environment that I was exposed to, loved what I was trained to do and what I was overcoming because it wasn't like anything I'd gone through before.”

While he was in the Virginia National Guard, Johnson joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at James Madison University, where he studied to become a nurse. After graduation, he was commissioned into the Army Nurse Corps in 2017.

His first duty station was at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii. There, he worked as a medical surgical nurse in the ortho-neuro-vascular surgery department. This gave him a chance to gain experience in a hospital setting and to understand different leadership styles in the military.

A self-starter, Johnson always looked for ways to challenge himself and his skill set. He signed up for the Jungle Operations Training Course in Hawaii to test himself. There, he learned rope systems, jungle mobility, and basic survival tactics during the first few days.

Then came the waterborne operations phase where he crossed rivers using the rope systems and learned water survival. The training ramped up as the days went on, and the Soldiers spent most of their time in the elements.

The last week of the course was dedicated to the field training exercise and was conducted entirely in the jungle. He built his shelter, found food and water, made fire, and completed tasks throughout the day as he traversed the harsh landscape.

The training left him soaked to the bone and muddy every night. The only relief came before bed when he put on his dry sleeping gear. Then when the morning came, it was right back to being wet.

“It got me very comfortable being miserable,” he said. “I think everyone should go through that school because it was invaluable. It taught me a lot about myself and what I could handle and overcome.”

He then attended the Army’s Critical Care Emergency Nurse Course where he learned the skills to be a critical care nurse. After graduating, he went to his current assignment at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, where he works in the surgical trauma intensive care unit, taking care of patients and building a rapport with them.

“I really strive to create a level of positive relationships with my patients so that they can feel comfortable enough to trust and allow me to treat them,” he said. “As a nurse, you don’t just care for patients because they are sick or having some physical ailment, you care for the whole person.”

To go along with Johnson’s passion for medicine, he has a love for the tactical side of the Army, he said, and he looks to combine the two whenever he can. He earned the Army’s Expert Field Medical Badge in 2022.

The specialty badge is awarded to medical personnel who demonstrate a high degree of professional skills, stamina and proficiency. Candidates must complete a written test, a physical fitness assessment, a land navigation course during the day and at night, tactical combat casualty care and evacuation, a 12-mile march, and other various warrior skills.

“It’s an incredibly intense competition,” he said.

Two weeks after receiving his badge, he was picked to compete in the Best Medic Competition for his brigade and came in first place with his partner. They moved on to the Army-wide competition in January 2023.

Unfortunately, Johnson’s original partner got sick, which forced him to compete with an alternate. For four and a half days, they navigated medical treatment and evacuation scenarios, responded to fires, and tackled all the challenges thrown their way.

In the final event, they jumped from a helicopter, swam to shore, and then pushed through a variety of medical treatment obstacles in different environments. He used his previous jungle training to help his team navigate the terrain.

“This was by far the most intense medically-focused event I’ve ever done,” he said. “I absolutely loved it.”

His team didn’t finish in the top 10 but the experience fueled Johnson. He said he wants to make it back again in the future and perform even better.

He might have to wait for his chance. Two months after the competition ended, Johnson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and had it surgically repaired. He went through five months of therapy but is almost back to 100 percent.

He recently completed the Captain’s Career Course and is heading to an airborne unit in Europe later this year, where he’ll get to combine his passions for medicine and the operational side of the Army once again.

“I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing,” he said. “[The Army] has blessed me in ways I cannot fully explain. It’s been the most incredible thing.”