Entomology alumna is making a difference in the world we live in

Maj. Jaree Johnson is working to ensure soldiers and civilians are safe from vector-borne diseases and pests.

Maj. Jaree Johnson is working to ensure soldiers and civilians are safe from vector-borne diseases and pests.

Maj. Jaree Johnson

Maj. Jaree Johnson received her degree in medical entomology from Michigan State University in 2008 and now serves as a medical entomologist with the U.S. Army. She helps to ensure that soldiers and civilians are protected from health threats from both vector-borne diseases and pests, and also works to minimize the adverse effects of pesticide resistance.

“We bring awareness, not only to soldiers, but also do community outreach as well,” Johnson said. “I found that community outreach and educating the population is very impactful.”

For example, she went door-to-door to raise awareness of preventive measures to local populations while serving overseas. She taught people that three of the four stages of the mosquito life cycle are waterborne and that by covering water sources, they could help prevent mosquito breeding habitats and help reduce the spread of diseases.

“The biggest challenge can be getting people to listen,” she said. “Providing education to the community was huge—it had the biggest impact and alerted residents of risk.”

According to the World Health Organization, mosquitoes are the most widely known disease vector—an organism that transmits infectious disease. Johnson explained that mosquitoes are the most widely known disease including malaria, Zika, West Nile virus and many others, which can lead to what the military calls “disease and nonbattle injuries.”

“These are all things soldiers are exposed to,” Johnson explained. “So our role is to alert soldiers going to a geographic area of the risk as we have a global perspective.”

She explained further that the medical entomologists are housed under the Medical Service Corps, Preventive Medicine umbrella of the U.S. Army. There are also environmental science officers, audiologists and others who all play a role in trying to prevent or reduce disease or injury outcomes for soldiers.

A native of Gary, Indiana, Johnson was the first in her family to attend college. She received her bachelor’s degree in animal science from Prairie View A&M University and a master’s in animal health and diseases from the University of Rhode Island before receiving her second graduate degree in medical entomology from MSU.

“I am proud to have an undergraduate and graduate education,” she said. “Some of my peers that I grew up with didn’t have that opportunity.”

Johnson was recruited after an Army recruiter talked to her entomology class at MSU. Later that year, she was looking for postgraduation jobs and asked the recruiter for more information. By the fall, she had traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet two entomologists and saw what medical entomologists do for the U.S. Army. By December, she had been accepted into the Army. Her first assignment was three years in Japan. She has now served eight years in places such as Texas, Korea and currently Maryland.

Johnson’s work has not gone unnoticed. She received an award of excellence in preventive medicine in 2012 from Brig. Gen. Dennis Doyal (a one-star general) and Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho (a three-star general). She was recently appointed to serve as the Armed Forces Pest Management Board’s equipment committee vice-chair, under the assistant secretary of defense.

“I am proud to serve my country–I know it sounds cliché,” she said. “I am proud to take everything I have learned in life and my education to provide those services to our country.”

The content for this article was originally published in In the Field 2018.

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