Experience, Resilience Fuel Kirillov at USAMRICD
To say Master Sgt. Nikolay Kirillov has come a long way in his military career is both demonstrably true and wildly misleading at the same time. Sure, he's clocked tens-of-thousands of miles criss-crossing the country traveling from one posting to the next (just like most military personnel, of course) but sometimes a journey isn't judged solely by the number of places you've lived or the amount of physical ground you've covered. It is perhaps now, in his role as the Senior Enlisted Leader at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command's U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, that he can appreciate both his personal and professional journeys in a more profound way.
"Everything that's happened to me in life has been a blessing, really," says Kirillov, an 18-year Army veteran who began his assignment at USAMRICD in the summer of 2018. "I'm one of the fortunate ones who got a chance to leave a certain area that is not too pleasant and come to such a great country."
The place Kirillov left behind was the former Soviet Union; the country of his birth and place where he spent the early part of his life. After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 – a gradual event which was itself predicated by the fall of the Berlin Wall that same year – Kirillov's family began looking for a way out of their native Siberia. In 1992, spurred by his aunt – who had already moved to the U.S. in search of religious freedom – Kirillov (who was then just eight years old) and his brother, mother and father emigrated to the U.S., ultimately landing in the state of Washington. One of his lasting memories of the former Soviet Union was, in his words, a "miserable" week-long train ride from far eastern Siberia to Moscow – a journey which, while difficult to calculate due to the immense size of the country, registers at easily more than three thousand miles long.
"Before , Russia would not allow anybody to emigrate or go anywhere," says Kirillov. "It wasn't looked at as something to be proud of, leaving your motherland and going somewhere else."
Yet the family was undeterred, and with the inherent promise of the United States combined with the goodwill of local sponsor families in the Pacific Northwest, they quickly adapted and began to thrive. Not long after, they moved to Alaska – a move encouraged by Kirillov's father, who wanted to live in a place that resembled the famously frigid climate they left behind. With an average wintertime temperature of ten degrees above zero, the city of Palmer, Alaska, fit the bill – turning into the family's new landing spot and the place where Kirillov ultimately enlisted in 2003. To hear him tell it, the latter decision was met with initial concern from his parents.
"They didn't really understand the military culture here in America," says Kirillov, who notes that his parents were, at the time, mistakenly confusing America's volunteer-based military with the forced service – or, conscription – demanded by the Soviet government. "But as they learned what the military is – through my service, as I grew in the Army, the opportunities that were available for me, and that I was able to honorably serve and give back to the Nation – once they saw that, they started approving of it and liking the idea."
With that, Kirillov began his journey to becoming a medical lab technician with boot camp at Fort Benning, Georgia; a routine event for new recruits made even more difficult for Kirillov given that – as a man used to far cooler regional temperatures – he had up until that point never experienced anything like the heat and humidity of a typical southeastern summer ("I don't think I even owned a pair of shorts back then," he says, humorously, of his wardrobe at the time). After training at both Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, and Fort Lewis, Washington, Kirillov fielded station assignments in Hawaii, Texas and at the USAMRDC's U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases before finally landing at his current spot at USAMRICD. It is while stationed at the latter that he has – by the measure of both his supervisors and contemporaries – blossomed as leader, advisor and integral part of the overall Command.
"[Master Sgt.] Kirillov isn't afraid of disagreements – he tells me like it is, not what I think I want to hear-- he truly provides me raw, sage advice," says Col. Robin Neumeier, USAMRICD Commander, speaking in glowing terms about Kirillov's daily impact. "His calm demeanor during times of crisis are reassuring as I know his interests are for those we serve [and] not for himself."
That last comment from Neumeier may indeed provide the most tangible, visible evidence of Kirillov's enduring commitment to the greater mission. While Neumeier compliments both Kirillov's energy and work ethic, it is perhaps his focus on the people around him that shows the depth of his natural leadership skills.
Says Neumeier, "During the pandemic, [Master Sgt.] Kirillov insisted that we walk around and check on all the staff to ensure that they were staying resilient during lean times. We would also visit them at the Barracks to make sure they were healthy. He cares about people and connects with them regardless of their rank or position."
For now, Kirillov's journey continues unabated, which seems just about right given his life so far; a truly international story that spans both continents and familial generations – one that endures as a story of resilience above all else. It's a story that shines with equal parts personal fortitude and, also, respect for the many larger tasks at hand.
"There's so much opportunity within the military – and that's been a blessing in itself, too," says Kirillov of his career. "Working within USAMRDC specifically, the Soldiers who tend to want to work in research are a unique caliber of Soldier. You really learn from them, they really change your outlook on being a leader and your leadership tactics."