Meet the One Man Army: A Navy Seal Sniper, Harvard Doctor, and NASA Astronaut

Written by: Sean Cate

What do Seal Team 3, Harvard Medical School, and NASA all have in common? Acceptable answers would include being incredibly difficult to get into, being some of the most respected programs on the planet, and the fact that all these programs take time to rise through their ranks.  

Well, it seems nobody told Jonny Kim that. He graduated from all three of those programs before he turned 35. 

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Born in Los Angeles, California, to Korean-immigrant parents, Jonny enlisted in the Navy in 2002 after graduating high school. He initially trained as a combat medic but became a sniper before being immediately deployed to Iraq. While on tour, he participated in over 100 combat operations across two deployments, serving as a sniper, point man, navigator, and Social Operations Combat Medic. Oh, and he did all of this as a member of SEAL Team THREE, as in, the elite group within the elite group of the Navy. 

As if 100+ combat missions serving in a myriad of roles for America’s most elite soldiers weren’t enough, Jonny Kim was also awarded bronze and silver stars for heroism and valor during his time in the Navy. Not bad for a guy in his mid 20’s. 

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Image Credit: NASA | YouTube

Jonny Kim is just getting started. 

While out serving his country, Jonny decides he wants to be more than just SEAL. In 2012, Kim completed a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics at the University of San Diego and then decided he wanted to be a doctor. This makes sense; given his combat medical training and a desire to help his fellow man, why not get the certification to do it as a career? But not being one to settle, Jonny applies for and is accepted into Harvard Medical School. He began his degree in 2012 and in 2016, became a certified Doctor of Medicine, M.D. However, Kim took his studies a step further and applied for advanced training in emergency medicine. 

As he applied for this additional training, there was something else on Jonny’s mind. He wants to see the stars and not the ones a quick drive down the road from home. So, after his extensive Navy SEAL career and graduating as a Doctor of Medicine from Harvard, Jonny Kim applied to NASA’s astronaut program. 

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NASA, are you hiring?

The application pool is massive, 18,000 strong, with NASA only accepting 12 candidates for the entire class. With such a large group of applicants for NASA to sift through, the process will take some time, so Jonny continues pursuing his advanced medical career at the Massachusetts General Hospital (Mass General). While he waits, he completes an internship with the Emergency Medicine Residency at Mass General and begins his first four years in the Emergency Medicine program. 

But a year later, in late 2017, Kim was selected to be part of NASA’s Astronaut Group 22, so emergency medicine would have to wait. Kim was now facing down two years of training that would decide his fate as an astronaut. This training would include knowledge of the International Space Station systems, flight and vehicle training, robotics, geology and wilderness survival training, physiological and mental training, and learning the Russian language, as all of America’s flights off-planet have been contracted out to Russia for the better side of a decade now. 

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And in 2020, at age 36, Jonny Kim completed his NASA training and rounded out his already absurd resume, becoming the first Korean-American Astronaut. Since then, Kim has been selected for Artemis Team 1, which will send people to the moon for the first time since 1972. Nothing has been set in stone for Kim’s role or a spot on the flight yet, but given his extensive and specific training as a SEAL and physician, there’s a good chance he’ll be blasting off at some point in the next few years. 

However, earlier this year, Kim added “pilot” to his resume as he completed his first solo flight in a Navy T-6 trainer (one of the perks of being military personnel is having access to some of their stuff to learn in). With that now under his belt, the Navy SEAL has been given training over water, land, space, and air; he’s literally a firefighting course away from mastering all the elements, and that’s not even including his medical degree.

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Taking a look at Jonny Kim’s life, it’s easy to get swept up in the accomplishments and neglect the years of hard work and dedication it must have taken to get where he is today. Despite all of this, Kim remains one of the most humble people you could possibly meet; take a listen to his interview for a brief idea of this man’s grounded nature. 

Jonny Kim serves not only as a living, breathing reminder of what a person can accomplish on paper but also what we can strive to be as people, despite all that we accomplish.

Keep Reading: Nicole Aunapu Mann Became First Native American Woman In Space

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Sources

  1. Meet the One Man Army: A Navy Seal Sniper, Harvard Doctor, and NASA Astronaut.” Interesting Engineering. Can Emir. January 14, 2022.
  2. Jonny Kim: America’s Next Lunar True Superhero?.” Spy Space.
  3. Jonny Kim (M.D.) (LCDR, U.S. Navy) NASA Astronaut.” NASA.
  4. Jonny Kim Is The SEAL-Mathematician-Doctor-Astronaut We Desperately Need Right Now.” The Drive. Chris Harmer. January 17, 2020.
  5. SEAL-Doctor-Astronaut Jonny Kim Is Adding Pilot To His Crazy Resume.” The Drive. Howard Altman. June 20, 2022.
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