Joining Forces with the Military
Military service, like other public services, involves sacrifice. However, the word "sacrifice" can't adequately describe what our enlisted men and women give up -- often they find themselves in harm's way far from home, where people largely don't understand the perils that those individuals face. It's a difficult and often dangerous life.
Chris Mikulski, civilian working for the U.S. Army (BSE CompE '09)
I started working for the Army during the summers when I was 17 years old. In 2005 my summer project was mentioned in RDECOM Magazine, the professional magazine for Army researchers and engineers. Eventually, I was offered a full-time position. I thought about our country being at war and our soldiers risking their lives every day to protect the freedoms we enjoy. I felt that the efforts of even a single person can go a long way. So I accepted the Army's offer. Now I'm using my engineering skills to give our soldiers the best possible equipment and vehicles so that they can come home safely.
My interactions with soldiers continue to shape my attitude about public service. They'll often tell my team how much they appreciate the work we do, and in response we'll say how much we appreciate their work. There's definitely a mutual respect between the engineer and the soldier.
Right now, I enjoy my work and I like the people that I work with. In the future, I'd like to lead a team of engineers -- I just want to be happy with what I do. And I hope that I can somehow inspire people to get into public service of all sorts. We need people like city council members and policemen to make all of the things we enjoy in our communities possible.
John Seo, Lt. Col., U.S. Air Force (BSE AERO '90, MSE '91)
My parents gave up their comfortable life in Korea to provide the American Dream for my sisters and me. In addition to being thankful to my parents, through my military service I could pursue that dream while serving and giving back to this country. I was enrolled in the rigorous Aerospace Engineering program as well as keeping busy with the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC). As an engineer in the Air Force, I've had a most interesting series of assignments.
My first assignment was in the Air Force Research Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, where I was selected to work as an exchange officer to Korea's Department of Defense laboratory. The Air Force then gave me the opportunity to attend its premier Test Pilot School, where I flew in more than 20 different aircraft. I moved on to teach at the USAF Academy with only my master's degree. The Air Force sent me to get my PhD at the Air Force Institute of Technology. After that, I rejoined the faculty at the Academy for several years. Today, as a lieutenant colonel on assignment in Tokyo, Japan, I'm the Technical Director of the Asian Office of Aerospace Research & Development, an arm of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. I manage a program that looks for basic science and technology in Asia that would be useful to the Air Force in its research.
Kevin Quarderer, Commander, U.S. Navy (BSE AERO '89, MSE '91)
There's a sense of pride in contributing to a higher cause, beyond my personal goals. The sense of service to the country is certainly one of the major factors that's motivated me. Pride in service and strong history are two others. I had my first real taste of dedicated public service at Michigan Engineering, working for the U-M/NASA Spacegrant program, putting grad students into inner-city classrooms to promote science and engineering. The work was extremely rewarding -- I still hear back from many of our students.
That Spacegrant work was the first time that I really felt like my efforts were making a real difference in improving someone else's life. But I've been lucky enough to serve in the armed forces in a time of fairly significant need -- this has been exceptionally rewarding. I'd have to say that I got my fondness for public service from my parents -- they certainly instilled its importance. My mother was a career teacher and principal, and both of my parents have supported many charities over the years. Every one of my mentors has been supportive of public service.
Now that I've invested a good deal of time into following their lead, I can look back at a very satisfying career. If I had to name three high points, they'd be serving with the Navy during air combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, graduating from Test Pilot School and doing follow-on flight-test work, and working with partner nations to accomplish common goals. In my last tour I worked closely throughout Latin America with many of our regional partners to deter drug trafficking and the spread of narco-terrorism. Teaming up with other professionals involved in public service in their own countries, especially where their need is often greater than ours in the United States, has again been especially rewarding.
I plan to continue my military career through my Aviation Command tour and into the foreseeable future. At some point though, I'll transition from the military and into another line of government service. In the past I've worked with the DARPA -- it's a great mix of supporting the military and creative thinking -- and I'd enjoy joining them again, using my engineering education in the midst of some of the brightest people in the country.