In 1990, after earning a bachelor's degree in integrated science, a master's in neurobiology and physiology and a doctorate in developmental genetics and anatomy, Valerie Martindale (WCAS83) wanted a break from the academic world. A member of her thesis committee, a naval reservist, suggested that she check out the Air Force.
"It sounded unlikely," Martindale says, "but I looked in the phone book and called the local recruiter and gave him my details. The voice at the other end of the phone said, 'Cell biology, huh? Well, we could retrain you to be a meteorologist.' He seemed entirely serious, as if going into meteorology was a common career move for cell biologists!" Three months later the health science recruiter called back, and she knew they were interested in her scientific background and training.
Today, Martindale is a lieutenant colonel and program manager for life sciences and human effectiveness for the European Office of Aerospace Research & Development, a London-based detachment of the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Primarily she serves as a liaison between her research laboratory and research organizations throughout Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the countries of the former Soviet Union. "The purpose of our office is to foster international ties in basic research and to scout and acquire the best of the best for the U.S. Air Force," she says.
She's done research on issues from spatial disorientation (considered the greatest peacetime threat to pilots, civilian and military) to tissue loss in space shuttle astronauts, met the premier scientists throughout Europe and Russia, helped support a group of Australian researchers studying the concepts of critical incident management and small unit command, and even facilitated the shipment of preserved jellyfish samples from the Russian Academy of Sciences to scientists in Dayton, Ohio. "As you can see, there is no such thing as a typical day in my job," Martindale says.
"I've never had a bad job, and each one has been different. The variety is one of the things I like best about military service. I've been a researcher, a teacher, a curriculum developer, a unit commander and now a scientific administrator. I can't help feeling that the opportunities I've had have been exceptional." — T.S.