By Jenny Hottle and Clare Skelly | NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Photos by Jenny Hottle
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, a declared ceasefire ended World War I. Previously recognized as Armistice Day, Nov. 11 resurged in the 1970s as Veterans Day — a federal holiday dedicated to American veterans of all wars.
Veterans of every U.S. military branch work at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in business, engineering, facilities management and many other roles. The center’s Veterans Advisory Committee held a panel discussion Nov. 10, with seven Goddard veterans to commemorate the day.
“NASA employs many people who have served,” said Eric Holmes, retired Air Force engineer and Goddard facility operations specialist. “We’ve transitioned into something else that’s still serving the country, whether it’s as a civilian or contractor. To work for an agency like NASA and be recognized as an asset because of my military background is definitely a plus for me.”
Last week, Holmes and a few fellow veterans volunteered to share their perspective on the holiday and their work at NASA.
“Today, we are supposed to remember to thank the veterans for the kinds of sacrifices we do to keep the freedoms we enjoy. I always thank people when they thank me. It may seem weird, but I am thanking them because they took the time out to thank me for my service. Does that make sense?”
Ross Bagwell, a senior systems engineer for Earth Science Data and Information System, served in the military for 28 years. After graduating from high school, he joined the Marine Corps, where he spent eight years before transferring to the Army. Over the course of his military career, Bagwell traveled to 30 countries around the world. He settled in the Washington metropolitan area and started working for NASA five years ago.
“I was going through some old letters that my daughter’s school class wrote me when I was in Iraq. A letter from a 10-year-old wrote about how it must have taken a lot to give up everything just to protect us. That was very profound for me. I said, ‘Wow, this 10-year-old gets it.’ That’s what validates me to do what I do. When I was in Iraq, that motivated me to finish what I needed to finish and to come home safely to my family.”
Elizabeth Harley, pictured at the Goddard Visitors Center, is a customer service specialist with the Customer Service Office (CSO), Code 200.2. She served in the U.S. Marines for 17 years, including three combat tours in Iraq. She’s worked at Goddard for about 13 years.
“I don’t look upon myself as a hero. I lost six colleagues during a year tour in Afghanistan. Those are the real heroes. I carry around a picture in my wallet to remind me that it’s not about me. It’s about others.”
Pat Michael’s 32-year career in the Air Force and Navy has taken him to every continent except Antarctica. The deputy manager for the Crustal Dynamics Data Information System (CDDIS) first came to Goddard as a graduate student and returned as a civil servant after finishing a tour in Afghanistan in 2013. Pat is currently a reservist in the Navy and typically works in his military job six or more weeks during the year.
“One of the most powerful military forces in the world is made up of all volunteers. That really speaks to what kind of people the United States has to offer. These men and women are willing to offer themselves, their lives and the lives of their families — people don’t really realize that while I’m the veteran, it affects my family. My family has to support me when I’m gone and deal with the unforeseen things that may come up. Veterans Day is a chance to promote a certain kind of recognition. Veterans are recognized for their service and the people who want to celebrate them have a chance to do that as well, that’s a plus for both sides.”
Eric Holmes, pictured inside Goddard’s central power plant, is a facility operations specialist. Holmes is retired from the Air Force after 25 years of service as a combat engineer. Holmes and his comrades were trained to build anything from field hospitals to runways in sometimes-hostile environments.
“I joined the Army at a tender age of 18 because I’ve, since my teenage years, always wrestled with the stereotype that women can’t perform tasks as well as men. There were many challenges that I overcame during my service. Today, Veterans Day means a lot to me — pride, patriotism and great sacrifice. Veteran status is not something that was handed out or given to me. I had to earn it.”
Maria Romo is a resources analyst for the Joint Polar Satellite System, or JPSS, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration mission currently in development by NASA. She manages the multimillion-dollar budget for a JPSS satellite instrument. She served in the Army for 10 years, both overseas and in the U.S.