Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

John's History

My roots are in Montana but I was born in Santa Maria, California during WWII where my father was training in the army before deployment to Europe. We were stationed at Camp Cooke, now where Vandenberg AFB stands, and then subsequently at Ft Hood TX, and Fort Jackson, SC before settling again in Montana. We lived in Lonepine and then Polson, Montana, where I attended all 12 years of grade and high school, along with one younger and one older sister. My dad was the high school math teacher and my mom was a substitute teacher and secretary. She died from a stroke in 1958. I participated in high school sports, 4-H club (we lived on a small 5-acre farm and orchard on the outskirts of town), Boy Scouts, Luther League and I was the class (75 large) valedictorian. I received an appointment to the academy from Senator James Murray on the basis of civil service and physical aptitude tests at Malmstrom AFB. I had suffered a knee injury during basketball season before travelling the 200 miles to Malmstrom and was worried about performing the gym tests satisfactorily but apparently did ok.

In June 1960 I took the train from Missoula MT to Denver where I joined other classmates waiting for the bus to USAFA. When my dad died in 1991 I discovered in his files some of the letters I had written from basic cadet summer training. They bring back “fond” memories of marching up the ramp and subsequent events that year; I hope to transcribe them into my biography at a later time.

Following USAFA I entered a graduate program at Livermore CA in Applied Science. It was set up by Edward Teller for both military and civilian students focusing on scientific and engineering skills needed to apply advancing technology to DOD needs. We met periodically with Dr Teller both at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory (LLNL) and at his home in Berkeley. After obtaining a Master's degree I was sent to Kirtland AFB, NM where I was fortunate to have arrived just as nuclear testing had revealed the existence of the nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and the Air Force Weapons Laboratory was assigned the job of defining its threat and mitigating the consequences. There I wrote some of the first computer models describing the strength and extent of the EMP phenomenon.

In 1967 I met my future wife, Mary Antoinette (Toni) Cella; we were married in 1968 and a year later I was reassigned to the Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC), then in Alexandria VA, where I continued work on nuclear threats and associated EMP signatures. Our daughter Kathryn (Kitty) was born at Andrews AFB in 1970.

In 1971 I saw an article in the Air Force Times that said there was a shortage of PhD applicants in the electromagnetics arena. I found that I could return to Livermore if I had a scholarship, so I interviewed and won a Hertz Foundation fellowship. It offered no additional stipend but guaranteed admittance to study at the University of California, Davis, Department of Applied Science program at LLNL. The laser fusion program was just breaking ground at Livermore then, so I arrived when there was much interesting research and there were many interesting people. I completed my PhD in 1975 having studied issues and written computer code regarding laser-beam propagation and target interactions.

This led directly to my next assignment, again at Kirtland AFB but now in the Advanced Radiation Technology program, assessing and developing applications for high-energy lasers. During this time and after my assignment there was over, a high power laser was installed on a KC-135 and subsequently demonstrated the capacity to track and disable missiles in flight. In 1979 I was fortunate to begin my last active-duty assignment at Wright-Patterson AFB at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), where I served on the faculty of the Physics Department and taught classes and advised graduate work in electromagnetics, optics, lasers and EMP. I retired from active duty in June 1984.

From Ohio we wanted to return “home” to New Mexico, so I began work in Albuquerque for R&D Associates, a small research company based in Los Angeles. We provided technical support to the Air Force, and later the Strategic Defense Initiative Office, on issues related to high-energy laser weapons. I developed computer models of the laser and beam-line configurations to predict and evaluate performance of a number of candidate weapons systems, including the 747-based Airborne Laser that accomplished shoot-down of ballistic missiles launched from Vandenberg AFB in 2010. RDA had been acquired by different entities by the time I retired in October 2010.

I am now happily employed at home, catching up on long-neglected tasks, travelling to Pasadena CA for visits with our grandchildren, and spending time in Montana keeping up with the still-existing family orchard.


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