U.S. Navy Reservists: Supporting the Future


By Lt. Cmdr. Tom McAndrew
Office of Naval Research-Reserve Component

Serving as a Reservist at the Office of Naval Research has been one of the most rewarding tours I’ve spent in the Navy. I supported cutting-edge cyber and electronic warfare research; I was able to create solutions to meet the science and technology needs of my shipmates; and I got to use my skillset in ways I’d never been able to do in the past.

And I did it all while holding another job.

That’s right: Over the past three years, I worked for ONR in the Reserve Component while working fulltime in the civilian sector. I didn’t know much about the Reserves when I was on active duty – and it turns out my perception of what Reservists do was completely wrong.

CAMP PENDLETON (November 4, 2014) Lt. Cmdr. Tom McAndrew, assigned to the  Office of Naval Research reserve component, operates an unmanned ground vehicle during a demonstration held at Camp Pendleton, California. McAndrew is the recipient of a 2015 Federal 100 award presented to government, industry and academic leaders who have played pivotal roles that affect how the federal government acquires, develops and manages IT. (U.S. Navy photo)

CAMP PENDLETON (November 4, 2014) Lt. Cmdr. Tom McAndrew, assigned to the Office of Naval Research reserve component, operates an unmanned ground vehicle during a demonstration held at Camp Pendleton, California. McAndrew is the recipient of a 2015 Federal 100 award presented to government, industry and academic leaders who have played pivotal roles that affect how the federal government acquires, develops and manages IT. (U.S. Navy photo)

Here are the top four reasons why being an ONR Reservist turned out to be one of the best jobs in the world.

1) You tackle the biggest science and technology challenges.

Have you ever tried to use a laptop while holding a rifle?  This is just one of the challenges facing Marines in cyber and electronic warfare at the tactical edge. Think about it this way: For most of us, sitting in a Starbucks and connecting to Wi-Fi is a pretty routine task. But things change drastically if you try to do the same thing in a hostile, or “tactical,” environment. There is an increasing need to operate cyber equipment in hostile areas, where Sailors or Marines may have to keep their hands on a weapon, they may have power/battery limitations, they may have bandwidth limitations – and sitting down may not be an option.

At ONR, I provided support to more than a dozen research projects in tactical cyber/electronic warfare to address problems like this. We covered a wide range of projects – from augmented reality glasses, to unmanned air and ground vehicles, to the construction of a state-of-the-art tactical cyber range. We went from hearing of challenges in the fleet, to proposing some novel approaches, to rolling out a full-blown experiment – one of which was a tactical cyber range at Bold Alligator 2014, a bi-annual training exercise held by the Marines.

“The Tactical Cyber Range really helped me coordinate realistic Signal Intelligence and cyber training for my analysts and operators. The environment was realistic and noisy, and my Marines had to work together to solve the tactical problem. This would be a valuable capability for the Marine Corps to define cyberspace tactics, techniques and procedures.”

Staff. Sgt. Johnathon Krahnke
Signal Intelligence team lead

2) You meet some amazing people.

ONR funds oceanic research vessels to give scientists the opportunity to conduct at-sea experiments. Last year, two ships were christened: the Research Vessels Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride. Both were named for pioneers who devoted their lives to the pursuit of science, technology and exploration. As a Reservist, I had the privilege of playing a role in the time-honored new ship traditions of the Navy. More than 60 Reservists provided support for the ceremony and its distinguished guests – which included many former astronauts, admirals, generals and civilian leaders.

I was moved by the sincere gratitude expressed by members of the Armstrong and Ride families.  One of the most gratifying experiences was when Neil Armstrong’s son, Mark, gathered the Reservists together to thank us for representing the Navy at the event. He went on to share the special place the Navy held in his father’s life (Neil was a naval aviator before becoming an astronaut) and went out of his way to thank each and every one of us who supported the christening.

It’s not every day you get to meet the families of true American heroes and honor their sacrifices and accomplishments.

3) You really use your skills.

One of the most interesting things about the Navy Reserves is seeing each Reservist bring a unique set of skills and experiences to the Navy/Marine Corps team. Here’s one example: ONR had a mission need for a project in Japan. As someone who minored in Japanese in college (and had been an exchange student in Japan), I was uniquely positioned to provide support due to my familiarity with Japanese culture and my technological background.

4) You help build the future.

As one of the nation’s premier research institutions, ONR must ensure future engineers and scientists can solve tomorrow’s challenges. At hundreds of science fairs nationwide, Navy Reservists are there to support. Sometimes we act as judges.  I’ve been involved in two separate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) outreach programs, and there is nothing that gets me more excited about the future of this great nation than supporting the amazing creativity and ingenuity of our high school STEM programs.

My story is just one of thousands – nearly 60,000 Reservists support the Navy today, providing a wide variety of skills to support the mission. If you have a technological skill or interest, or unique work or life experiences, chances are you’d be a great asset.

I’m proud of my Reserve service. It helped me grow as an officer and person, all while I made important contributions to the nation and Navy. Is that an invitation to consider the Reserves? You bet.

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U.S. Navy Reservists: Supporting the Future