Today at Berkeley Lab

Three Berkeley Lab Veterans Share Their Stories

— By Keri Troutman

On Nov. 11, our nation observes Veterans Day, honoring and remembering all who have served our country in the armed forces. Berkeley Lab will recognize our 99 employees who are veterans with a special Veterans Day luncheon and movie screening. Below, three Berkeley Lab vets share their stories.

Stephanie Collins

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Stephanie Collins, Deputy Electrical Safety Officer in Berkeley Lab’s EHS Division, spent the majority of her career in the Navy. She enlisted right out of high school as an Electricians Mate and worked her way up to Senior Chief over her 24 years of service. Collins served on five different ships, including one two-year tour on a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Her shore-duty tours were spent as a Bay Area recruiter for the Navy and as a sound and vibration analyst working on submarines in Pearl Harbor.

Though times have changed a lot in the years since Collins enlisted and found herself one of only a few women aboard her first ship (and one of a handful in the engineering department), she says it’s still uncommon to find female Senior Chiefs within the Engineering ratings. “On my last ship, I had female sailors who told me that I was the only female Senior Chief electrician they had ever met,” she says. “I felt like that was great because it showed them that it is possible for them too.”

Collins completed her bachelor’s degree and first master’s degree while onboard Navy ships. When she retired from the Navy, she went to work for the private sector. After her company was acquired, she found herself temporarily out of work. During that time, she volunteered for Meals on Wheels, hanging out with WWII veterans, whom she enjoyed immensely. It’s those veterans she really thinks of when Veterans Day comes around.

“I don’t really look at Veterans Day as being for me; I look at it as for those guys from WWI and WWII, because those are the guys who really had a lot asked of them” she says. “War is different now because it’s not nearly as in your face.”

Collins did have to conduct emergent wiring repairs to USS Stark FFG-31, a ship that had been struck by missiles in the Persian Gulf, an experience that will never leave her. She recalls that 37 sailors lost their lives on that ship.

Collins had toured Berkeley and Livermore Lab and worked with some Lab contacts during her Navy recruiting work. So when she noticed an opening that aligned with her experience, she knew it could be a good fit. She’s been at the Lab for four months now and says she’s enjoying the views and the challenges. “It’s interesting here because you want to enable science, but you have to do it safely,” she says.

Alex Gavidia

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Alex Gavidia, a Precision Surveyor in the Lab’s Mechanical Engineering Department, learned the tools of his trade while enlisted in the Air Force during the 1980s Cold War. Gavidia had joined the Air Force just after high school at age 18, and after his training he was assigned to a Civil Engineering Squadron that was responsible for building and maintaining runways and hangars for U.S. bombers on a British base just outside of Oxford, England. He was part of a special team that was tasked with rebuilding runways on bases that had been bombed. “It was interesting, because in England they took the Cold War much more seriously than here in the States,” Gavidia comments.

Gavidia’s four years in the Air Force afforded him the opportunity to work towards his degree in civil engineering, via overseas college classes and a semester at Oxford University, while also gaining valuable work experience. When he returned to the States, he was hired as a surveyor at SLAC. Five years later he joined the ALS during its initial construction phase, and he’s been here ever since — 22 years and counting.

“It’s been nice that the survey work I learned in the Air Force has carried over all these years,” Gavidia says. “It’s the same basic principles; just with much more modern equipment; the technology we use here at the ALS is really cutting edge.”

Michael Elmore

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Michael Elmore, a computer systems engineer who works in the Lab’s IT department, spent six years in the Navy during the Vietnam War era. Elmore trained as an electronics technician after boot camp, and then was deployed for two years on a ship that travelled to Vietnam to rescue 7,500 South Vietnamese refugees. At the time, ship electronics technicians were just starting to switch from tubes to transistors. Elmore had been in one of the first training classes that taught transistor theory.

Elmore has a strong military family background — his father served in the Navy during WWII and his brother and sister both served in the military for more than 20 years. “My dad always talked about being on an aircraft carrier during WWII,” says Elmore. “And when he got older, that’s all he talked about.”

Elmore’s Navy electronics training has served him well throughout his career — his first job out of the Navy was at Pacific Bell as an electronics technician. He joined the Lab’s phone services staff 23 years ago as a telephone technician and has built on and expanded his skills since. “The good thing about my experience in the Navy is that I’ve used that electronics training my whole life,” Elmore says. “It was the foundation for everything else I’ve done.”

When he thinks about Veterans Day, Elmore says he feels thankful that these days veterans are treated with more respect. “When I was on active duty, we couldn’t leave the base in uniform,” he says.

Berkeley Lab would like to form an Employee Resource Group for all veterans at the Laboratory. This will be an opportunity to meet fellow veterans, and determine participation and support of local events and activities. If you are interested in learning more, please contact the Diversity and Inclusion Office at [email protected].