There's A Maven In Our Haven...
Rich developed an early interest in going to West Point, and as you might suspect, he aced the mathematics part of his SATs as a senior at Linden (N.J.) High School. Unfortunately, he bombed the English section and ended up taking a year of college at nearby Rutgers University before reapplying. The second time around he passed with flying colors and earned entrance to the U.S. Military Academy, beating out four other finalists for a Congressional competitive appointment. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in military engineering at West Point.
Rich graduated from the Point in 1963 as a 2nd Lieutenant and then went through some rigorous training in the next two years: field artillery school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma; airborne and ranger school at Fort Benning, Georgia; further field artillery training with the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Kentucky; and a course in military advisory training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He was then sent to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California to take a crash two-month course in basic Vietnamese before being shipped to Vietnam in December of 1965.
In fact, he was rotated to Nam twice, doing a second tour in 1969-70, before getting a heavy dose of problem solving after that: The Army sent him to the University of Missouri in Rolla, Mo. for a master’s degree in applied mathematics, and then for further training with the U.S. Army Strategy and Tactics Analysis Group in Bethesda, Md. and six months of high-level course work at the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Va.
From there, now a Major, Rich returned to West Point in 1974 as a professor of mathematics, where he stayed on for three years, teaching plebes to solve calculus problems. But he was headed for future heights. After a three-year tour of duty in Germany, in 1982 Rich was selected to go to the U.S. Army War College, whose stated mission is to “provide graduate-level instruction to senior military officers and civilians to prepare them for senior leadership assignments and responsibilities.” He spent the last six years of his military service in just such assignments at the Pentagon, the last three as a full Colonel and Director of the Army Science Board. It was an appointment made by the Deputy Undersecretary of the Army.
The ASB had been established in 1977 to provide high-level, independent advice and recommendations on scientific and technology-related problems of urgent concern to the Department of the Army. Most appointees to the ASB were civilians: scientists, including at least one Nobel prize winner, physicist William Shockley, one of the inventors of the transistor; but also engineers, researchers and retired military people. It was at the ASB that Rich began his involvement with some mighty big problems to solve.
As part of the Strategic Defense Initiative, President Reagan’s “Star Wars” program that began in the early 1980s, the ASB examined how to develop better early warning systems, using over-the-horizon or space-based radar. They studied lasers and particle beam weapons, high-performance computer systems and advanced command-and-control systems that would be needed in a futuristic war fought with weapons from outer space and cyber attacks that could occur with little warning and devastating effects. These were life-and-death issues for our country.
“I was not doing the research myself,” Rich explains. “I was the coordinator, getting advice on the nature of the problem, assembling the people who could come up with the answers, and getting them to deliver their recommendations in six months or a year.” About six problems were taken up in any given year, and the results were presented to the Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. The program continues to this day.
Rich retired from the Army in 1989 after 26 years of service, but he wasn’t done working on big-time military problems. In 1990 he became Director of the Air Force Studies Board under the aegis of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. In his three years there he coordinated the activities of research teams on technology to enhance special ops forces, counterforce options against tactical missile systems, maintaining high performance by Air Force personnel, the use of strategic relocatable targets and continuous modernizing of worldwide military command-and-control systems. These are not exactly the kinds of problems one faces in daily life, but rather vitally important to maintaining the security and deterrent capability of our nation so that the rest of us can enjoy our routine daily lives.
In 1994 Rich became a member of the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), a nonprofit corporation that operates research and development centers funded by several government agencies, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). If you haven’t heard of DARPA, it’s time you did. DARPA was the developer of today’s Internet. Its interests are far flung in such matters as nanotechnology, robotics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and cellular computing in biological systems. IDA provides DARPA with objective analyses of issues in these and other fields, particularly, in their words, “those requiring extraordinary scientific, technical, and analytic expertise.” And if you want something really exotic, in 1999 they examined the feasibility of building a time travel machine.
Rich also spent several years working in the Engineering Research Facility of the FBI, dealing with cybercrime issues. He retired in 2005 after 11 years in dealing with esoteric problems and “after 47 years of getting paychecks from the federal government,” as he puts it. He and his wife Sally, who have now been married for 56 years, had a house built in Stillwater, a serene, gated community that borders on the grounds of Englewood Hospital. “We wanted to live in a quiet community, and we found it in Englewood,” he says. Their five children are now grown, and they have bragging rights for 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Rich volunteers for Meals on Wheels—in the kitchen, not on the road–and has been playing softball in a senior league, where he served for 12 years as the league’s commissioner. He also runs the hearings committee of the Stillwater homeowners’ association. He can’t seem to keep himself out of commanding positions.
And oh, yes. He is a volunteer teacher at Englewood Elementary School, teaching 5th graders how to cope with word problems in mathematics. Once a problem solver, always a problem solver.
Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of the article that originally ran in the October 11, 2019 Englewood Review.
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