Looking at a photo of a silver-haired man in a blue jumpsuit, standing next to a bright orange racecar, I get the feeling that retirement for some may not mean the same as it does for others.
“That’s me,” says Dr. Donald Caldwell, Deputy Principal Assistant for Acquisition serving the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command at Fort Detrick, Md.
I’m pretty impressed – probably because the good doctor has attended a NASCAR driving school at an age well beyond my own, and I’m asking myself, “Why haven’t I done that yet?” I suppose it has something to do with the motivation and “stick-to-itiveness” I quickly recognize in this particular gentleman.
Remaining in the same field for three and a half decades is a feat seldom accomplished in today’s economic landscape, but Caldwell has done just this. A specialist in mechanical and biomedical engineering, he soon will enter the elite, or perhaps enlightened group of AARP candidates when he retires from the USAMRMC on December 31, 2012.
Having served the Department of Defense since 1980, Caldwell has worked within the USAMRMC for the past 26 years. His career path has taken him across the globe, earned him various honors and awards, and helped him to secure a U.S. patent in 2007 for the Non-Contact Respiration Monitor – a device used to help identify Soldiers in respiratory trouble on the battlefield.
When I met with Caldwell to discuss his memories of the past 35 years, he appeared very content with his upcoming retirement, and he spoke very highly of his time serving the military and the nation. In fact, he holds the distinct honor of having served in or worked for three of the four U.S. military branches, which includes the Air Force, Navy, and Army.
Caldwell began his career as a missile maintenance technician in the U.S. Air Force, and after serving for four years, moved to the University of Maryland to complete a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He would eventually earn both a master’s and doctorate from Maryland in the same major, en route to securing a position as a research engineer with Westvaco Corporation. In 1980, Caldwell was hired by the David Taylor Naval Ship Research and Development Center as a mechanical engineer, which launched a six-year relationship with the Navy. During this time, he completed a critical report for the Navy regarding noise reduction performance of the 688 Class Attack Submarine.
While this may appear to be the high point for many, Caldwell was just beginning to make his mark. In 1986, he joined the USAMRMC as a project manager for the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, and over the next 26 years would lend his talents to the success of the command. This includes contributions to the Army’s development of both the Noise Immune Stethoscope and Oxygen Concentrator, and upgrades to the Steam Sterilization Device – all of which were influenced by his input and guidance. However, Caldwell’s greatest achievement may have come during his current role within the PAA office.
“Dr. Caldwell has made a number of contributions to the MRMC over the years,” said Dr. Kenneth Bertram, USAMRMC Principal Assistant for Acquisition. “He took over as the PAA for approximately nine months when the MRMC did not have an SES [Senior Executive Service] leader in this position.”
“During this time, Dr. Caldwell charged the command with finding the funds to produce a new lot of the IV Artesunate drug [for treatment of Malaria], which is now being used for the entire country on a compassionate basis. He helped to move it into advanced development en route to ensuring its progression through the FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] approval process.”
Caldwell started out in this field ultimately to help others in need, particularly warfighters.
“When I first started looking for a job after graduate school,” said Caldwell, “I was looking for a career in the DoD, specifically to develop medical equipment and prosthetics for wounded Soldiers.”
Well, he certainly ended up at the right place, as the primary mission of the USAMRMC is to “create and deliver medical information and products for the warfighting family.” It was a match made in heaven, so to speak, although the fact that his father worked at Fort Detrick as a contracting officer may have helped guide him in this direction. In fact, Caldwell said that his entire family has been extremely supportive of him over the years, and this has kept him forward focused during his career. Specifically, he credits his older brother Richard for putting him on the right track initially.
“Richard set a high standard of academic and business achievement for me,” said Caldwell. “He was an electrical engineer, and, with a partner, he started a business years ago that developed modems for computers. He worked very hard and did very well for himself, and I always admired this about him, among other things.”
Along with his brother, Caldwell acknowledged another person as having made an impact on him and his life, Col. Howard C. Johnson.
“Col. Johnson was the first project manager of the Applied Medical Systems division at USAMMDA, and he was the one who hired me as the first deputy,” he said. “He was very level-headed and thought things through before acting upon anything. I learned a great deal from his approach, and it really helped to shape my style of leadership from then on.”
Most, if not all, would agree that Caldwell has been a powerful influence on others as well. The lessons he learned from his mentors helped to define his character, both personally and professionally, and he is well known within USAMRMC Headquarters as being very amiable.
“One of the things that everyone has enjoyed about working with Dr. Caldwell,” said Bertram, “is that he is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Always courteous and kind, and always ready to lend a helping hand.”
Some might say that being friendly does not always get the job done, but in this case, maybe it does. Consider two of his most prized honors: the Army’s Achievement Medal for Civilian Service, and the Commander’s Award for Civilian Service. Receiving one of these awards is rather special, but garnering both is quite an achievement.
Commenting on Caldwell’s 26 years within the command, Maj. Gen. James K. Gilman, USAMRMC commander, said, “Dr. Caldwell has been a long-term presence and a very steady performer at MRMC, and I wish him well.”
So, what’s next for Dr. Donald Caldwell, soon-to-be-former deputy PAA?
“I plan to travel, sleep late, and work on my hobbies,” he said.
And his hobbies include that orange racecar that stands out so prominently in that photo on his wall.
“I really enjoy auto racing, and I’d like to see some Grand Prix races now that I have the time,” said Caldwell.
Who knows? Maybe we’ll see the good doctor in that blue racing jumpsuit once again.