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Spotlight on Commerce: Brian Copello, Executive Officer, Communications Technology Laboratory (CTL), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Guest blog post by Brian Copello, Executive Officer, Communications Technology Laboratory (CTL), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

I never feel worthy of the thanks some bestow upon me for my military service. First and of most importance, I have made so little sacrifice compared to so many brothers and sisters who have given more. And truth be told, my service was as much a selfish endeavor as it was altruistic. 

Few people in the world know from a young age exactly what they want to do with their lives. Even fewer get the opportunity to live their dream. As early as I can remember, all I wanted to do was fly jets in the U.S. military. My boyhood passions along with the loving support of the greatest family on earth allowed me to channel my energy and focus my actions on exactly that.

There were many hurdles along the way, turbulence that changed my desired path from its planned course, but by the grace of God I made it. And it was as spectacular as I had always imagined. Nothing about flying bombers for our U.S. Air Force seemed like work. It was demanding, and required dedication and effort, but it certainly never felt like a “job.” Long days and nights, being away from family, the many sacrifices of my wife and son, the risk that accompanied every mission all contributed to what some might view as an unbalanced cost to benefit. But every time I strapped on the jet; felt the intensity of everyone on my base working together as a single team to get us airborne; worked together with my crew in a complex, orchestrated way that brought answers to questions before they were even asked; and enjoyed the overwhelming satisfaction of precisely employing the most technologically advanced weapon system in the world in defense of the greatest nation in the world underscored a realization of how truly blessed I was. 

But the warrior life is that of a young man. And as I matured, the thought of leaving this dream life left me wondering, “What could possibly be as satisfying?” I never thought I would find the answer as I did.

Although the excitement of flying jets was addicting, that wasn’t really what made my service so satisfying.  As I approached retirement and reflected on my years of service, I realized that it was the team’s dedication to a higher cause that attracted me to that profession. The coming together of great people all focused on a singular mission to defend America and make it safe, sometimes in seemingly overwhelming conditions, was really what made it special. America’s might on the battlefield is unequaled. The feeling of pride that existed knowing that no other nation in the world could even come close to challenging our prowess in the sky was intoxicating. I was part of a team that was truly the best in the world at what we did.

I find similar satisfaction in what we do today at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). America’s military might, as powerful as it may be, pales in comparison to her economic might. And similar to what is happening in the military realm of our world, what was once an economic advantage unchallenged in the world is now faced with peer competitors capable of surpassing us. The work we do at NIST every day rises to that level of importance. Instead of machines of war, we employ the greatest minds in the world pushing the boundaries of scientific understanding, all aimed at supporting the economic competitiveness of our country.

As the executive officer in NIST’s Communications Technology Laboratory (CTL), my mission is to ensure that those great minds have what they need to maximize their impact on U.S. competitiveness. The scientific advances we make directly contribute to the economic security and prosperity of this great nation. The satisfaction involved when the administrative team of our laboratory comes together and seamlessly supports the scientific endeavors of those we serve reminds me daily of how blessed I am to have a second career serving our nation. The sacrifices are fewer, and the everyday environment is orders of magnitude less intense, but the feeling of pride and satisfaction is no less powerful when the team comes together in support of the mission and does it well.

So during a time of the year when some thank me for my military service, I want to return the thanks. The work we do at NIST is extraordinary. Thank you for letting me once again serve on a uniquely qualified team, one that is the best in the world at its mission, one dedicated to making America strong.

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce Military Veterans in honor of Veterans Day.