By Heather R. Smith, AMRDEC Public AffairsMay 14, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (May 15, 2014) -- Dwight Eisenhower was president, gas cost 20 cents a gallon, and the transistor radio had just been invented. That's a glimpse of what the world was like the day James "J.B." Hall began a career in civil service. It was Dec. 22, 1953.
Earlier this year, leaders and co-workers from the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center joined to recognize Hall for over 60 years of federal service.
"Sixty years of service is highly unusual, as we discovered when we tried to order Service Pens and Certificates for Recognition of Service. They don't make them," said Tim Ward of the Quality Management Division where Hall currently works.
Hall grew up in Dahlgren, Virginia, on the U.S. Naval Proving Ground, known today as the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division. His father and brother were both civil servants, and it seemed like a viable option to the young Hall.
"I got out of school in 1953," he recalled, "and back in those days they used to have quite a few examinations for people to take to qualify for different positions. So I had taken several exams, and I was offered a position just to get me started as a battery attendant."
After a short time, a position opened in the metallurgic research laboratory. Hall transferred to the lab as a physical science aide, preparing samples for testing and compiling data after the testing was complete.
Four years later, in 1957, the Army had a different kind of job for Hall. He was drafted into active duty where he learned advanced electronics. He was then relocated to Redstone Arsenal to do radar and computer repair on the Nike missile system. Hall was in the first class taught on the Redstone ballistic missile and was assigned to the Redstone missile program for guidance and computer repair.
"I was here (at Redstone) at the time that they put up the first satellite after the Sputnik went up," he recalled. "We had a direct link to Cape Canaveral, and the day that they put it up we all sat down around the radio and listened to it go up. Then we drove downtown, around the courthouse, and tooted our horns."
It was also in Huntsville that Hall fell in love and married a local girl, Keiko. The two moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Fort Bliss, Texas, before he was discharged from active duty in 1960.
Hall returned to civil service in Dahlgren as an electronics technician in the explosives research lab. Looking back, Hall describes this as the most challenging assignment of his career. He prepared explosive events under the direction of Naval physicists, including instrumentation and data reduction.
In 1964, Hall transferred to Washington, D.C., and to the basic electronics research lab at the Harry Diamond Laboratory, known today as the Army Research Lab, where he spent the next 30 years. Part of that time he worked with a team developing and testing a target detecting device for the Chaparral surface-to-air missile. One of the more unique experiences during this period of Hall's career was working for the Air Force to design a radar system to measure and record sea state return data on a missile returning from space.
"They didn't have any real data for a sea state return on reentry vehicles, so the Air Force gave us (ARL) 5 million dollars for two of us, and we developed a transmitter to put aboard the vehicle that was going to be fired from Vandenburg Air Force Base to Quadalein, and the purpose of the radar system was to look at the ocean as it came through reentry and record the data and what's sea state return and the like," he said.
Hall received an award from the Air Force for his role in the successful flight.
"It was a very interesting program, and I was glad to have been able to be involved in it," he said.
The first half of his career was as an electronic technician; the next 30 years would look different as Hall transitioned into the area of quality assurance -- the field he is still in today.
He continued at the Army Research Lab, but in 1982 moved into the role of quality assurance specialist and program quality manager on several different missile programs, including the Chaparral, Multiple Launch Rocket System, and Patriot.
In a BRAC move in 1994, Hall moved back to Redstone and to Huntsville, more than 30 years after his Army enlistment first brought him here. He joined the then Missile Command as a team lead for the Quality Management Division.
"I really loved Huntsville when I was here in 1957," Hall said. "I had the chance to come down on a BRAC move. So I said I'll let them move me, I'll work a few years and I'll retire. Well I started doing these interesting things and I didn't feel like really retiring."
Ward, Hall's current supervisor, points out that Hall was eligible to retire without penalty 20 years ago. He had completed 40 years of service and was eligible to receive the maximum 80 percent of his salary upon retirement.
Ward said, "That means for the last 20 years, or as long as some people's federal careers, J.B. Hall has chosen to work for 20 percent of his salary. Why? Because, as J.B. says, 'People's lives depend on the work that we do.'And James B. Hall is a man who walks the walk."
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