“They say that math is a language in which God wrote the universe. And so you have to be proficient in math to be proficient in science,” Col. Corey Gerving, a U.S. Military Academy professor in the Department of Physics and Nuclear Engineering, said as he explained how important a role science plays in the advancement of military strategy.
Gerving said it’s not about turning a cadet into the next Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton, it’s about producing the next great military mind. Military strategy, coupled with scientific deliberation, will furnish the strategist needed to guide the country into a hopeful future.
With his daughter, Gabby, attending the U.S. Air Force Academy and hoping to join the Space Force one day, Gerving thought about his journey and how it led him to teach physics at West Point.
He recalled when he was once the young hopeful who would take part in shaping the Army’s future. It was the early ‘90s at West Point. There were Cols. John Lasala and Bruce Oldaker, who were physics instructors at the time. Lasala was as stern as he was brainy and Oldaker was quick-witted and just as shrewd.
Gerving remembered attending one of Oldaker’s lectures where he said to the class, “I will penalize blatantly wrong answers with extreme prejudice — you’re better off not saying anything than saying something wrong.”
Despite their stringent teaching methods, Gerving admired and respected the two instructors. Throughout his tenure as a cadet, Lasala and Oldaker would advise and mentor him, and in turn, Gerving excelled in his physics classes.
Yearlings (sophomores) who struggled in class would often come to Gerving for help. On many occasions, they would go to his barracks room. Gerving would move the dresser aside and would use the wall of the room to write on with dry-erase markers and take his colleagues through all the physics problems they had trouble with.
“I did well in my physics classes when I was a cadet,” Gerving said. “(Cadets I assisted) would say ‘you should be an instructor here someday,’ and so that (statement) kind of got me thinking — maybe I will come back as an instructor.”
In 1995, Gerving branched Armor where he would apply scientific thinking to his craft as a tanker.
During his time stationed in Fort Carson, Colorado, and Fort Riley, Kansas, he realized that having a firm understanding of math and physics is essential to understanding the nuances of tank gunnery. During his seven years as an tanker, he learned about the functions of a ballistic computer in a tank among other things, Gerving said.
He added that MILs, or milliradians, which are units of measurement dividing radians in a circle, correspond to target displacement.
If a Soldier learns to understand the mathematical relationship between MILs and the target size, he or she can easily adjust the ballistic computer of their tank to hit their target more accurately.
“The concept of MILs is very popular in tank gunnery,” Gerving said. “There are 6,400 MILs in a full circle which is 360 degrees. You can figure out how many MILs are in a degree if you wanted to, but what’s more useful about a MIL is, if you have a target that’s 1,000 meters away from you and the target moves one meter to the right, the angle that the target shifted, according to your field of view, is one MIL.”
Gerving said the Army provides ways for Soldiers who are not proficient in physics to memorize the proper uses of the MILs concept. However, understanding the science behind artillery made it a lot easier to adjust fire out on the range.
In 2002, Gerving ended his tenure in the Armor branch and obtained his master’s degree. Soon after, he returned to West Point as an academy professor and spent over two years teaching before becoming a space operations officer in 2004, Gerving said.
He added that the jobs available to a field grade officer in armor weren’t as interesting as the jobs available to a space officer.
Apart from using ballistics technology on the field, much of what consumed Gerving’s time as an armor officer was staff work which wasn’t appealing or fun for Gerving.
“A space officer does staff work but what they’re doing is they’re working with three-letter agencies — they’re working with imaging — they’re working with satellites to analyze weather information,” Gerving said. “They use early-warning satellites, the global positioning satellite and satellite communications, so they’re involved in all aspects of space use for the Army.”
Gerving said when the Space Operations functional area was first created, it served as a liaison between the Army and the Air Force because the Air Force didn’t fully understand the methods of the Army. So, when the Air Force tried to procure the satellites, they weren’t sure what they were getting. Strategies changed when a Soldier, who was aware of what the Army needed at the time, was assigned as the Space Operations Officer.
“If you think about it, and I remind (my daughter) Gabby of this all the time, even though the Air Force buys all the satellites — they designed them, they launched them, they fly them — the Army uses 90% of space assets,” Gerving said. “I guess all of this sounds way more interesting than staff work for an armor battalion.”
In relation to becoming a space officer, Class of 2022 Cadet Gabby Gerving, who is currently attending the U.S. Air Force Academy, aspires to one day join the Space Force and become a space operator.
For Gabby, she always knew she wanted to go to the Air Force based on her experiences in Space Camp and Camp Aviation Challenge. It also came down to the types of jobs the two components had, Gabby said.
“I found that there are more jobs in the Air Force that I would have enjoyed if I couldn’t get my top pick compared to the Army where I wouldn’t have really enjoyed those jobs as much,” Gabby said. “I also knew the way to get to space as a job was through the military.”
Like her father, Gabby excelled in mathematics and physics in high school, but she also did well in biology. Despite performing at the highest standards in physics and math, Gabby chose to major in biology at the Air Force Academy, she said.
“Biology gave me a better perspective of the world around me and it made sense. It explained the elements of life,” Gabby said as she explained her passion for biology.
Gabby added corresponding her biology major with work at the Space Force will be a challenging endeavor.
“At first, it’s going to be a little hard because I am planning on being a space operator,” Gabby said. “There’s not much overlap with those two goals, but as Space Force hopefully expands, I’m sure there will be areas in which I can bring biology or human factors into the mix.”
With Gabby working diligently, attempting to prove the sky is not the limit, Gerving watches with optimistic expectations as his daughter is steadily becoming a future leader and military strategist the country needs, Gerving said.
“As a parent you want your kid to have life easier than you had it. And so, in a way, I’m glad she’s going to the Air Force Academy because it’s a much easier school — a much easier experience,” Gerving said.
“Ultimately, what’s important is that she’s doing what she enjoys, and it turns out that she enjoys science as much as I do. With that being said, at the end of the day, she has to make her own decisions.
“I presented her with options, and the options she chose were the ones she wanted to choose. She’s an adult now and she can make her own decisions,” Gerving concluded. “Understanding the importance of that is part of what it takes to become an effective leader.”