In a small office at Fort Rucker, in Alabama – right now, maybe at this very second – Sgt. Ryan Mackie is digging through a pile of research data at the USAMRDC’s U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory. An Associate Investigator by trade, Mackie is – like all the other individuals who work for USAMRDC – much more than a title, more than a nameplate on the door.
“Originally I went to school for molecular biology and then I worked at a couple different universities doing cancer research and genetics research,” says Mackie, who – true to his word – sports a resume containing a veritable “who’s who” of top-tier U.S. research universities. “Then I kind of figured out the area of science that I prefer more is the mathematics side, like computer programming and statistics.”
That realization led Mackie, at the ripe old age of 30, to enlist in the Army in 2017 in an attempt to further his education. It’s an interesting choice to make at such an age; Mackie of course being markedly older than his contemporaries from the second he walked through the door – and even now, in his various efforts to help enhance the overall operational performance of the Warfighter at USAARL. However, a funny thing happened on the road that’s taken him from the University of Colorado to the University of California at Los Angeles to the University of Kentucky – Mackie found a way to fuse both his professional passions and sizable work ethic in a way that has ultimately brought his future into a cleaner, finer focus.
“I can work as a ‘one man band,’ so-to-speak,” says Mackie, noting that in previous lab settings he began teaching himself how to analyze data so that he could make workflow more efficient; noting that – quite practically – research and analysis truly go hand-in-hand. “If I know what needs to be done, I’ll do it.”
It’s that kind of “can do” attitude that has made a substantial impression with his teammates in a relatively short period of time.
“Sergeant Mackie is a rare gem,” says Dr. Amanda Kelley, who serves as both the Aeromedical Factors Team Lead and as a Senior Research Psychologist at USAARL. “He is truly intellectually curious, a quality that encompasses not only his intelligence but also his intrinsic motivation to acquire and share knowledge.”
“He’s been a real asset to the team,” says friend and co-worker Capt. Carmelo Morabito, a USAARL research psychologist and a 13-year Army veteran. “He’s a blunt person, but I think the Army needs leaders like that – I think we need leaders who are willing to speak up and stand by their decisions.”
That particular brand of candor is notable in that it underpins one of the more interesting aspects of Mackie’s career; as he has, in his own words, struggled to find a position where he feels he can best and most effectively contribute to the larger Mission. That realization is perhaps not uncommon given his expansive research background; something his contemporaries simply didn’t possess at their respective ages. And yet true-to-form, Mackie has found a way to put all the pieces together; finding a way to tackle efforts that – while standing firmly outside his comfort zone – pair both his considerable talents and his commitment to duty. Under Kelley, for instance, he has assumed a lion’s share of both the data analysis and computer programming efforts – tasks which provide him with needed purpose and drive. Such capability naturally overlaps with his current role, a position in which even his own supervisors seek out his knowledge and opinions.
“I think it’s rare when you have people from [the rank of Captain] to [the rank of Colonel] going to a [Sergeant] and asking for advice on how to do a task, essentially,” says Morabito.
“Having someone like him as a team member is just so valuable,” adds Kelley. “He offers a unique perspective which often leads to innovative solutions.”
Says Mackie of that kind of intra-office stature, “I signed up to do the job and I’m going to do that job to the best of my ability while I’m here.”
It’s that last comment that is perhaps most integral to understanding both Mackie and his overall career path. His stated goal is to transition into the cancer research world upon leaving the military; his contract ends in just a few months, after which he’ll pursue a job in the field of genetics research. And so while his goals lie beyond the Army, Mackie has still made it a point to help and contribute where he’s able in order to, ultimately, get where he needs to go. Indeed, to hear Mackie tell it – during breaks from sifting through all that data, of course – there will always be a little piece of USAMRDC with him wherever he goes from here.
“Working for the military, which is such a large and complex organization, I’ll certainly take away some key aspects of organizational leadership.”