Face of Defense: From Officer to Doctor of Nuclear Knowledge

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Maj. Jill Marie Rahon, a U.S. Army nuclear and countering weapons of mass destruction officer, is earning her Doctor of Philosophy in nuclear science and engineering at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Job Title:

Nuclear and Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Officer

Hometown:

Hudson Valley, New York

Stationed:

Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland

Unit:

20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives Command

As a part of her Ph.D. program, Rahon is conducting research into optimizing a detection system for use in emerging nuclear fuel cycles.

Her research in MIT’s Laboratory for Applied Nuclear Physics leverages time-correlated neutron radiative capture signals for non-destructive isotopic analysis within nuclear treaty inspection limitations, Rahon, a nuclear and countering WMD officer (FA 52) who is promotable to lieutenant colonel, said.

Nuclear Knowledge

Rahon said the core, advanced and field of study courses in the Nuclear Science and Engineering Graduate Program are rigorous, but many resources are available to help students. She added that the Ph.D. course curriculum is tailored to a student’s field of research while the core courses cover the breadth of nuclear science.

Established in 1861, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ranked number two in the recent U.S. World and News Report global rankings.

Service Member Support

Rahon said MIT and the Nuclear Science and Engineering Department are very supportive of military students. 
 
“As an example, my advisor understood that I had a concrete timeline to finish my Ph.D. and he helped me find a research project that not only supported FA 52 core competencies but also had the resources in place so that I could design the experiment and start taking data immediately,” Rahon said. 
 
“I really enjoyed the course on materials science and how different materials behave in nuclear systems — something I wouldn’t have otherwise come across in my radiation detection studies,” Rahon said. “The benefit of having a rigorous introduction to the many subsets of nuclear engineering outside of my research expertise is the ability to give the best nuclear advice to maneuver commanders in any situation.”

According to Rahon, MIT has a robust veteran and active-duty military presence on campus, including many engineering and business school students, staff and faculty. Rahon said she has also mentored ROTC cadets there. 

A Decorated Leader 

A former CH-47D Chinook pilot, Rahon deployed to Afghanistan three times with the 101st Airborne Division, serving as a platoon leader, company commander and air mission commander.

She earned the Soldier’s Medal, Bronze Star and Air Medal. 
 
A native of the Hudson Valley area of New York and graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, Rahon switched from aviation to the Nuclear and Countering WMD officer field (FA 52).

She completed her master’s degree at MIT, taught physics at West Point and served at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency before returning to MIT for her PhD. 

 
“FA 52 has a fascinatingly broad mission set, ranging from many types of physics, math and engineering to nuclear policy implementation to advising maneuver commanders but all of it ties back to supporting nuclear deterrence,” Rahon said. “I’m proud to be a soldier and am happy to have the opportunity to serve first as a pilot and now as a scientist.”

Multifaceted Mission

Nuclear and Countering WMD officers provide the U.S. Army with a highly trained and operational capable group of experts who contribute to strategic and operational-level policy, planning and execution. 
 
FA 52 officers are experts in nuclear weapons design, effects and sustainment requirements as well as nuclear and countering WMD planning, U.S. nuclear policies, arms control treaties and research, development, training and education capabilities.
 
The highly trained Army officers also serve in the three Nuclear Disablement Teams that are part of the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives Command, the U.S. military’s premier all hazards command. 
 
In addition to the NDT 1 “Manhattan,” NDT 2 “Iron Maiden” and NDT 3 “Vandals,” the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland-headquartered 20th CBRNE Command is also home to 75 percent of the active-duty U.S. Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear units, as well as the 1st Area Medical Laboratory, CBRNE Analytical and Remediation Activity and five weapons of mass destruction coordination teams.

Soldiers and U.S. Army civilians from 20th CBRNE Command deploy from 19 bases in 16 states to confront and defeat the world’s most dangerous hazards. 
 
Rahon said nuclear deterrence is a critical aspect of the National Defense Strategy.

“Deterrence comes in many forms: not only a safe, secure and reliable nuclear force but in the ability to detect and defend against nuclear threats and operate as a ground force in contested environments,” Rahon said. “FA 52 officers are charged with understanding the fundamental physics, technology and policy that supports nuclear deterrence while combining it with our operational experience and knowledge of warfighting.”

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