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Judith N. Bruner - Serving Our Country in the Navy and at NASA
August 26, 2014

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Part One of Two

Name: Judith N. Bruner
Title: Director, Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate
Organization: Code 300, Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate

Judith N. Bruner successfully blended a career at Goddard with a career in the Navy. She is Goddard’s director of the Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate, a retired Navy captain and a pioneer in Naval aviation.

What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard? How do you help support Goddard’s mission?

I am the director of the Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate. Our organization assures the safety of our employees and enhances the success of all Goddard missions through the development, implementation and oversight of safety, reliability, maintainability and quality assurance policies and procedures. We provide a level of independent oversight of the design, development, testing and implementation of our flight programs before they are launched. We work with extraordinary, world-class scientists and engineers every day and support them in accomplishing Goddard’s mission.

How important is teamwork or collaboration with others to your being able to do your job?

Teamwork and collaboration are absolutely critical for Goddard in general, but they are especially important for us. One person can’t do it alone. We need to work together. We are strongest when we work as partners with the projects, scientists and engineers. Our goal is the same: mission success.

How do you encourage working together?

I try to make sure that the team has the proper environment in which to collaborate. I run interference to clear the obstacles so that people are able to get together and work together. It could be as simple as difficulty in getting a conference room or not having the right people with the right skills on the team.

Growing up, what did you want to be?

I grew up around flying. My father managed a small airport in rural Ohio. He taught me to fly. I soloed in a Piper Cub when I was 16.

I always enjoyed flying, but early on I never viewed it as a profession. Growing up, I wanted to work at NASA, be an astronomer and find life in the universe. I was always interested in NASA.

Why did you pursue a computer science degree?

I have a bachelor’s in computer science. I put myself through college at Ohio State University. I started out as an astronomy major. I soon realized that I needed a Ph.D. to do what I wanted to do in that field, so I chose computer science as an alternative avenue. It enabled me to approach my goals from a different direction.

I later got a master’s in engineering management from Goddard’s graduate program on campus. Engineering management covers many different things, including managing technical organizations, facilitating the resolution of technical issues and coaching and mentoring the engineers in the organization.

[image-78]You are a pioneer in naval aviation: the second female aviator and the first female aviator promoted to captain, now retired. Please tell us how you began your career with the Navy?

At the end of my junior year in college, an Army recruiter came to my dorm to discuss an Army program that would pay for my senior year if I enlisted then. I went to see if the other military services had similar programs. While the Navy did not, I became intrigued with what the recruiter said and enlisted at the end of my junior year. I went to Newport, Rhode Island to complete part of the basic training that summer, then returned and completed my senior year. I graduated in the morning, received my bachelor’s degree and was commissioned as an ensign in the afternoon. I then returned to Newport and completed Officer Candidate School.

How did you become the second woman to become a Navy aviator?

During my first tour of duty, I was stationed at a computer command in San Diego, California. The Navy opened up flight training for women, something which I had not expected. I applied and was in the first group of women selected to go through Navy flight training. I reported to Pensacola, Florida in early 1973, where I completed basic training and went on to advanced flight training in Corpus Christi, Texas.

I got my wings in February 1974. I was the second woman to become a Navy pilot.

What kinds of missions did you fly?

Women were excluded from combat back then, so I was assigned to support squadrons, flying the P-3 aircraft. My first squadron was a weather squadron in Jacksonville, Florida doing hurricane reconnaissance. Flying into the eye of a hurricane was exciting and every member of the crew had a role in ensuring that we could get into and out of the storm safely. As a result of my hurricane flights, I’m a little better at tolerating turbulence in the air than some.

I next went to an oceanographic research squadron at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Patuxent River, Maryland. I ended up flying around the world several times. Some flights were 12 or 13 hours long. I set foot on every continent except Antarctica, but I once actually had Thanksgiving dinner in the plane while flying over Antarctica. It is amazing what you can do with a hot plate in a P-3 galley!

I later worked in the Pentagon as a legislative liaison officer in the Navy’s Aviation Warfare Department.

How long did you serve?

I was on active duty for ten years and resigned as a lieutenant commander. I went into the Navy Reserves for another 18 years. I came to Goddard, first as a contractor and then as a civil servant. For the first 18 years, I served in Navy Reserve assignments on the weekend and worked at Goddard during the week.

During my time in the Reserve, I was selected as the commanding officer for three separate commands that were the Mediterranean ADP Unit, the Naval Research Science and Technology Headquarters Unit and the CNO N4 Logistics Unit. I was also the director of the Science and Technology Reserve Program. I retired at the rank of captain. I was the first female Naval Aviator promoted to captain.

How do you think you became the first female Naval aviator promoted to captain?

In the military, there is a general process and timeline for promotion, based on performance. I was the first female Naval aviator promoted to captain because I happened to be the senior woman in the first group, by a few months. Therefore, I went before the promotion board before the other women did.

How does it feel to be a pioneer?

I was very fortunate to be given many opportunities. I never thought of myself as a pioneer, but if you are given the opportunity to be one of the first women to enter into a new field in the Navy, then it meant that you would likely be the first woman in each squadron and command you went to throughout your career.

Read Part Two of Judith N. Bruner's story

Read more Conversations With Goddard

Also read about what our people do Outside Goddard

Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Judy Bruner
Judy Bruner
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NASA/W. Hrybyk
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Judy Bruner in the Navy
Bruner at the controls during her service as a Naval aviator.
Image Credit: 
Courtesy of J. Bruner
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Page Last Updated: September 16th, 2014
Page Editor: Lynn Jenner