November 14, 2023

STEM Careers Blog Series: Military Paths Involving STEM


The importance of STEM in the military translates into respected and rewarding career opportunities for individuals pursuing careers in these fields. Military roles for STEM professionals span a wide range of specialties. Engineers and technologists contribute to the development of advanced aircraft, unmanned vehicles, surveillance systems, and more. Scientists and researchers in STEM fields are instrumental in enhancing the military's understanding of emerging threats, developing innovative solutions, and improving overall strategic planning. Medical professionals use their expertise to treat service members and veterans. And cybersecurity, a critical aspect of modern operations, heavily relies on experts in computer science and technology to safeguard sensitive information and defend against cyber threats. Without the influence of STEM, none of this would be possible.

Serving in Space

The historic demand for advancements in technology from the military has brought some of humankind’s most incredible achievements that have been implemented globally. For one massive example, consider the very internet and computer that you are using to read this! These scientific breakthroughs and many others from all nations throughout history in their military efforts have contributed to society revolutionizing communication, transportation, exploration, medical treatment, and many other fields. Even modern space exploration and research efforts developed from national military efforts clashing in an advancement race. With such reliable members, military servicemen and women with STEM backgrounds have comprised 212 of the 360 Astronaut Candidates chosen by NASA, and of our ten astronomically awesome Higher Orbits astronauts six have military experience.

  • Mike Foreman served in the United States Navy as a Naval Aviator and test pilot. He graduated from the US Naval Test Pilot School where he served as an instructor for seven different aircraft. After being assigned to the Naval Air Systems Command and became Class Desk (Chief Engineer) Officer for the T-45 Goshawk aircraft program. He was working as the technical lead for the Advanced Orbiter Cockpit Project team when he was selected for the astronaut program. Throughout his career he has flown in over 50 different aircraft. As an astronaut, Mike Foreman completed two space shuttle missions, STS-123 and STS-129.
  • Tony Antonelli served in the United States Navy as a fleet Naval Aviator and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School as a Navy Exchange Pilot. Throughout his career he has flown in 41 different aircraft. In his undergraduate education, Antonelli attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics. He later earned a Master of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics at the University of Washington. As an astronaut, he used his specializations to serve as pilot on the space shuttle missions STS-119 and STS-132.
  • James Reilly held a position as an Officer in the US Navy Reserve and recorded 22 days operating submersibles in geology projects for the US Navy. He pursued his Bachelor of science degree in Geosciences from University of Texas-Dallas and went on to earn his master’s and doctorate degrees in the same field. His impressive work in geology put him in position to do work for the US Navy in deep water imaging and engineering. Later, he was accepted as an Astronaut Candidate and completed three space shuttle missions as an Active Astronaut, STS-89, STS-104, and STS-117.
  • Douglas Hurley served in the Marine Corps and the US Navy. His military career was founded as a distinguished graduate from both Tulane University’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) program where he received his commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps and from USMC Officer Candidates School. He graduated from the U.S. Navy Pilot Training program and was designated a Naval Aviator. Hurley served at a Marine Corps Air Station and as the Aviation Safety Officer and the Pilot Training Officer at the Naval Postgraduate School. He was selected to attend the United States Naval Test Pilot School, graduated, and acted as an F/A-18 project officer and test pilot. During his career, he has flown in over 25 aircraft. As an astronaut, Douglas Hurley has completed three space missions, STS-127, STS-135, and SpaceX-DM2.
  • Wendy Lawrence served in the United States Navy as a Naval Aviator, Captain, and helicopter pilot. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Ocean Engineering from the US Naval Academy and would later earn her master’s degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the same subject. After graduating from the US Naval Academy as a distinguished flight school student she was appointed to be a Naval Aviator. She was one of the first two female helicopter pilots to make a long deployment to the Indian Ocean as part of a carrier battle group! During her career she flew six different helicopters. As an astronaut, Wendy Lawrence completed four space shuttle missions, STS-67, STS-86, STS-91, and STS-114.
  • Greg “Box” Johnson served as a Colonel in the United States Air Force. In undergraduate studies, he earned his Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering from the United States Air Force Academy. He attended pilot training and worked as an instructor pilot. He was deployed for combat missions until being selected for Air Force Test Pilot School where he tested and flew for multiple projects. During his career he has flown over 50 different aircraft. As an astronaut, Greg “Box” Johnson completed space shuttle missions STS-134 and STS-123.

Military STEM Careers

The military provides a unique environment for STEM professionals to apply their skills to real-world challenges and contribute to the nation's security. As a result, careers in STEM within the military are highly valued, offering individuals the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to national defense while enjoying a sense of purpose and professional fulfillment. The military also recognizes how important STEM and education is for their continued operation and provides education benefits to servicemen. These benefits apply for servicemen looking to pursue any degree, and those interested in pursuing a STEM field can take advantage of this as an opportunity to earn a degree in their chosen specialization. Some of the most common STEM fields with military job opportunities will be broken down further for better understanding.

  • Pilot
    Pilots in the military make up a large percent of the United States Air Force as well as perform in all other branches of the military as required. The United States Air Force Academy and the United States Naval Academy is the largest single commissioning source of Naval Aviators in the country. The training process typically begins with extensive classroom instruction, covering aviation principles, navigation, and mission planning. Following this theoretical foundation, aspiring military pilots progress to hands-on flight training in simulators and actual aircraft. This phase involves learning fundamental flying techniques, mastering various aircraft systems, and honing their ability to handle emergency situations. As training advances, pilots delve into mission-specific scenarios, including air-to-air combat, reconnaissance, and tactical maneuvers. After training, pilots are assigned to their positions and carry out their duties.  As they gain experience they can become flight instructors, test pilots, or specialists.
  • Engineering
    Engineers play a critical role in supporting the military by applying their expertise to design, develop, and maintain a wide range of sophisticated technologies and systems. Military engineers work on projects spanning various disciplines, such as aerospace, mechanical, electrical, and civil engineering. They contribute to the creation of advanced weaponry, communication systems, surveillance equipment, and infrastructure crucial for military operations. The process often involves extensive research, prototyping, and testing to ensure the effectiveness and reliability of the systems in diverse and challenging environments. Military engineers also collaborate with other professionals, including scientists and technicians, to innovate and adapt technology to ever-evolving security needs. Their work extends beyond combat technology and can focus on areas such as transportation and construction, where engineering solutions are essential for ensuring operational efficiency and strategic effectiveness. The expertise of military engineers is integral to maintaining the technological edge required for national defense and security.
  • Medical
    Military medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, medics, and other healthcare specialists, play a crucial role in ensuring the health and well-being of military personnel. Individuals interested in military healthcare typically undergo military-specific training, which may include coursework on battlefield medicine, trauma care, and emergency response as well as foundational medical education and training. Military medical professionals also train to operate in environments where resources may be limited and conditions can be unpredictable. They learn to handle combat injuries, provide immediate and effective care in field hospitals, and collaborate seamlessly with other military units. Obtaining a degree in the medical field is possible while serving in the military through programs and schools tailored to make these opportunities available.  While in the military as medical professionals, they provide comprehensive medical care, including routine check-ups, preventive services, and specialized treatments. In deployment scenarios, military medical professionals are trained to handle a spectrum of challenges, from battlefield injuries to public health crises. Their role is pivotal in sustaining the physical and mental well-being of the military force.
  • Cybersecurity
    Cybersecurity professionals in the military play a critical role in safeguarding sensitive information, critical infrastructure, and national security interests from cyber threats. These experts employ a range of skills to protect military networks, communication systems, and classified data. A foundational requirement is a relevant educational background, typically a degree in computer science, information technology, or a related field. Specialized certifications, such as Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) or Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), are often essential to demonstrate expertise. Practical experience in areas like network security, penetration testing, and incident response is highly valued. Because the world of cybersecurity is constantly changing with new technologies and strategies, it is essential to be continuously learning in your position to prevent infiltration attempts. The environment is fast-paced, reflecting the ever-evolving nature of cyber threats in the modern landscape.

The military offers a wealth of STEM opportunities that extend far beyond weapons or defense. Careers in STEM within the military are highly valued, offering individuals the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to national defense while enjoying a sense of purpose and professional fulfillment. From engineers shaping new technologies, to medical professionals ensuring the health of our armed forces, and cybersecurity experts fortifying our digital defenses, STEM professionals find a diverse array of fulfilling careers within the military.

About the author

Jodie is a student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University pursuing an undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. She has always been fascinated by space and STEM, and has been fuelled by the strong aerospace community at Embry-Riddle. This interest in STEM and a love for writing have pushed Jodie to apply these passions as a Communications Intern at Higher Orbits in 2023.

Jodie Cory

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