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Air Force Fellow seeks research to mutually benefit the Dept of Defense and ORNL

Lt. Col. Jessica Critcher


For Lieutenant Colonel Jessica Critcher, United States Air Force, professional development means having experience as both a training administrator and a student of research.

“I want to be exposed to as much interesting research as possible, said Lt Col Critcher. “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

Lt Col Critcher is a military fellow in the National Security Sciences Directorate at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Her one-year tour involves getting in-depth experience across the science applicable to Department of Defense (DoD) challenges.

Upon being selected for the program, the fellows are given a list of priorities from the Pentagon with topics of interest for the DoD. The fellows then meet with researchers across ORNL to understand what current research can be applied to the Pentagon’s needs.

Since coming to ORNL in July 2021, the most interesting area Lt Col Critcher has experienced so far is adversarial artificial intelligence (AAI). As the military is looking to use artificial intelligence and machine learning, ORNL’s research into AAI will help the military understand the technology and incorporate it smartly, Lt Col Critcher said. “The more the military knows about AAI now, the better the military can implement artificial intelligence where it makes sense.”

AAI is one area of interest to Lt Col Critcher, while other topics are on her radar during the remainder of her time. She previously was the Air Force’s liaison to Congress for the Bomber Aircraft, Nuclear, and Science and Technology Programs within the Weapons Systems Liaison Division of the Office of Legislative Liaison. Her background in one of ORNL’s main missions, nuclear power and security, is poised to strengthen the collaboration between the DoD and the Department of Energy to use energy research for defense operations.

Reflecting on the opportunity available to her in this short tour, Lt Col Critcher understands how this is a self-directed time for learning, unlike other professional development set with a specific curriculum. Prior to coming to ORNL, she was a commander for a training group in Pensacola, Florida with responsibility over the electromagnetic spectrum operations syllabi. Structured programs have a purpose in a military officer’s career, as do other types of chances to influence the future of the military.

“We have the latitude to study and learn in areas that we may find interesting as well as areas that may be of interest to the DoD. We can grow professionally by engaging with leading researchers while also gaining different perspectives.” Said Lt Col Critcher. “Overall, this experience is helping me to grow as a person.”