Physicist, Oceanographer, Aerospace Technologist, Rancher, Land Developer and Lecturer
Richard L. Holt - March 2009
Early Life in Panama, Republic of Panama/Family intro
I was born in Panama City, Republic of Panama in 1935. At the time, my father worked for the U.S. Government and was a tugboat Captain on the Panama Canal, the builder and operator of this strategic waterway. My dad, who was born and raised in the panhandle area of the State of Florida, was a former U.S. Navy officer who chose to take on a duty assignment in Panama during a tour through the Canal; he stayed there, resigned eventually from the Navy and became an employee of the Panama Canal. It was during this period that he met and married my mother who was from a prominent Spanish family that had been instrumental in the settlement of Panama in the year 1523.
My mother's Spanish family settled in Panama in the City of Nata which at the time was the center of the Spanish government in the Province of Panama. Their roots were from Galicia, Spain. The family’s first ancestor in Panama, Pedro Arias de la Guardia, was appointed by the Queen to be the Provincial Governor of this newly discovered land under the control of the King and Queen of Castille, later to be called Spain. Panama had been discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502, working under the Spanish crown, during his fourth visit to the Americas.
My family spoke Spanish as the main language in our home during the time I was growing up, so I am totally fluent speaking, reading and writing in both Englilsh and Spanish even until now with no accent in my speech. Even my grandsons are learning Spanish in the local high school and in our home (they only live one mile away from us)so that they can deal with this growing language use in Southern California where we live. Spanish speaking residents now outnumber those that speak English in this part of the U.S. and it is growing as the years go by. So being fluent in both languages is a major help to the family here in our area.
High School: Wheaton Academy, Wheaton, Illinois
I left the Panama Canal Zone in my sophomore year of high school to attend Wheaton Academy, a Christian school located in Wheaton, Illinois. The Academy was a division at the time of Wheaton College. This proved to be a turning point in my life, getting me back on track with my primary religious training and educational goals that I had set while living at home. I had been getting involved in activities in Panama that might have led me into problem areas, and when my father and the Pastor of our church realized that, they got together and my Dad chose to enroll me at the Wheaton Academy much against my will. I enjoyed Balboa High School and all of my life-long friends were there. This was a major step in my life and turned out to be a wise move for both myself and my parents.
I did well at the Academy, excelling in my studies as well as in music and sports. I developed into a pretty good athlete, receiving 12 varsity letters in five sports. I was also selected as an All-State football player in my senior year. I sang in the Academy choir and a men's quartet during my time at the Academy, and played my clarinet in the Junior Symphony of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It was a wonderful time in my life and today I am grateful for the love and patience of the entire staff at Wheaton Academy for setting me on a path to make something out of my life.
College: Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois
I went on from Wheaton Academy to graduate from Wheaton College with a major in physics and a minor in math. While in college, I again enjoyed sports, music and the ROTC program offered at Wheaton. I sang in a men's quartet all four years of college, singing in churches all over the Northern Illinois area on Sunday evenings. I graduated in ROTC as a Distinguished Military Graduate, was offered and accepted a Regular Army Commission vice a Reserve Commission offered usually through the ROTC program. I was a Cadet Colonel, the highest rank in the ROTC and the Brigade Commander of the 600 man cadet brigade at Wheaton. In addition, I played varsity football, was the co-captain of the championship Wheaton team in my senior year as well being voted the Most Valuable Player and being honored as a All-American at the tackle position for both offense and defense. I was also selected to play in a postseason bowl game which was later named the All-American Bowl.
Even before my freshman year at Wheaton, I had set a goal to become a medical doctor and possibly go into the mission field as a medical missionary. My first year at Wheaton changed all this. First, I enrolled in the ROTC program as a freshman and loved it. Secondly my interface with those that were in charge of what was loosely called a pre-med program was not the best. The professor heading up this effort did not like the military and did not like football, both of which I was going to be a solid participant. He restricted me from wearing my ROTC uniform blouse in class. He berated the football program right to my face and in class. I became so incensed that I decided to leave Wheaton and was already talking to another school to transfer at the end of my first semester. The President of Wheaton got wind of this, and after a long talk with him, I calmed down. The head of the physics department also became aware of my unrest, and he gave me a pitch on majoring in physics. He emphasized that the great need in the world of science was for those that had a broad view of science which physics would certainly give me. I changed my major right there, stayed at Wheaton, and changed my whole life!
Military Service: United States Regular Army
I began my military service with the full intention of making this my career. I was initially commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Signal Corps of the Army Reserve because my required security clearance for his Regular Army appointment had not yet been completed. I left the college ranks and immediately reported for active duty at the Army Signal School, Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Midway through that school my clearance was completed for my Regular commission and I was again sworn into the service, this time as a Regular Army Second Lieutenant, and this appointment was in the Artillery Air Defense force.
With a new set of orders in my hands, at the completion of the Signal School course, I immediately reported to Fort Bliss, Texas to attend the Officer Basic Course for the Air Defense Command. While attending this course I received orders for my first assignment which was to be with the 865th Air Defense Artillery Battalion based in the Los Angeles, California air defense sector. I began this assignment as the Fire Control Platoon Leader.
Our missile site was located right on the beach in a suburb of Los Angeles called Playa del Rey. It was a beautiful location on a beautiful beach. In fact I used the beach every day to run as much as 10 miles a day getting in shape for the Army Ranger School and Jump School. I loved to run in the sand right at the edge of the water. Many times I did this after dark. And it was during this time of running on the beach that I met some very interesting friends that were going to lead me into underwater activities with a brand-new system called SCUBA. This technique using a regulator and a compressed air tank to hold the air that you breathe underwater was just coming into being. I was fortunate to have been there when it started. It was to lead me into a job later on that I had no idea I would get involved with, the Navy Dolphin Program. These were the years of my life when I started drifting away from God, and it wasn't until many years later that I realized that He had never left me and was guiding my path even then!
Our Battalion was chosen to train Army California National Guard people to take over the air defense sites. I was at the battery in Playa Del Rey for little over a year and then was sent to another battery on top of a mountain, Magic Mountain, overlooking the entire Los Angeles basin. In that assignment I was responsible for commanding the entire Nike Guided Missile Battery of some 250 officers and enlisted personnel, still in the Los Angeles Air Defense Sector. What a job this was for 23-year-old! Some of my Master Sergeants were more than twice my age!
Some of my military experiences that I got involved in later on and not mentioned in this resume disallusioned me or maybe better said, made me come to the realization that I did not want to spend a career in a job that was almost totally controlled by civilian leaders in Washington that knew very little about what they were doing with the military, and that decisions were made much of the time based on their greed, or quest for power and not for the good of the nation.
For example, one of my major experiences that caused me to make this decision occured during a time I was involved in the Civil War in the nation of Guatemala. I was sent there as a member of a special operations team to teach the Maya Indians how to defend themselves. They were being slaughtered by the Guatemalan Army because a major corporation in the United States, the United Fruit Company, had been granted the rights to tens of thousands of acres of land in Guatemala to raise bananas to be shipped out of the country. United Fruit was making millions of dollars on this arrangement. The Maya Indian people had been deposed from the land to allow United fruit to operate its banana plantations.
These people were trying to get their land back. In so doing, they were accused by United Fruit, by the US CIA, the US government, and the US Army along with the Guatemalan Army of being a communist threat to Central America and to the US. They were not communists! But the secretary to the President of the United States, retired General Dwight D Eisenhower, was the wife of one of the key public information officers of the United Fruit Company. They convinced the president that these Indians were a threat, so they jeopardized the lives of thousands of innocent Indians in Guatemala to hold onto their misappropriated lands which had been given to them by the Guatemalan government in return for all kinds of monetary and military booty from the United States. I saw this firsthand. I saw hundreds of Maya Indians slaughtered with machetes and other weapons of war sent to Guatemala by the United States to help the Guatemalan Army in their eradication efforts on the Maya Indians. It was pure and simple, an act of greed and power, and I saw it firsthand.
So when I completed my required three years as a Regular Army officer, I resigned my Regular Army commission in the Army and sought a career using the science training in physics and math that I had gotten in college to get as far away from the Washington scene as I could. Little did I realize then that you can't get away from Washington especially if you take any government job, but I was still learning! Fortunately for me, just before it was time to get out of the Army, my site was visited by a group of engineers from the Naval Missile Center at Point Mugu, California, a huge Naval facility located nearby in the City of Oxnard, California. When they found out that I was going to be leaving the Army, they offered me the opportunity to seek a position at the Naval Missile Center. What a break this was for me!
Extracurricular activities: SCUBA Diving, and the Underwater World
As I mentioned above in a preceding paragraph, when I was assigned to California in 1957, little did I know that I was soon to discover a new world, SCUBA, (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus), a brand-new technique for exploring the underwater world. I used the beach off Playa del Rey as my track to get in condition to go to the Army Ranger School. It was on that beach that I was to run into a group of guys who were into diving along the oceanfront and some offshore islands, Catalina, Anacapa, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands. A brand-new diving shop had been started in Redondo Beach which was only about three or 4 miles from my missile site. The shop owners, the Meistral brothers were pioneers in the use of SCUBA. I had found my love again, the ocean!
I began diving with this group of guys at various sites along the Los Angeles seacoast. We were the first in the area to use SCUBA gear. This association led to my getting qualified as an Underwater Instructor by the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation department. We were the first to do this in California, and perhaps in the whole nation. We experimented with lots of different kinds of regulators and tanks, some of which were very dangerous to use. Some regulators came right off fighter aircraft of the military that were being sold off as scrap or surplus, and with some slight modifications, were put into the water to experiment with as underwater vice airborne provision of air; in SCUBA using air instead of oxygen as in aircraft. Some worked and some were dangerous and cost lives during the development stages.
When I was discharged from the military and began living in the Ventura area, I met three other divers who had also been qualified as Underwater Instructors. We all began teaching diving classes in Ventura County, and sometimes traveling to other counties since there was a shortage of underwater instructors.
Little did I know that this experience was going to impact my professional career in the not too distant future. We taught classes every night of the week and on weekends spent the time taking the classes to dive on the offshore islands immediately off the Ventura coast. I amassed hundreds of hours in the ocean during this period of time, and probably had more than 1000 students over a period of several months. Some of our classes, especially those given to Navy personnel at the US Navy SeaBee base at Port Hueneme, had over 100 people in one class.
I became well-known as an underwater instructor in this area. And it didn't take long for we instructors to decide that what we were doing should be done on a national basis as well. We went on to organize an instruction program that was named the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI). I was chosen to write the physics portion of the training manual for this new national program.
Naval Missile Center, Point Mugu, California
In mid 1959, I submitted my resignation of my Regular Army commission to the Army. It took several months for that to be processed during which time I was required to appear several times before my Commanding Generals to explain why I was leaving the Army. Soon after my discharge, I accepted a position as a Physicist/Electronic Engineer at the Naval Missile Center, Point Mugu, California. My first assignment was as the Project Engineer for the electronic warfare evaluation of the Eagle air-to-air missile. I was sent to San Diego to go to a special school that would qualify me to fly in Navy aircraft for some of the evaluation of the Eagle Missile System. I really enjoyed this job and soon became a member of an Electronic Warfare Honor Society, the Association of the Old Crows. This job enabled me to become very conversant with all the military warfare applications of missile systems that other nations could use against the United States.
I was doing well in this position and hoped to be able to remain there in electronic warfare for some time into the future, so I did not expect the dramatic change that was about to take place in my life at the Naval Missile Center. I loved what I was doing and if I had been given the opportunity I would have chosen to stay in this job. But that wasn't to be the case! This position in electronic warfare is amplified in a later page in this web site.
Navy Dolphin Program
During my tenure in this Electronic Warfare position, the Department of the Navy made a decision to begin a new program in undersea warfare, the study of the Dolphin and how this animal operated in the oceans. It was surmised that the Dolphin could help the Navy Special Warfare divers in their many assignments under the seas. Because of my expertise in SCUBA diving, which was known to the management at the Naval Missile Center, I was selected to be a part of this new underwater program for the Navy without ever being consulted as to whether or not I wanted to get involved in this new program. As a result of this selection I was assigned again without my approval of such a move as one of six scientists to begin this program. When I was finally asked if I wanted to become involved, I argued without any results that I was happy with my job in Electronic Warfare and did not particularly want to change jobs at Point Mugu. I was overruled by the Commanding Admiral who told me that my re-assignment was for the good of the Navy. I just THOUGHT I had left the service!
The Future of the Navy Dolphin Program
The ultimate operational concept for this effort was to have Navy UDT or SEALs personnel, to be trained by the civilian/Navy staff of the Navy Dolphin Program in how to use the Dolphin in the carrying out of some of their responsibilities underwater. The Dolphins were to take all the high-risk jobs if possible, but the Navy SEAL's had to know how to handle the animals. That was to be the job of the staff of the Dolphin Program at Point Mugu.
Thus I became a member of the original Special Warfare study group for the Navy in the study of the Dolphin and the preparation of a small number of animals to assist a new Navy organization, the Navy SEALs in the Dolphin Program in carrying out their duties. Navy SEALs had not been in existance before this time. This Special Warfare underwater activity had been handled even during the WWII by Navy UDT (Underwater Demolition Teams) personnel. This was the only underwater unit in the Navy at that time.
I was returned to active duty in the Army at the rank of Army Captain when I was assigned to this new effort. The Commanding Admiral of the Navy Dolphin Program made the decision to have his divers/scientists go through an undocumented course at the UDT/SEAL Special Warfare Training faciility on Coronado Island to acquaint them with the rigors of what their students in the future were trained to do. So prior to taking this new assignment as a member of this program, I was sent to Coronado Island, California to go through an undocumented Navy diver certification course commonly known at that time as UDT/SEAL training. There were four Navy people assigned to this class, a Chief, two First Class Petty Officers, and a scientist (Dick Holt). None of these Navy people in this class were to be assigned to UDT or SEAL units. SEALS had not yet been organized - that didn't come about until later in 1962.
All the Navy personnel that went through this training program were to return to the Navy Dolphin Program at Point Mugu Naval Missile Center. In addition to these four Navy personnel, the class also had about ten Regular Army Officers who were all members of the Army Special Operations Command. Their job after going through this course was to go back to Florida to the Special Ops training base to set up a SCUBA qualification course for Army Special Forces people.
Some few years later, Navy SEALs from regular SEAL teams were subsequently assigned to be the handlers of Dolphin in the ocean environment carrying out a great number of assignments for the Navy in the oceans. These trained teams of divers/dolphins trained by the Navy Dolphin Program staff were used in both wars in Iraq to clear harbors and do other highly dangerous operations formerly done solely by Navy divers.
Another Change in Direction for Me
The Dolphin Program experienced some operational and funding difficulties after its first two years, and the Department of the Navy was in serious consideration to cancel the entire program, something they finally decided not to do. But while this was being considered, I was given an opportunity by the Navy to return to college and get my Doctorate in Physical Oceanography, a direction I seemed to be heading, and an area where the Navy was looking for much help in the future. I accepted this opportunity, enrolled at Texas A&M, and left Point Mugu to atttend the excellent oceanography program at A&M. But I detoured during my drive to College Station, Texas where Texas A&M was located, and that detour changed my whole life for the future. My detour took me to Houston, Texas and right into the budding Manned Space Flight Program, another opportunity for me to get in on something that no one had ever done before. Enters the NASA Manned Space Center into Dick Holt's life.
NASA Manned Space Center, Houston, TX
My former boss at the Naval Missile Center when I was involved in Electronic Warfare and who had been the leader of the Eagle Missile Program, a Navy Captain, Bill Wakeland, who thought much of me and my capabilities, had been transferred to Houston to oversee the Department of Defense support of NASA through its booster missile programs. I called Captain Wakeland and his wife while driving to College Station, and they invited me to visit them in Houston. While I was on my way, Captain Wakeland took the opportunity to introduce my background and capabilities to the NASA Flight Operations Director, Chris Kraft, who was impressed with my background because he was looking for someone, a civilian, to take on the major responsibility of being in charge of the operation of all ground systems that would be supporting the manned flight program. This position had previously been handled by an officer in the Air Force, and thus not directly responsible to Mr. Kraft.
Captain Wakeland introduced me to Christopher C. Kraft, Jr, the newly appointed Director of Flight Operations for this manned effort. Chris convinced me to change my plans, stay in Houston and become the first civilian Network Controller for all the support that was used during each flight. The details of what was involved in this space effort for me will be explained in the pages on the NASA Space Program where I was again a member of a brand new scientific and technical effort in the U.S. and the world.
I became responsible for the operation of the Manned Space Tracking Network and the Mission Control Center in Houston. My organization which I ultimately managed at NASA - Houston was responsible for the maintenance and operation of the Mission Control Center and for the mission readiness of the tracking network for all missions. This organization had over 600 engineers and technicians in it by the time was done with this assignment in Houston, which was some five years later. I sat at the console just to the right side of the Mission Flight Director in the Mission Control Room for all of the missions of these three early space programs, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo on the way to the moon.
Additional Aerospace Assignments
In the following pages in this web site, my responsibilities will be outlined as I progressed up the management ladder in the aerospace industry in various organizations in which I enjoyed working for almost 25 years. I did stints at the Jet Propulsion Labs, a NASA facility at Cal Tech in Pasadena, California, and at TRW Space Systems in Redondo Beach, California. After a short time being the Chief Operating Officer of Wolf Research Corp. in Greenbelt, Maryland, I reentered the Civil Service ranks as the Assistant to the Director of the National Cancer Institute, a major part of the National Institutes of Health also in Greenbelt, Maryland. In this position I reached the highest pay grade of the Civil Service ranks. I was finally promoted into the special ranks of senior government level.
I left the normal employment ranks in 1974 to enter some ventures of my own, buying a large ranch property in Weiser, Idaho. My intention, which I carried out, was to develop this land into large estates and build beautiful homes on view property on this 500 acre ranch which I had purchased. I was very successful at doing that, but I got restless for the activity of my old profession so I became a consultant, and Assistant to the President of Science Applications International, Inc. in La Jolla, California, Dr. Robert Beyster, a well known physicist who had built his company from six physicists to several thousand employees.
But in the midst of several successful projects, I was asked to return to TRW Space Systems to help with the building of a massive command, control and communications system for the United States to include all the military services, civil service agencies involved in defense, and the White House and Congress. The World Wide Military Command and Control System was to be the largest single command and control system ever built. But when I was successfully heading down the road to develop this massive system, I developed problems with my coronary system and TRW forced me to stop my efforts in order to save my life. I had no choice but to comply. TRW took care of all my financial and health care needs all the way to my official retirement from the company some years later in the year 2000. God was good to me to the very end of my working career. I am now in full retirement. But as you will see later in another section, I was not finished being active. Later on my wife and I were to take an assignment as a guest lecturer on cruise ships, and that lasted for almost 8 years. We spent up to one half of every year on board a cruise ship. I will cover that later in another section.
The Undersea World
I have been a certified SCUBA diving instructor for more than 50 years, one of the first of what now numbers in the tens of thousand insteructors (my number with NAUI was 25) opening up the wonders of the ocean to thousands of diving students. I was one of the founders of NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors). I had been so fortunate to have, in the 1950's, encountered a group of divers who in the Los Angeles area were pushing the state-of-the-art in SCUBA diving. I joined in with them and became one of the very early users of SCUBA equipment anywhere in the world, All kinds of aerospace companies were trying to get into this market from their normal work of building oxygen systems used in military aircraft, and with each new invention, divers tried them out and it was inevitable that some of them were going to lose their lives in this testing. So it went even when one regulator, a two hose model built by Northhill who had built lots of oxygen masks, had their regulator named "the widow maker" for its many accidents leading to the death of the user.
But over time, manufacturers from as far away as France joined in and soon the equipment made a rapid ascent into useable regulators and tanks for safe diving in the ocean. Jacque Cousteau of international oceanographic fame personally gave me 20 complete sets of SCUBA gear to be used in my classes to advertise his U.S. arm, U.S. Divers, Inc. A success story that has taken some years to reach the point that now almost anyone can enjoy the beautiful underwater world.
Los Angeles Parks and Recreation developed the training program to train instructors to be able to teach the basics of SCUBA to the general public. I was one of the first graduates of that course, and ended up the top student in my class. A group of which I was a part, then decided to make this instructing thing a larger enterprise, looking first at the U.S. and then foreign training for SCUBA. Dick was fortunate to have been chosen to write the Physics portion of the first training manual to be used for NAUI worldwide!
By the time I started work at Point Mugu for the Navy which will be discussed in a later page, I had accumulated hundreds of hours underwater and became well known in diving circles.
I am a licensed Commercial Airplane Pilot with instrument and multiengine ratings with thousands of hours of flight time in my log book flying light twin aircraft with a commercial group in the Washington, D.C. area out of Dulles Airport to all kinds of destinations east of the Mississippi River over a number of years. While working at Point Mugu in the Electronic Warfare Division, I had been exposed to a lot of flying in the back seat of fighter/bomber aircraft and inside transport-type aircraft operating all kinds of electronic equipment while testing missile systems for the Navy.
I was given many opportunities to "take over the stick" by the pilots with whom I flew, and this turned on my flying interests and all of this was further amplified when I left the Navy and went to work for NASA in Houston, there surrounded by the best of the pilot corps in the military. I went on from that start to get all the required licenses to fly commercially.