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Launching a Federal Career

Photo by Department of Defense.

Dr. Ron Jost ’70 chuckled heartily when speaking about his unexpected career move from Motorola to the federal government. Following his 2001 retirement as a corporate vice president of Motorola, he said his college sweetheart and wife, Susie Kelley Jost ’69, encouraged him to find a new occupation; however, Jost had to secure employment approval. He looked into teaching at the college level and also visited the federal government website where he applied for various positions resulting in multiple job offers.

“I came into this federal position at my retirement level,” Jost explained. “I have a good position — the highest possible without being politically appointed. They were familiar with me because I had done military work at Motorola and E-Systems.”

As Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Communications, Command and Control (C3) and Cyber, Jost is responsible for providing portfolio management, technical and programmatic evaluation and functional oversight. His office oversees Department of Defense C3 and Cyber systems for the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition. It also provides the leadership for functional and acquisition oversight of all critical war fighting communications, command and control, and cyberspace capabilities in the Department of Defense. The increasing emphasis on cyber is requiring application of significant C3CB technical resources to insure the investments needed to respond to different cyber actions.

“My position is not too far off my electrical engineering background, but I never thought I’d be in the federal government doing it,” Jost remarked. “I am actually in a technical position: acquisition and investment of all cyber and business systems with Department C3. We basically have all communications, software programs and cyber programs in the Department of Defense. I don’t do tanks or planes; I do all electronics and software needed to enable these platforms, so in that respect, it’s engineering.”

Problem Solving at the Pentagon

Jost recalled leading a group at the Pentagon with “all kinds of military people in it” for nine years. He said it was quite an unusual experience because the lowest rank was a colonel. “I never thought I’d have 23 colonels reporting to me — Never! I do get tired of being called ‘Sir,’ especially by generals and fellow civilians. It’s the strangest feeling in the world,” he said with a laugh.

On a more serious note, his service with the federal government has exposed him to some dangerous circumstances. Three weeks after the United States entered Iraq in 2003, he was in Baghdad; he said military bases were relatively safe, aircraft were likewise relatively safe, but generally, Iraq was not safe for our military forces. Jost has traveled all over the world in trains, planes, ships, helicopters and submarines in environments he had never envisioned in his lifetime.

Living in Arizona

Raised in Chicago, Jost relocated to Arizona with Motorola in 1970, where he and Susie, a West Bluff Peorian who majored in math and Spanish, completed their master’s degrees in the ’70s at Arizona State University — she in math and physics and he in electrical engineering. Susie proceeded to teach junior high and high school math until 1976 but continued to teach college classes part-time. 

A lifelong learner, Jost shared an interesting fact concerning his higher education: He had been continuously enrolled in school since entering Bradley in 1965 until the time he earned his Ph.D. in 2002. “I didn’t miss a single semester,” he added with pride. “In fact, I graduated with my Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Arizona State during the same two-day ceremony my daughter and son graduated. It was one of my best personal accomplishments. When I was a Bradley engineering student, I never dreamed I would earn a Ph.D.”

Remembering his engineering classes at Bradley brought back thoughts of two professors who were “better than any professors I have ever taken”: Dr. Thomas Stewart ’59, professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering and technology, and the late Dr. William Hammond, MSEE ’60, professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering and technology. “To tell you the truth, I think Bradley gave a really, really good fundamental engineering education,” he shared. “I don’t know how anyone could be better than the new, young professors I had. They were outstanding.”

“We basically have all communications, software programs and cyber programs in the Department of Defense. I don’t do tanks or planes; I do all electronics and software needed to enable these platforms, so in that respect, it’s engineering.”

— Dr. Ron Jost ’70

After 81 round-trip flights in one year from Phoenix to Chicago, Motorola moved the Josts to corporate headquarters in Chicago in 2000. During his 26 years with the company, the project that gave him the greatest satisfaction in his career was launching 72 IRIDIUM satellites that provide global mobile telecommunications services. Motorola had never launched a satellite, and Jost, as chief engineer and systems manager for the program, was responsible for the execution of the project — everything associated with the satellite — payload, ground stations design, as well as the flight operations. “My people built, launched and operated the systems,” Jost said. “Even people here at the Department of Defense acknowledged the launch as a big deal. I can actually say I have launched more satellites than anyone else in the Pentagon, by far. We worked on the project from 1994 to early 1998. The IRIDIUM satellites were extremely complicated for their day and even by today’s Pentagon standards.”

Jost also noted, “When the system launched, it was more advanced than any previous communications satellite, and the successful launching was important to me. A multiple launch and satellite development had never been done before or since.”

— Karen Crowley Metzinger, MA ’97