Every Nov. 11 the nation observes Veterans Day, a day set aside each year to honor and remember all those who have protected our country through service in the armed forces. We profile four Lab veterans—Germaine Sumbler of Facilities, Erika Lindquist of JGI, DeAnna Ashorobi of OCFO, and Nick Everson of JBEI.
Germaine Sumbler, Plant Maintenance Technician, Facilities
Being a Navy machinist mate on a submarine was good training for Germaine Sumbler’s job as a plant maintenance technician on the night shift at Berkeley Lab.
“When you’re out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and something breaks on your ship, there’s no one to call,” he says. “It really is pretty much sink or swim.”
Sumbler worked on the operation and maintenance of a submarine tender ship’s propulsion system for six years. He and 300 to 400 other crewmembers on the USS Emory S. Land provided food, electricity, water, consumables, spare parts, medical, dental, mail, legal services, and any parts or equipment repair necessary to submarines. To accomplish this, the ship maintained a physical plant similar to that of a small town, including 53 different specialized shops.
At the age of 20, Sumbler retired from his college basketball career and decided to enlist. Many of his family members had served in the military, so the possibility of enlisting had always been something he’d considered. The skills he learned as a machinist mate working in the boiler room (also known as the “pit”) of the ship, making sure there was sufficient utilities, have carried him throughout his career to this day. “Everything that I did in the Navy—I still do those types of operating engineering tasks every day,” Sumbler says.
During his six years of service, Sumbler traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, and some of the Middle East. “The travelling and camaraderie with fellow shipmates was really great,” he says. “The most interesting part of my work while in the Navy was the technical aspect; having to operate and maintain a 1200-pound super-heated steam plant and all of its associated systems out in the middle of the ocean was really awesome.”
A Louisiana native, Sumbler landed in the Bay Area after he left the Navy largely because his family was here. He describes the transition from military to civilian work as “seamless,” largely because his job duties were so similar.
Sumbler worked in plant maintenance and operations for Genentech for a few years, then moved to another biotech company, Xoma, in Berkeley, before starting at the Lab in 2009. Sumbler works the owl shift at the Lab, maintaining all the mechanical rooms on the hill. “It’s pretty different at night; we’re a pretty much self-sustained group of five, which incidentally includes two other military vets, who are here operating the facilities,” he says.
Veterans Day is a special holiday for Sumbler’s family, a time, he says when “I like to remember those who served before and after me.”
Erika Lindquist, Sequencing QA/QC Group Lead, Joint Genome Institute
DeAnna Ashorobi, Senior Contracts Administrator, Office of the Chief Financial Officer
When DeAnna Ashorobi first deployed on the Navy ship USS Samuel Gompers at the age of 19, she was seasick for a week. Navy “old timers” soon helped her get her sea legs, and she ended up enjoying four years of service on the ship. She got so good at her job she even earned two Navy Expeditionary Medals.
“I left the south side of Chicago and joined the Navy shortly after completing high school. I had no clue of what I wanted to do for a living, and the Navy seemed to be the perfect choice,” she says. “It was a great experience, and it allowed me to travel the world.”
The USS Samuel Gompers, carrying a crew of 1,056 and with Alameda as its home port, was designed to be a floating repair and supply shop for U.S. Navy ships either in port or at sea. Ashorobi worked in the ship’s post office, which tended to get really busy when they were deployed. During her tenure, the ship stopped in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, the Seychelles, Diego Garcia, Hawaii, and the Philippines.
“Seeing how people around the world lived was really one of the highlights for me,” she says.
After leaving the Navy she attended UC Berkeley and studied psychology. She joined the Lab in 2002 and then took a six‐year break to work at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. She’s thrilled to be back at Berkeley Lab, supporting a construction group with contracts administration. Though she doesn’t see a direct link between the work she does now and her responsibilities in the Navy, she acknowledges that the work ethic and the focus on teamwork she developed in the military have helped her in her career ever since.
Ashorobi was the first in her family to join the military. Deploying as a teen, she says she built some of her strongest friendships with fellow service members who were also on the same journey. “My former shipmates are some of my closest friends,” she says.
In addition to sharing her birthday with Veterans Day, Ashorobi says the day is a reminder to her of her time in the Navy and the memories she holds, as well as a time to acknowledge the service of so many other Americans.
Nick Everson, Chief Operating Officer, Joint BioEnergy Institute
Spending 54 days straight under the ocean as a Navy submarine electrician may not have a lot in common with managing operations at Berkeley Lab’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), but Nick Everson credits the former for much of his success with the latter. Everson spent six years in the Navy, and says that what he learned during his time there has informed much of what he’s taken on in his career since.
“The fact that I’m a veteran and my (having) submarine and navy service have been an asset for every new job I’ve had since, even if just in being able to talk about what it’s like to put your life in the hands of other people when you’re under water,” says Everson. “It also really helps you in managing people and understanding how to get people to work toward a common goal.”
After high school in Tracy, California, Everson joined the Navy and trained as a submarine electrician. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life yet,” he says.
Everson’s father had served in the Navy and his grandfather had been awarded a Purple Heart after being injured in battle as a Marine in WWII. “They were both really supportive and excited for me when I told them I’d decided to enlist,” he says.
On top of boot camp, Everson had to do an extra year of nuclear propulsion training to learn how to run a submarine’s nuclear reactor. After his training, he was stationed on the USS Portsmouth, based out of San Diego. His days on the submarine were spent operating the electrical plant, doing electrical repairs and maintenance, and sometimes helping track other ships from the control room. He was often underwater in a submarine for a week or two at a time, tracking other ships or taking part in operations with Navy units from various other countries.
“The travel was really one of the highlights of my time in the Navy,” says Everson. “I got to see Hong Kong before and after it was turned back over to China, as well as Singapore, Dubai, Bahrain.”
He adds: “I also made some of my closest friends in the military. I still see some of them regularly.”
After his time in the Navy, Everson used the GI Bill to earn his undergrad degree at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. He had developed an interest in finance and accounting, and went on to work as a financial analyst for Intel after graduation. Then he joined Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, moved to the Joint Genome Institute and the Materials Sciences Division, and finally landed in Emeryville at JBEI. Everson now oversees operations functions for all of Emeryville, which includes JBEI and the Advance Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit (ABPDU).
“For me, Veterans Day is really a time to acknowledge all veterans,” says Everson. “Whether their contribution was big or small, it all makes a difference.”