A personal tribute to the late Dr. Hans Mark
By Robert Brady
Dr. Hans Mark passed away Dec. 18, 2021 in Austin, Texas, at age 92. He was one of the world’s most renowned aerospace engineers and a mentor to many senior military leaders for decades within the Department of Defense. I had the honor and privilege of serving as his Military Assistant while he was the Director, Defenses Research and Engineering from 2000-01.
Many of the obituaries written about Dr. Mark capture his remarkable service to our country. But those obituaries only depict a small part of what a true patriot he really was and what a fantastic mentor he became to our senior military commanders. I write this personal tribute to add to the record.
Dr. Mark’s record of service is impeccable. He served as a nuclear scientist at Berkley and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 1964-69, as Director of the NASA Ames Research Center from 1969-77, Under Secretary of the Air Force and Director of the National Reconnaissance Office from 1977-79. Thereafter, he served as Secretary of the Air Force from 1979-81, Deputy Director of NASA from 1981-84 and as the Chancellor of the University of Texas from 1984-92. He then served as Director, Defense Research and Engineering from 1999-2001 and as an aerospace engineering professor at the University of Texas until his final retirement in 2014.
Dr. Hans Mark was not your typical “political appointee” despite serving as such during so many years of his dedicated government career. I understood that Hans was thoroughly apolitical during his distinguished service, having worked under both Democratic and Republican administrations. He only cared for what was best for the military and for the science behind the research and development of new technologies behind those efforts for the military.
Dr. Hans Mark was also a mentor to many senior military leaders, with a particular focus on military readiness. As his Military Assistant, I saw countless times senior military leaders, from all services, come to him for advice. Here are two of my favorite recollections:
- Marine Corps: LtGen Mike Hough (Ret), formerly the Deputy Commandant for Marine Aviation and a former Program Executive Officer for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter said of him:
“I am saddened to have learn of the passing of Hans Mark. I will never forget him and the wise counsel he passed on to me about the philosophy and business of building and testing aircraft concepts, especially in the STOVL propulsion area. He was a teacher, a mentor and a gentleman of the highest order. He was one of a kind who made a difference to so many in so many fields. I was privileged and honored to sit in his presence several times, just one on one; a priceless American treasure who is absolutely irreplaceable”.
- Navy: In early 2000, we had a new Navy two-star Flag Officer come to visit Dr. Hans Mark for advice on his promotion to the Navy OPNAV staff. As I talked to him prior to his meeting with Dr. Mark, the officer explained to me that Dr. Mark had always been a mentor to him and that he really appreciated his advice. Following the meeting, Dr. Mark came out to say to me that this admiral was one of the finest the Navy had and he that thought this admiral should become the next Chief of Naval Operations — which he did indeed become years later. He subsequently became the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That Admiral is Mike Mullen.
Another fine characteristic of Dr. Mark was that he surrounded himself with smart subordinates and fully empowered them to do their jobs, while protecting them from external politics. Some of those include Alan Shaffer, former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment; Delores Etter, former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Science and Technology; Anna Johnson-Winnegar, Director of Medical Chemical and Biological Defense Research Programs for the Army Medical Research and Material Command, Fort Detrick; George Schneider and Fred Celec, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs, to name just a few).
I would be remiss if I did not recognize Dr. Mark for his passion and diligence in promoting tilt-rotor technology. Under his watch, NASA Ames paved the way for the successful fielding of the MV-22 Osprey aircraft the Marines put into full operational status in 2006. Despite its controversial developmental test history, once fielded for operational use in 2006 during a deployment to Iraq, it became a game-changer for Marine aviation and has had one of the best safety records for Defense Department aircraft during its first years in service. Dr. Mark was always one of the most vocal proponents of the MV-22, and I, as a former Marine Corps aviator, want to personally recognize him this in this regard.
I hope readers of this tribute will appreciate my personal recollections of Dr. Hans Mark. He was one of the most dedicated and finest civil servants I have had the privilege to meet in life, and he has done more for national security then most will ever know. He came to truly define what it means to be a national patriot. And, perhaps most importantly, he served by example — as the true epitome of a leader.
Retired Marine Corps. Col. Robert Brady is chief operating officer for the Department of Defense Activity. He can be reached at email@example.com