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'I'm a pizza addict'

Army aviation historian: 'One-in-a-million job'

Claus Martel, U.S. Army historian
Claus Martel with Tracker  


Claus Martel


I'm a historian for the United States Army Aviation and Missile Command, located at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.

I've been an historian for 16 years now. Government historians (and there are a few of us out there scattered around the federal government) are charged with recording, analyzing and reporting the activities of our respective agencies. The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command is responsible for the research, development, acquisition and sustainment of all U.S. Army aviation platforms (fixed and rotary wing) and missile systems.

I'm in the unique position of being our office's Web master. I became "it" in 1996 after one of our IT people -- when I questioned him on what this "HTML stuff" is -- told me that it was too complicated and I needed to leave it to the professionals.

Wernher von Braun, JFK
Wernher von Braun met with President John F. Kennedy at Redstone Arsenal on May, 19, 1963  

Last month we recorded our 21-millionth unique hit. We're the oldest army Web site with content -- many early Web sites had only very basic information -- and we've been listed with Yahoo! and other search engines since April 1995.

Our job is made even more interesting because we're the corporate memory for the installation. Redstone Arsenal was built prior to the United States' involvement in World War II in response to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's concern that the military was not ready for our inevitable entry into the war.

Redstone manufactured chemical and explosive ordnance. In fact, there's a very interesting section on our Web site about the vital role of women working in these dangerous facilities.

After the war, the facility sent almost everyone home and the army wanted to sell the installation. But after Germany's Dr. Wernher von Braun had led the surrender of many of his rocket-development colleagues, the army was looking for a permanent home for the group to continue its research. Redstone Arsenal came back to life in 1950 and it was here that von Braun and his associates developed projects including the Redstone rocket, the Jupiter intermediate range ballistic missile and the Pershing missile.

When NASA was created in 1960, von Braun and his staff were transferred to the new agency. The army's role shifted to developing systems such as the Pershing II and the Patriot -- sometimes called the "scud buster" in the media during the Gulf War.

graphic Claus Martel tells us about developing the Redstone Arsenal Web site on his own time. How much work for your employer have you similarly donated?

Tons. And I'm glad I did it.
Tons. And I feel taken advantage of.
A moderate amount. No biggie.
A moderate amount. Still too much.
None. But I'd be willing to.
None. And that's how it's staying.
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You can see that our incredibly complex history keeps us very busy. There's never a boring day. I've traveled all over the country and over most of the planet working for the army. My parents emigrated from Germany after World War II. Their experiences as teens growing up in a war zone probably had an impact on my interest in history.

Years in position

I've been a historian for 16 years.


I'm 44.


I have a BA in history and communication arts from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

How did you get your current job?

I got a call from my history chair at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and was told that the army was starting a brand new program for history majors to co-op with army agencies. I was the first army history co-op graduate and the last. Reagan cutbacks killed the program. I was very, very lucky.

How many hours do you work per week?

I live about 54 miles from the arsenal so I get up at 4:45 a.m. each day (no, the wife does not get up with me). I get to work at 6:30 a.m. and stay until 3:30, sometimes a little later if there's a historical emergency. (That's history humor.)

What's the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning?

Women ordnance workers at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama
By 1945, some 62 percent of workers at Redstone Arsenal were women, as so many men were needed to fight in the war  

Turn on the computers, get coffee, and check the mail.

What time do you have lunch? What do you usually eat?

About 11 a.m.; I'm a pizza addict. I pick it up and eat at my desk.

What time do things get tense around the office? What makes it that way?

Anytime we get a request from headquarters in Washington asking for the impossible in an unreasonable time frame.

If you're having a good day at work, what is it that makes it good?

We love getting questions from the public about all aspects of our installation's history. The greatest thrill is when we have a photo or a piece of film or some information that someone's been searching for years for. And we're also pleased when we get kind remarks about our Web site.

How much work, if any, do you take home?

In the FAQs on the Redstone Arsenal site, we read that Claus Martel and his associates field as many as 200 questions per month. The one they like least? -- "We honestly do not have any missiles/rockets/bombs lying around the office. Don't ask." On the other hand, if you'd like to ask about having your Day on the Job profiled at, click here for our submission form,.
as Martel did.

For the last several years, I took tons of work home. The army couldn't afford to buy us the equipment and software needed for the Web site so I did everything at home. No, my wife didn't like it much, thank you.

What does your work contribute to society?

I think we provide a very unique service to the public. First, the army doesn't censor what we write. Second, because we're one of the few federal Web sites that respond to requests, we get a lot of attention from around the world. And lastly, we provide a vital link between the past and the future.

Do you expect to finish your working life in this career?

Absolutely. It's a one-in-a-million job.

If you could have two more careers, what would they be?

A music composer (preferably with The Beatles) and a commercial jet pilot.

What's an unforgivable trait in a colleague?

Patriot missile
The Patriot missile is among the weaponry developed at Redstone Arsenal  

Apathy -- not being totally dedicated to the job. (It's 7 p.m. and I'm editing a video for work on my other computer.)

What do you do to relieve stress?

Take my very large golden retriever, Tracker, for rides in the country.

What have you been reading lately?

Adobe's manual for Premiere 6.0 -- digital video editing software -- probably the most complicated manual on the planet.

When you have one of those days on which you don't think you can face the job again, what is it that gets you out the door in the morning and off to work?

Knowing that I can make a difference in someone's life and make a difference in how we conduct the public's business.


• Redstone Arsenal Historical Information

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