As a combat engineer in the US Marine Corps in 2011, Neil Altomare’s job was to detect unexploded home-made bombs known as IEDs, or improvised explosive devices. Many were hidden throughout Afghanistan’s Sangin Valley, where he was deployed. Once he found an IED, Altomare would destroy it — often by blowing it up. This work helped keep his fellow Marines safe.
But neither his equipment nor visual scans could detect all hidden bombs. And one day, Altomare stepped on an IED. He survived. But the explosion destroyed his right leg below the knee. Shrapnel hit him almost everywhere else. Yet despite the pain and injuries, he was able to direct rescue troops to carry him along a safe path out of the field and to the helicopter that would airlift him to medical care.
Dozens of surgeries followed. More than a year later, Altomare was back home in Albuquerque, N.M. There he learned about the Wounded Warrior career program. And that led to a job in town at Sandia National Laboratories. Today, he’s part of its environmental safety and health team. And he works with explosives. “I had worked with explosives in the military,” he notes, “and I wanted to continue that.” Some of his work helps the military. Other work can protect civilians.
His job falls within a broad field known as STEM. Its short for science, technology, engineering and math. These research disciplines attract all types of women and men. They may be young or old, short or tall, come from any nation and sport skin of any color.