By Susan A. Romano, AFTAC Public Affairs
/ Published March 30, 2018
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
With 82-plus years under his belt, a long and storied career with the federal government, and elbows that have rubbed with the likes of astronauts, diplomats, presidential appointees and renowned international scientists alike, one would think he’d have slowed down by now.
One would think. But that’s not the case for Dr. Bob Kemerait, a senior scientist and Defense Intelligence Senior Level executive at the Air Force Technical Applications Center here. On the contrary, Kemerait shows no signs of seeking out retirement community living or hanging up his proverbial lab coat – at least, not just yet.
For the past 44 years, Kemerait has been associated with the Department of Defense’s sole nuclear treaty monitoring center specializing in seismic systems development, data processing and collection, and supporting the U.S. National Data Center.
Born in 1935, Kemerait grew up in a small town 50 miles east of Cleveland, Ohio, and recalls an event from his childhood that proved pivotal to his lifelong pursuit and love of science.
“It was four days before my 10th birthday,” he explained. “I woke up and found my parents huddled around the radio listening to the news about the A-bomb the United States had just dropped on Hiroshima. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Maybe President Truman’s decision to bomb Japan would be the step needed to finally end the war.’ Little did I know my future career would be spent seeking out the comprehensive ban on nuclear testing.”
In 1996, the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organization was founded and is currently based in Vienna. Its main focus is the promotion, negotiation and ultimate ratification of the CTBT. Led by Dr. Lassina Zerbo, CTBTO’s executive secretary, the organization conducts recurring working groups with representatives from more than 80 countries across the globe.
Recently, the CTBTO held its 50th Working Group B session at its Austrian headquarters, where member-states delivered their respective statuses on signatory monitoring, compliance and verification. The commission also took the time to recognize Kemerait for being the only representative of any nation to have attended all 50 Working Group B sessions since its inception.
“When I was selected for this job, I wasn’t the ‘usual suspect’ people had become accustomed to seeing as the executive secretary,” said Zerbo. “I wasn’t part of the long-standing ‘inner group’ of participants, and many people were heard saying, ‘Who is this guy, and what does he know?’ But not Bob Kemerait. He was one of the few people at the very start of my tenure who gave me hope. He looked me in my eyes and gave me advice on very technical issues. He listened to what my vision was, and I learned from him. He also made me believe that all things are possible, even a treaty as complicated as the CTBT.”
For the past 14 years, Zerbo and Kemerait have developed a long-standing professional relationship as well as a deep friendship. That was evident in the gift Zerbo presented to AFTAC’s senior scientist at a ceremony to honor his 50th WGB perfect attendance.
“I come from a very small country in Africa (Burkina Faso), so I wanted to present something from my homeland to honor Bob and recognize the support he has given to this very noble cause,” Zerbo explained. “I present to him a statue of a man carrying heavy pails of water on each shoulder, which represents what Bob has done for more than two decades – carry water for his country to get this treaty ratified. He has made it his life’s work, much like this water carrier in the statue.”
In addition to accolades from Zerbo, Nicole Shampaine, Chargé d’Affaires for the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna, also delivered words of praise to Kemerait’s dedicated service.
“Dr. Kemerait’s involvement with the mission dates back to 1997 when we held the first Working Group B session,” Shampaine said. “He has been a champion of data authentication requirements and his contributions have proven invaluable. We have the utmost confidence in his skills and knowledge and we can’t thank him enough for his continued involvement with the CTBTO.”
During the Cold War, many attempts were made to negotiate a comprehensive nuclear test ban, but it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the treaty became a reality. Between 1994 and 1996, the CTBT was negotiated in Geneva. One hundred and eighty three countries have signed the treaty; 166 have ratified it, including three nuclear weapons States (France, the United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation). President Bill Clinton signed the treaty, but the U.S. Senate has not yet ratified it.
AFTAC’s support to the CTBTO comes in the shape of its data-sharing capabilities through the International Monitoring System. The center provides collaborative software subject matter expertise and systems engineering expertise to the International Data Centre as well as sustainment and logistics support to the IMS. Additionally, AFTAC develops sparing requirements, manning requirements and special support equipment for IMS contributors.
As the nation’s caretaker of the U.S. Atomic Energy Detection System (the largest sensor network in the Air Force), AFTAC operates and maintains more than 3,600 nuclear event detection sensors worldwide.
Kemerait’s primary focus as a senior scientist has been on waveforms – seismic, hydroacoustic and infrasound.
“My work energizes me,” Kemerait said. “I still feel I have things to contribute to this incredible mission. I truly enjoy what I’m doing, and I feel I can run with the best of them, so why would I want to retire? It’s even more rewarding when I get to work with people like our chief scientist, Dr. Glenn Sjoden, who’s been a great influence on me. He’s just one of the many people I’ve been blessed to work with over the years.”
AFTAC’s chief scientist had some of his own words to describe Kemerait’s work ethic.
“Don’t let Bob’s age fool you,” said Sjoden. “He has more energy and ‘joie-de-vivre’ than people half his age, and it shows. He has been a mainstay and significant presence for us with our counterparts in Vienna, and we rely on him to serve as our primary advisor and conduit between the various countries who attend WGB sessions as well as the senior executives with the Preparatory Commission. He is been a stalwart participant of the commission’s plenary body and Provisional Technical Secretariat, and I’m extremely proud of the role he’s played. He’s a true ambassador for AFTAC.”
When asked what the most memorable part of his involvement with WGB and the CTBTO has been, Kemerait paused and gave it great thought.
“At times, WGB can be very political, and I try to avoid that stuff,” he explained. “I’m not here for the politics; I’m here to get the job done and see about getting this treaty ratified. It’s been my life work, and I wouldn’t change a thing about this journey I’ve been on. Some of my best friends are right here in Vienna – either those who live and work here, or those who travel to the sessions from other countries – and like Dr. Zerbo said, I won’t retire until I see the CTBTO entered into force.”
He added, “What amazes me most is that I’ve worked with giants from all nations, and while most move on to other positions, the ones who come in their place are equal giants – the best in the field. It motivates me to be able to work with such intelligent men and women from all over the world, and it rejuvenates me to continue on this path towards a safer planet and safer society free of nuclear testing. I pray I can see that in my lifetime.”