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By Jennifer Erickson, NSWCDD Corporate Communications
The National Museum of the Surface Navy has awarded Dr. Gladys West with the first Freedom of the Seas Exploration and Innovation Award, recognizing her for the spirit to propel society beyond its limits, pioneering research and developing technologies that impact the knowledge and capabilities of people around the world.
West, a King George resident, traces her roots back to Naval Proving Ground, now Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD), where she was hired in 1956 and worked for 42 years.
West contributed to mathematical modeling of the Earth’s shape as well as the development of satellite geodesy models, later incorporated into the GPS.
The museum hosted a Freedom of the Seas Awards Dinner in October at the Battleship USS Iowa in Los Angeles to honor West and other award recipients. Although West was unable to attend, she tuned into the live event.
In an interview after the event, West shared her feelings about the award.
“I am elated – very happy to be recognized, pleased that others get to see the work that we did at Dahlgren. It is an honor to be the first recipient of this award. I am sorry that I could not attend to accept it in person,” West said. “Thank you to all who had a part in my receiving this award.”
Lt. Cmdr. Gareth Brown-Hebert, NSWCDD executive officer, accepted the award on West’s behalf.
“As a Surface Warfare Officer with many hours of ocean transit, it is not hyperbolic to say that I personally owe my life and safety to her pioneering innovation in GPS technology,” Brown-Hebert said to an audience of about 250 active duty and retired military, government and community leaders.
“Dr. West’s mathematical prowess was critical in developing a model of the Earth’s surface that was integrated into the foundation of the World Geodetic System. Although this model has been refined several times in the intervening years; current GPS modeling is rooted in her brilliant work,” Brown-Hebert said.
West has strived to propel society beyond its limits by “being aware of the young people, mentoring, contributing to their development by sharing stories of my career,” she said.
She’s pioneered research and developed technology that impacts the knowledge and capabilities of people around the world by “being a part of several museum exhibits where my story is shared to all people everywhere, hoping that this leaves encouragement to follow their dreams and work hard to be the best they can be,” West said.
During interviews, military leaders sang her praises.
“I think that Dr. West is another one of those ‘hidden figures’ in our military that play a critical role in the advancements that not only affected our ability to fire missiles accurately but also enable everyday life when you pick up your Google phone and you’re trying to find something,” said retired Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris, 2022 VADM Samuel Gravely, Jr. Award recipient.
Retired Adm. Philip S. Davidson, former Commander of United States Indo-Pacific Command and 2023 Freedom of the Seas Award recipient, said, “The Navy stands on the shoulders of the geniuses that have been advancing our technology in the Navy… We’re standing on Dr. West’s shoulders to execute the mission of the United States.”