Missiles are tough; being a good dad is tougher
Photo by Richard H. Miller
TACOMA, Wash. - "I can’t go into too much detail,” he says.
"We don’t talk about that.” He tilts his head back and slightly to the side. His eyes slant bright behind rimless glasses.
"It’s on Wikipedia.”
Andrew Zander smiles, says nothing.
"Tell me about a typical day at work.”
"We have an explosives handling wharf at Naval Base Kitsap. The submarine pulls up inside. A huge crane takes the missiles on and off the sub. I watch the sailors and make sure they don’t make any mistakes.”
"Mistakes? Doing what?”
"The maintenance is often with the warheads. Certain components require replacement because they have a half-life.”
Zander smiles again, says nothing. A WSU Online student walks by, heading toward the banquet room at the Tacoma Marriot. She holds a baby in her arms. The baby has a crimson and gray cap. The student is wearing blue jeans and a red CyberCoug T-shirt over white thermal long underwear.
"Oh. I see. So how did you get this job?”
"I enlisted in the Navy as a missile technician. I was doing patrols on submarines for eight years, then I worked for Lockheed Martin doing maintenance on ordnance, then got a government quality assurance job. So now I watch the handling and servicing of the missiles. They’re the Trident II D5.”
Former student government president
I’d heard of Zander before: Lives in Silverdale, Wash. Used to be president of the online student government. Left WSU Online in 2008 because of a sick baby. Re-enrolled in 2011. When I found out he would be at the March 24 Tacoma Rendezvous
, I arranged a meeting.
I ask about the baby.
Maya was born with tracheoesophageal fistula, Zander says.
"Her esophagus didn’t connect to her stomach. It formed a pocket. When we tried to feed her, she’d spit it up. And the pipe coming up from her stomach actually connected to her trachea, so stomach acid was going into her lungs.”
After a feverish morning of worry, panic and despair, Maya was operated on at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Fort Lewis-McChord.
"Everything is connected right now,” Zander says. "Except for some scar tissue that causes her to choke if she takes too big of a bite of food.”
Maya is 4 and says cute things that Zander posts on Facebook: "Look at my toes; they're magic,” she said recently.
WSU offers credibility
I ask Zander what I always ask students. Why did you choose WSU’s online degree program?
"Credibility,” he says, and stops. I wait for more. He says, "Who in Washington state hasn’t heard about WSU?”
And why major in social sciences with an emphasis in developmental psychology?
"Mainly so I can be a better father,” he says. "I grew up without a father so I never had any sort of positive role model to emulate. So the next best thing was to figure out how people learn and develop.”
"And that actually works with Maya?”
"I’ve never had to rely on physical discipline,” he says. "I’ve always been able to just reason with her. Using reasoning and talking calmly seems to avert a lot of child meltdowns.”
I can’t help but ask: "Does that help when you argue with your wife?”
He laughs. "A little bit. As we’re having an argument, she’ll say, ‘You’re so cold and aloof.’ No, I’m just rationally thinking things out.”
Rationality, I say, is a good quality in someone who deals with missile warheads. Especially the kind of warheads that have a half-life.
He says nothing. Just tilts his head and peers down through his glasses and smiles.