Neuqua Valley alum with penchant for electronics helps create Navy ‘robotics specialist’ rating

For Christopher Rambert, there’s a sort of magic to figuring out how things work.

It’s a lesson he learned more than two decades ago while attending Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville.

And it’s a foundation he’s still building on today — as the U.S. Navy’s first “robotics warfare specialist.”

Earlier this year, Rambert became the first person to take on the rating. Now Master Chief Robotics Warfare Specialist Christopher Rambert, the former Neuqua Valley student says the title is a privilege.

“It’s truly an honor to be in this position,” Rambert said in a phone interview with the Naperville Sun.

Ratings in the Navy are general enlisted occupations that consist of specific skills and abilities, according to the branch. So the robotics warfare specialist rating essentially defines a new devoted career path to follow as part of the Navy, Rambert said.

That path, as hinted in its name, deals in robotic and autonomous systems. It aims to establish a dedicated enlisted workforce specialized in unmanned and autonomous technology, according to a report from the military’s media service.

This kind of activity isn’t new to the Navy, Rambert said. But what the robotics warfare specialist rating does is centralize the work under one, defined operation, he said.

“To give you some metrics, originally there’s 29 different career paths that were working together to work on unmanned systems,” Rambert said. “And so essentially, we just took those 29 ratings (and) were able to merge them all together to make one job that supports unmanned and robotics systems.”

The rating has been years in the making, Rambert said. As has his move into debuting the role.

Rambert joined the Navy in 2001, he said, but his interest in robotics goes back even further — to high school.

He moved to Naperville in the late 1990s — between his freshman and sophomore years — and enrolled in Neuqua Valley just as the school, started in 1997, was getting established. Neuqua is where the roots for what would eventually become his focus in the Navy took shape, Rambert said. Namely, it was in electronics class with a teacher name Joe Wagner.

“He kind of pushed me in that direction, to start taking different electronics classes and then into shop,” Rambert said.

Wagner told the Naperville Sun that Rambert and electronics were a natural fit from the outset.

“Chris was a go-getter,” Wagner said. “He wanted to see how (this) worked, how that operated. … I remember Chris really getting into it. He wanted to know more, you know? He was such a great kid to work with.”

Wagner, 72, retired from Neuqua Valley in 2007, he said. But for those years when he was Rambert’s teacher, Wagner would look forward to seeing the student in his element.

“When he started working on something, and something would blink or start working,(he’d get) this smile on his face and that look of, ‘Oh wow, I did that,’” Wagner said.

Recalling those early electronics classes, Rambert said it was “almost like magic to see how things work” and that they opened up his aperture and understanding of how systems operated.

“I remember that, the smile,” Wagner said. “And when he achieved something, it made it all worthwhile for me that day.”

Initially, Rambert only intended to take his electronics and shop skills as far as working as a mechanic or a basic electrician one day, he said.

“I came from a very (blue-collar) family,” said Rambert, adding that college wasn’t a priority when he left high school.

But a year after graduating from Neuqua Valley, he wanted a change of pace. He looked to the Navy, thinking he could apply some of those mechanical skills he’d acquired in high school in the military branch.

Rambert joined as an aviation electrician’s mate. And that’s where he said he expected to stay. But over the years, his roles and responsibilities changed and grew — until he carved out a space for himself working with unmanned systems, and the opportunity to develop a rating for those interested in or already pursuing similar work arose.

For the past two years, Rambert has been helping develop the robotics warfare specialist rating.

He said the new career field will go a long way towards building and retaining talent.

Rambert sees the robotics warfare specialist rating as a “game-changing capability that we’re bringing to the fight day in and day out” because as technology moves at a rapid rate, having a dedicated workforce that can adapt and take advantage of those advancements is imperative, he said.

This effort is the first of its kind in the military, according to Rambert.

“Actually, if you look at the other branches of service right now, they’re very interested to see how we employ this new career path, and it looks like some will probably be following suit and developing their own enlisted career path, just like we did,” he said.

Now that the rating has been founded, Rambert said next steps will focus on building out the field.

“There’s a lot of people that believed in this rating,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that believed that I was the right person for it. So now, it’s just a matter of showing everybody that they were right.”