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Guillaume LaForest: A 19-year veteran who served in U.S. Navy, Air Force & Army

During his 19 years in three branches of the military, Guillaume LaForest has worked on F-14 Tomcats fighter aircraft, traveled to Afghanistan and Kuwait, and served on several bases around the country from Fort Hood, Texas, to Fort Dix, New Jersey. Along the way, he obtained two master’s degrees and carried on his career as a teacher for much of that time. 

LaForest is one of about 30 veterans at the Princeton Plasma Laboratory. A staff specialist in the Performance Assurance and Contract Management Department, he just joined the PPPL staff in September. LaForest is among a group of veterans and staff members who are planning a virtual Veterans Day program on Wednesday, Nov. 11, from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. (See story here.)

“Veterans are 7 percent of the people in this country that serve our whole country,” LaForest said. “The thing to appreciate and understand is they are committed, dedicated, disciplined, hard-working, and very diverse.”

LaForest grew up in Miami and went to college on a football scholarship (as a defensive back and linebacker) to Cheyney University, the first historically black university in Cheyney, Pennsylvania. He graduated with a degree in recreation management and worked as a counselor at the Devereux Foundation, which provides residential care for children and adults with behavioral and intellectual disabilities.

LaForest joined the U.S. Navy in 2000, and started off as an airframe mechanic where he worked on F-14 Tomcats. He was assigned to the U.S.S. Roosevelt before it began its world tour in 2002. After serving in the National Guard for two years where he continued to work in information technology, LaForest joined the Air Force and was stationed at Willow Grove Naval Air Station.

Supported  Operation Enduring Freedom

After the Air Force decommissioned his company, LaForest joined the U.S. Army and became a commissioned Signal officer, remaining in the U.S. Army Reserve until 2019. He was promoted to second lieutenant in 2009 and then first lieutenant in 2011. That year, he was deployed overseas for one year in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Based in Kuwait, LaForest was the primary staff officer in charge of signal assets and the network infrastructure. His unit supported the network infrastructure for the Movement Control Battalion and support units.

The veteran received numerous awards for his service including the Army Meritorious Service Medal, four Army Commendation Medals, five Army Achievement medals, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Armed Forces Service Medal, four Armed Forces Reserve Commendation Medals, the National Defense Service Medal and The Army Service Ribbon.

LaForest said it was interesting being in the Mideast, an area with history that goes back to the Bible. Temperatures in Kuwait would rise to 130 degrees during the day and then drop quickly to 100 degrees so quickly you would need a jacket. He recalled seeing a number of sights he would never have seen in the U.S., such as the bodies of camels and sheep and abandoned Lamborghinis and Rolls-Royces on the side of the road.

LaForest also remembers seeing Bedouins, the nomadic people who would leave the city to set up tents in the desert during certain times of the year. His experiences during this time “gave me a better perspective and appreciation of other things around me,” LaForest said. 

Back in the U.S., he continued to serve in the Reserve at Fort Dix while pursuing his parallel career of teaching, and corporate opportunities in Project Management and Continuous Process Improvement. He also obtained not one but two degrees in management technology from the University of Phoenix and a master’s degree in education from Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania.

Strategic planning in Army & PPPL

LaForest’s final duties in the Army were in a branch of service that deals with strategic planning and training. The unit provided training and simulations for divisions and brigades of 5,000 to 25,000 soldiers preparing to deploy overseas aimed at helping them navigate logistics, operations, deal with insurgencies and the political climate of a country and region.

After he left the Army, he worked as a branch manager for The Brink’s Co. But it was his experience doing project management and process improvement  for the Army that helped LaForest get his current job at PPPL, which he learned about at a virtual job fair through RecruitMilitary.com. 

LaForest said he is excited about PPPL’s mission to develop fusion energy as a clean, affordable, and abundant source of electric energy. “I’m very much excited about being part of something that’s going to be part of history,” LaForest said.

LaForest and his wife, Kiera, have three children: Lorrielle, a junior at Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania majoring in biology pre-med; Guillaume Pierre (Peter), a senior in high school, and Alina, a junior in high school. They live in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which  is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit energy.gov/science.



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