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NEWS | July 8, 2024

Profiles in Professionalism: Lt. Cmdr. Hernando Gauto

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Erik Melgar

January 28th, 1986, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 11:39AM will always be a prominent memory to those who witnessed the Challenger space shuttle explode on live TV. For Lt. Cmdr. Hernando Gauto, originally from Paraguay, seeing the explosion as a child led him to a career as the Lead Systems Engineer for Environmental Control and Life Support Systems/Human Exploration Technical Manager at NASA and to serve as the commanding officer of Navy Reserve Southwest Regional Maintenance Center (NR SWRMC) St. Louis, Missouri.
Gauto’s father, an airframe technician for the Paraguayan Air Force, helped develop a love for aviation and supported Gauto’s pursuit of knowledge on how things worked, curiosity of exploring the wider world and reaching the final frontier.
“I still remember watching the Challenger on TV,” said Gauto. “I asked my dad ‘Why did that happen? Why couldn’t we fix that before it happened?’ and he explained to me how it’s new technology. He also told me ‘If you want to improve something, you can do it yourself, you can be the person that gets people into space safely.’ Since then I’ve been preparing myself to get educated in the aerospace industry.”
Gauto and his family moved from Paraguay to Mineola, New York, when he was 12, and it was hard for him to adjust at first to the new environment, language and country.
“Coming to Long Island in 1994, there weren’t many Hispanic people,” said Gauto. “I was pretty quiet because I didn’t fully know the language, but I was very advanced in math and graduated top 25% of my high school class. I was a student athlete as well, so despite not knowing a lot of English, I had the respect of my peers.”
Gauto knew what his life goal was, and never gave up on that dream. As he strove to learn more about math and science, he helped develop a computer science and engineering program in his high school. He also joined the junior firefighters of his hometown, eventually joining the volunteer fire department of Mineola in August of 2001. During the attacks of 9/11, he and his fire department responded in Manhattan.
“A lot of the city fire trucks were destroyed, so they called the Long Island fire departments,” said Gauto. “The on-scene firefighter, Scott Strauss, brought us into the city. We went down to the Hudson River and started setting up our pumping stations between engine trucks so that we could fight the fires burning under the towers after they fell. It was something I never thought I would see in my lifetime.”
Gauto was only 19 at the time, a freshman in New York Tech. He is one of many brave men and women who put themselves on the line for our nation, saved lives and responded to the tragedy of 9/11.
In 2008, Gauto became an Industrial safety engineer for NASA, supporting test areas and upholding safety and mission assurance. He also started recruiting for NASA at career fairs in universities throughout the country. At a career fair in Columbus, Ohio, he met a lieutenant commander astronaut recruiter for the Navy. It was here he learned about the Direct Commission Program through the Navy Reserve.
“Captain Stefanyshyn Piper told me about the Direct Commission Program in the Navy,” said Gauto. “She explained how I could commission into the Navy as an Engineering Duty Officer, keep my job at NASA and drill on weekends. My manager at NASA, Ed Kiessling, was a retired captain in the Navy Reserve as an Engineer Duty Officer, and supported me all the way through the process of commissioning. I joined the Navy Reserve because I always liked to volunteer and support my community. This gave me another way to thrive and continue doing more for the people around me.”
Gauto is currently the commanding officer of NR SWRMC St. Louis. He is responsible for over 50 Reserve Sailors and 2 officers across the engineering rates, working alongside private companies and shipyards throughout the regional maintenance centers to repair and maintain the surface fighting force of the Navy.
For Gauto, being a commanding officer is more than completing the mission on time and correctly. He sees his Sailors as family and understands the responsibility he owes them.
Gauto ensure his Sailors are ready to mobilize, helping them take care of their administrative tasks, training and prepare their families and themselves to mobilize.
“One of my main tasks as a Reserve Commander is to train our people to be ready for anything and to have as seamless of a transition between Reserve and Active Duty,” said Gauto. “As a leader, I have a lot of responsibility towards the well-being of my unit. A leader is not just a position or title. It’s a person that is willing to guide and someone that people will want to follow and connect with. I care about my Sailors success. As much as I like doing everything, eventually it is our duty to pass the reigns to our reliefs, and to train them to handle it as well and better than we ever could.”
Outside of the Navy Reserve, Gauto works in the Human Exploration Development and Space Systems department at NASA, where he learned to build life support systems for astronauts and how to keep them alive in space.
“My specific job is to develop methods of removing carbon dioxide from the space station, clean it, and reproduce it as oxygen,” said Gauto. “Now we’re developing the next generation of life support systems, developing infrastructure habitations for astronauts to live in small communities on the moon.”
Gauto hopes to become an astronaut and to see all the work he’s been doing at NASA culminate to life outside of Earth. Everything in Gauto’s life, being a firefighter, studying in university, commissioning in the Navy Reserve has helped set the foundation for this goal. Gauto’s goals for the future in the Navy Reserve include making captain and to help lead the next generation of officers. He understands that although he would like to stay in for as long as he can, there will be a day where the leaders he’s help build up take control of the Navy and its future.
It can be hard to dream while focusing on survival in an unfamiliar environment. As an immigrant, Gauto had a lot of obstacles to overcome. However, he took the hurdles in stride and stayed true to himself and where he came from. Gauto hopes that his experiences inspire others like him to chase after their dreams and enter spaces that seem out of reach at first glance. He believes that being well traveled, taking insight from other cultures and being open to new and different perspectives are instrumental to success in his life and career.
Whether it’s responding to our nation in its time of need, building the protective housing of our final frontiersman, or helping Sailors develop in their personal and professional lives, Gauto is there doing everything he can to embody the American Dream and take us higher and farther than ever before.