Dr. Jim Baker
A few short years after his retirement from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Chemical & Biological (RDECOM C&B) Center, Jim Baker, Ph.D., is being inducted into the Center’s Hall of Fame.
Beginning his career in 1969 as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Chemical Corps at the Chemical Systems Laboratory at the then-Edgewood Arsenal, Baker spent nearly half a century at the RDECOM C&B Center, going from research chemist to associate director before his retirement in 2015.
Baker’s professional contributions to the Center are countless, with his work including projects related to improving charcoal filter masks for warfighters, optimizing incineration processes for destruction of sarin, and more.
“For most of the first few years, I just worked on improving the charcoal in the mask filters to make it more efficient,” he said. “The intent was to make it more effective and perhaps take care of more gases. We wanted to improve the capacity, because the effectiveness is dependent on the chemicals on the charcoal.”
Later, Baker worked on the team that developed a method for destroying sarin at Edgewood without allowing harmful emissions to escape and pollute the environment.
“We also worked on the initial research for the demilitarization project,” Baker said, alluding to the destruction of chemical warfare agent. “One of the projects I had worked on was to show you could incinerate the agent GB, or sarin, and not have it escape out the stacks. It’s very volatile, and there was concern it would escape. But we built a small incinerator and proved that we could destroy all the sarin before any could escape.”
“I was happy to work on something that I thought would make an improvement,” Baker added. “Not that I’m altruistic, but it gave me a sense of accomplishment to do something that helped people. I thought I did some good work in the laboratory — we made some improvements in the charcoal. I had a feeling I had contributed something to the Army.”
As the Center’s associate director, Baker gained a strong reputation that extended internationally. In 2014, Baker became the 16th American civilian to ever receive the German Gold Cross of Honour, which was presented by Dr. Alexander Grabowski, director of the CBRN Decontamination Directorate of German Federal Armed Forces Research Institute for Protection Technologies & NBC Protection.
“I am honored to know and work with Jim. He has the incredible ability to walk the line between friendship and professionalism,” said Gabrowski, a former RDECOM C&B Center visiting scientist, during the 2014 ceremony. “He made working at the Center a valuable experience for me and countless others.”
As his friends and former colleagues praised him, Baker remained humble, describing the honor as “neat” and “totally unexpected.”
“I just worked and did the best I could,” he said. “It’s nice to be recognized for the work you did.”
Well-regarded across by many across post, Baker was remembered for not just his professional contributions but for his persona.
“I think we all miss him,” said Teresa Rudd, an executive assistant who worked closely with Baker. “He left a huge gap when he retired.”
“Dr. Baker worked hard and cared about people and the Center,” she said. “As a leader, he was a total team player and made sure he did what needed to be done, even if it was fixing typos on the typewriter. He was a total professional.”
George Collins, the Center’s director of safety and human capital, described Baker as an institutional anchor who provided stability and leadership in turbulent times.
“Dr. Baker was always there to keep things on track and keep going on an even keel. It’s tough to do that in an organization of 1,100, but that was him,” Collins said, noting he had worked with Baker since 2000. “He was always the focal point for any actions that came from on high. He would be the voice of reason when the organization was under scrutiny. He was patient and a calming influence on the organization.”
Baker will be inducted alongside Harry Salem, Ph.D., who continues to work as the Center’s chief scientist for life sciences.
“I’m incredibly proud to be associated with Dr. Baker, who I’ve known since I came to Edgewood in 1984,” Salem said.
Reflecting on his time of service, Baker said that through the Center’s many changes over the years, it continued to produce meaningful work that made a difference for not just the military but the civilian sector, too.
“Through the years, the place got bigger and more active,” Baker said. “It’s always changing — I don’t know how many reorganizations I lived through. But they continue to uphold their reputation for doing good, quality work, and they’re involved in many more projects.”
“It was a great life,” Baker said. “Incredibly rewarding, and a fun time, too.”