Now an associate professor of communication sciences and disorders at UCís College of Allied Health Sciences, Pete Scheifele, PhD, got his start in science through the U.S. Navy. A Vietnam veteran, Scheifele served as a Navy diver and oceanographer for more than two decades, stationed on submarines, at Pearl Harbor and within naval think tanks.
After 22 years of active service, he retired as a lieutenant commander. During his service, he received many honors, including two Navy Commendation Medals, a National Defense Medal and a Vietnam Service Medal. He also received a presidential award from President George H. W. Bush for his work in dolphin bioacoustic research as it related to transducers and fetal ultrasound.
In 2007, Scheifele came to UC and started the Facility for the Education and Testing of Canine Hearing and Laboratory for Animal Bioacoustics (FETCHLAB), where he has continued his military involvement. Since 2011, he has worked closely with the Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force as an audiology consultant for military working dogs flying to Afghanistan and Iraq.
When did you enter the Navy?
"In 1968. I had just graduated high school and I was going to get drafted to Vietnam, and I decided I would enlist ahead of time for submarine duty. I chose the Navy because I wanted to do something technically oriented. Submarine duty really thrilled me, as my uncle was on a sub in World War II but I became enthralled with underwater demolition.
"I served on Navy submarines during Vietnam and I also worked as a Navy diver. I liked everything about the divingóit was highly technical and I liked getting a chance to work with nuclear weapons, submarine weapon systems and the SONAR systems. I did some underwater explosive work,underwater security checks and later on scientific diving.
"I was on submarines for about 14 years. After that I became a commissioned officer and a naval oceanographer. By then I was stationed at Pearl Harbor, so I started to go to night school and got an associateís degree. Then the Navy sent me to get my bachelorís degree at the University of Connecticut, where I completed masterís and doctoral work and medical education at Mount Sinai.Ē
What kind of work did you do as a naval oceanographer?
"Our normal duties include a range of things, from weather forecasting to anti-sub warfare. I was at the Naval Undersea Systems Center (NUSC) now known as the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC), which conducted a lot of different research on all facets of shipboard operations. That is when I got started studying bottlenose dolphins and sea lions, and thatís where my research path really started.
"Since they didnít have dolphins in Connecticut, I worked at Mystic Aquarium. I would work as a trainer during the day, doing shows and performances, and then work with the animals in the evening for bioacoustics research. Eventually, I became chief scientist for the Navy Marine Mammal Technology Program and head trainer at Mystic Aquarium.Ē
How does your military service inform your current research?
"A lot of work weíre doing in FETCHAB now has to with canine hearing, and has its roots in the tactical training of dogs doing scent discrimination, and the importance of handler communication. When I first retired from the Navy, I did some work with the U.S. Coast Guard, training and handling counter-narcotics dogs. Thatís what started me into studying canine hearing at FETCHLAB.
"For the first three years, we mostly concentrated on civilian dogs, but two years ago, I received a call from the Air Force to be part of the first Blue Ribbon conference on Canine Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) held at Lackland Air Force Base.
"When I was there, the military became interested in our work on canine hearing, which turned into further FETCHLAB research on canine hearing protection, hearing testing and C-PTSD.
"Next month, Iíll be traveling to North Carolina for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) workshop on military working dogs, working with members of the Army Special Forces and their dogs.Ē
"As for marine mammals, FETCHLAB serves the Georgia Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration and does research with the Newport Aquarium.Ē