Story by 2nd Lt. Ashley Goodwin
Michigan National Guard
WASHINGTON -- “Dr. Kalpana Chawla, an Indian astronaut, lost her life in the sky and became a star among all other stars,” said Spc. Harikrishna Devaraj. “I came to the United States to be an astronaut and continue her legacy.”
Devaraj aspired to be an astronaut when he watched the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, when everyone on board was killed.
“I moved from India to pursue my graduate degree in 2009,” said Devaraj. “I graduated with a Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering from Wayne State University.”
Devaraj is currently serving in Washington, supporting the U.S. Capitol Police, as part of the Capitol Response mission. He is assigned to the 1433rd Engineer Company (SAPPER), 507th Engineer Battalion, Michigan National Guard.
“I am honored to be here and help the Capitol Police recuperate and restructure their operations,” he said. “They can be home, see their families and, most of all, feel a little safer at work while we are here. We are in this together to defend the constitution, its people and the flag. It’s the fundamental purpose of being a National Guardsman.”
Following the 59th Presidential Inauguration, the National Guard has been requested to continue supporting district and federal law enforcement agencies with security, communications, medical evacuation, logistics, and safety support through mid-March.
“Age is just a number for me,” explained Devaraj. “I joined the Army when I was 30. Uncle Sam taught me that success is a journey and not a destination. I am a proud combat engineer, and I am working on becoming a rotary wing aviator warrant officer.”
"Not everyone joins the National Guard fresh out of high school," said Col. Chris McKinney, commander of both the 177th Military Police Brigade and Joint Task Force Independence. "Many of our Soldiers bring with them a wealth of education and experience from the civilian world. We really couldn't complete our mission without them."
With the Michigan National Guard as the lead element, JTF Independence is a combined, joint military effort to provide security for key buildings and personnel around Washington, D.C., and McKinney oversees those efforts.
With a background in mechanical engineering from his undergraduate degree and injury biomechanics from his master's degree, Devaraj began working as a crash safety engineer at Ford Motor Company in Detroit. He performed live tests and computational studies of side-impact crashes and the damages to the occupants involved.
“I moved on to work for ANSYS, an engineering simulation and 3D software design company,as a senior application engineer in 2016. I wanted to improve my skills and engage with more engineers from different fields such as automotive, defense, biomedical, and the electronics sector,” explained Devaraj. “I also teach classes at work empowering students and professional engineers on how to use our company's proprietary software to solve their engineering problems.”
To become an astronaut, one requirement is to be a U.S. Citizen. Devaraj was a permanent resident, and was still working toward getting his citizenship, when he was informed his unit would be deployed in March 2020.
“Col. McKinney was actually the one to sign my naturalization paperwork,” explained Devaraj. “I called him and said, ‘Sir, I am not trying to skip the chain of command, but this is urgent. My company is being deployed and I need a signature from you.’ He met me at the Light Guard armory in Detroit and signed my paperwork that night.”
Devaraj became a U.S. Citizen in February 2020.
Devaraj was accepted to the University of Michigan to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering, with an emphasis on space engineering and will start this fall.
With an undaunted outlook toward his future, Devaraj shared a lesson he learned from his friend’s dad. He said, “I am not afraid of failure. F.A.I.L. just means it’s the First Attempt in Life.”
“Hopefully, I can achieve this goal and be successful. If not, I will still be happy and satisfied that I tried and I was not afraid to fail,” he added. “I am ever thankful to my wife Kelly, my parents Usha and Devaraj, and my dear friend Dr. Prasad Gunasekaran for supporting me and encouraging me to pursue what I started.”