John Daniels is the reliable, high-integrity sort of person you'd want to have his finger on the button of an atomic bomb.
That was the U.S. Air Force captain's job for four and a half years. The Texas native served as a missile launch officer in the mid-1990s, controlling up to 150 intercontinental ballistic missiles at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.
But the lure of healthcare drew him away from "baby-sitting nuclear weapons," a duty he enjoyed despite the constant strain of having the start of Armageddon at his fingertips.
Although there seems to be a mighty contrast between being a person who can suddenly end millions of lives and being a person responsible for healing people, Daniels says that being prepared to fire nuclear missiles was all about service, as is healthcare.
"I knew that I would be supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States," says Daniels, 38, who has been married 17 years and has three children.
High expectations of Daniels certainly haven't diminished in his current role as chief information officer for U.S. military healthcare services for a seven-state region. Based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, the 14-year veteran has been given a triple serving of overseeing Defense Department high-priority "alpha" projects, including introducing a computerized medical record, implementing a wide-area network security system and overhauling the healthcare network's telephone system.
Daniels says he has been fascinated with computers since the Air Force began to experiment with some desktop models in the mid-1980s. He taught himself to build spreadsheets and use a word processor at home on a Radio Shack model while he got to tinker with the Air Force's Zenith 248 computers on the job.
Daniels also has used his time in the Air Force to advance his education. He received a bachelor's degree in computer science from West Texas State University in 1992 and earned a master's degree in health services administration from Central Michigan University in 1996.
The excitement of computers was addictive for Daniels. "It caught a hold of me and it wasn't going to let go."
But along the way, the magic of healthcare also took hold. His first job as an enlisted man was as a mental-health worker. He remembers helping clinicians treat a woman who had a fear of hospitals so extreme that it made it impossible for her to access the care she needed for other ailments. Daniels was impressed that after six months of treatment for her hospital phobia, she was cured and able to walk into healthcare facilities for the services she needed.
Daniels, who at one point considered going to medical school, finds his "back room" role to be no less critical than that of the doctors and nurses.
"Our job is to help make sure that patients are able to get into the system and make sure that once they get into the system the care they get is quality care," Daniels says.
Despite his techie orientation, Daniels has also succeeded in more "touchy-feely" leadership assignments. For a year he served as the director of compassionate-care services at Wright-Patterson Medical Center. In that role, he managed facilities such as the Ronald McDonald House, where families can stay while visiting patients.
"I think that everything I do somehow affects the patient, so I want to make sure that everything I do is the best I can possibly do," Daniels says.