YOU'VE COME A LONG WAY: British military medical men of a foregone era hunker down for a good peer through their microscopes. Today, military scientists are allowed to conduct independent research; in the US Navy, a junior scientist often gets his or her own lab.

Most people joining the armed forces usually want to serve in a certain branch. Not Stan Cope. When he finished his doctorate in tropical medicine and infectious disease 15 years ago at the University of California, Los Angeles, he knew only that he wanted to be a military scientist. With no emotional or professional preference for the Army or Navy, he based his choice on looks. Olive green lost. "Actually, I joined the Navy because I liked the uniforms better," says Cope, now a Navy commander.

Today Cope is looking sharp in his dress whites as executive officer of the Naval Institute for Dental...

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