From Student to Test Officer
Test Officer, Threat Detection & Systems Survivability Branch, Survivability/Lethality Directorate
The author (right) works with young participants in a Lego League tournament.
Career success today means hit the ground running.
Science, technology, engineering, mathematics: STEM your way to a great job.
ATC holds explosive opportunities for students and young engineers.
I never thought I would have a career “blowing things up,” especially without joining the military. It isn’t the sort of choice they suggest when you take those career path tests in middle school. But here I am, seven years into my profession, and I can tell people that I blow things up for a living (with the help of many qualified people, of course).
How did I get here? My high school guidance counselor asked me what I wanted to do and who I wanted be; like any seventeen-year-old with her whole future in front of her, I had no clue. After asking many questions, I decided to apply to the chemical engineering programs offered by various universities. My logic? My parents are mechanical engineers, and I liked the Honors Chemistry course I had taken in junior year; ergo, Chemical Engineering.
After completing many applications, essays, references and forms, I accepted an offer to attend University of Maryland, Baltimore County in fall 2008.Coincidentally, ATC was hiring engineering students for summer 2009. During my winter break, I got up one day at an hour I’m pretty sure should have been illegal, and with my tea in hand began the four-hour journey through the six-directorate interview process. I was interviewed by Dennis Teefy, then Chief of the Military Environmental Technology Demonstration Center Division, known as METDC, who sought me out before I left for my desperately needed mid-morning nap. After Mr. Teefy explained the mission and versatility of METDC, I knew there was no other job I wanted more that summer than to watch things blow up. And I did.
During my spring break, I completed the steps to become a Government employee, which I would recommend to everyone. I got paid for that week (yay!) and completed enough paperwork to get my common access card, known as CAC, and a computer within a week of my summer start date (gasp!). I spent the summer doing anything and everything in the division: from organizing the supply cabinet, to two temporary duty assignments, to helping with explosively formed penetrator shots, to even planning a test. Once I returned to school, I saw a few head tilts when I answered the typical question, What did you do this summer? Most engineering students didn’t get an internship until their junior year, and certainly not with the Government, since research and industry were heavily promoted by the instructors. After my explanation, many were asking how they could get in. Score one for the Army!
My internship continued throughout my winter, spring and summer breaks, including Fridays during my senior year. I worked on all kinds of programs, from fuel efficiency and emissions, to ballistic concrete, to bullet traps and isolation caps for unexploded ordnance movement mitigation. I even dabbled in the preliminary efforts of the Homemade Explosives Characterization program, known as HME-C. After graduating in May 2012, I got my very own test (well, subtest), studying Stryker emissions with Automotive folks. I also worked with the Weld Shop to develop a giant steel sampling tube, and with the scientists at Chemistry and (formerly) Public Health Command. I even got the call (rather, text) for my first test mishap during a graduate class! Funny now; not funny at the time.
I continued into my master’s degree program, focusing on Engineering Management—technical but applicable to my career path. Although still identified as a student for personnel-accountability purposes, I was a full-time Government civilian. I pushed through training and helped with various programs once the Stryker program ended. In January 2013, I journeyed to C-field in Edgewood Area, APG, to immerse myself in the HME-C program (reference The Point Position, Volume 1, Number 1, April 2016, pages 5 and 6). Through three years of dedication, working with and without the oversight of the Director for Operational Test and Evaluation, I learned the inner workings of ATC, the effect of different support elements on a program, the importance of communication and teamwork, and the management of an overwhelming amount of data.
In the middle of HME-C, I obtained my test officer certification and commenced my first firing program by performing HME static detonations for Joint Live Fire in the “new” engineered soil for a “first-look” into the new, improved live fire test beds. With these shots and a few hundred more in HME-C, I obtained my Static Detonation firing whistle.
After obtaining my master’s degree in May 2014, and my permanent position in August, I performed another HME-C and Engineered Soil test program for General Dynamics Land Systems, introducing private industry to the future of Live Fire Test and Evaluation and providing information for design upgrades.
After the HME-C program ended and I readjusted to the normal ATC routine, I completed training for Level II certification in Test and Evaluation. Working toward my Small Arms firing clearance, I performed test efforts such as the mobile guard tower sponsored by the U.S. Army Rapid Equipping Force, and ballistic testing of the solar power shelter system.
I enjoy volunteering at STEM programs such as the For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology (FIRST) Lego League tournaments, regional and state, hosted by ATEC headquarters and UMBC, respectively. In this fun event, I get to see what the next generation can do at such a young age! I’ve also participated in career panels hosted by my alma mater as well as by the Cecil County Public Library and Cecil County Public Schools. I like relating what I do at work to what the “kids” are learning. They ask a lot of the same questions I would’ve at their age, but now I’m answering them!