POSITION AND UNIT: Aerospace Engineer, Concept Design and Assessment Tech Area, Aviation Development Directorate, Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center
YEARS OF SERVICE: 5 (2 in Army acquisition; 3 in Navy acquisition)
AWARDS: Army Modeling and Simulation Award; Franklin Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Powered Lift Field – Army Advanced Design Office; Aviation Development Directorate-AFDD Peer Award for Technical Excellence in Research and Development; 2014 Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene Award for Acquisition Writing, Innovation Category.
EDUCATION: M.S. and B.S. aerospace engineering, Virginia Tech
Short tenure, lots of accolades
By Susan L. Follett
Ernest Keen has worked in Army acquisition for just two years, but in that time has managed to earn a handful of awards. “I think it’s because I’m willing to try new things, and I don’t usually say ‘no’ when someone asks for help,” said Keen, an aerospace engineer in the Concept Design and Assessment Tech Area for the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Aviation Development Directorate.
For him, the most meaningful award was the FY14 Army Modeling and Simulation Award, which he earned as part of the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration Modeling and Simulation Team. The joint effort is examining options to replace aging aircraft in the U.S. military fleet with new aircraft that fills technology gaps, and the team identified technology challenges ranging from configuration issues to interactional aerodynamics penalties. “There were a lot of people on our team and we all worked pretty hard,” he said, “and it was great to see everyone recognized for that.”
Keen worked for Navy acquisition before coming to the Army side of the process, and spent a few years working on tool and system development for small unmanned air systems before becoming a civil servant. “My experience on the commercial side was that the exposure was somewhat narrow: working on a small component of a subsystem, for example. But civil service offers more opportunity for broader exposure to all parts of a system, and that’s what attracted me to the work.”
What do you do in the Army? Why is it important?
As an Army civil servant working on vehicle conceptual design and assessment, I’m a vehicle designer, mass properties engineer and tool developer. Our tech area leads multidisciplinary design of advanced vertical lift aviation systems for manned and unmanned platforms. We enable the enterprise to formulate new concepts of operation, establish feasible requirements, make informed technology investments and satisfy materiel solutions analysis and development milestones.
What has your experience been like? What has surprised you the most?
My experience working for the Army has been fantastic, both in terms of the people I work with, and the opportunities available to me. I am proud to work with the Concept Design and Assessment Tech Area, and I enjoy the challenge of working in a continually evolving field. I have been surprised by the depth of organic technical expertise within the Army’s research and development engineering centers.
Why did you join the Army? What is your greatest satisfaction in being part of the Army?
I became an Army civil servant because I wanted to apply my training and effort toward ensuring our Soldiers have the technologies needed to remain the best fighting force in the world. My greatest satisfaction is seeing our work products make an impact in future planning.
You were one of the winners of the inaugural Maj. Gen. Harold J. “Harry” Greene Award for Acquisition Writing, in the category of innovation, and your entry outlined new paradigms that encourage technology insertion via short iterative cycles focused on technical learning with elevated risk tolerance. What prompted you to enter? What was your reaction to the news that you’d won?
A couple things prompted me to enter. One was the opportunity for personal growth—to see if I could articulate my personal ideas as a way of bettering myself. Another reason I entered was a desire to see the acquisition process improve. Most of what we do is in the early part of the life cycle—requirements development, before Milestone A—and I think it’s important to have all of the different perspectives contribute to the dialog about improving the process. I was surprised to find out that I’d won: I knew that a lot of the other entries dealt with the later phases of acquisition—building systems and systems development, for example—and that the other entrants had a lot more experience than me. It was very gratifying to be chosen.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be where you are?
Learn as much as you can from every experience. And appreciate the fact that whatever the task, someone has probably done it before you. Capitalize on that: ask for help, and incorporate the knowledge and experience of others.
- “Faces of the Force” is an online series highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce through the power of individual stories. Profiles are produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication and Support Branch, working closely with public affairs officers to feature Soldiers and Civilians currently serving in a variety of AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please contact 703-805-1006.
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