• Faces of the Force

    Template for Faces of the Force

    Army engineer powers remote bases

     

    By Steve Stark

     

    Steve Smith volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan from May 2012 to February 2013 as the government lead logistics manager for Project Manager Mobile Electric Power (PM MEP) Forward Theater Team to field the Army’s new advanced medium mobile power source and to serve as the contracting officer representative. Remarkably, he was the first representative from headquarters, PM MEP in Afghanistan. “Our equipment’s been out there,” he said, “but we didn’t have a presence out there from the project office.” The task was to establish a presence in theater and set conditions to “right-size” mobile electric power in support of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Teams’ (BCT) special operations village stability platforms and conventional forces outposts. “That’s why they asked me to go out there.”

    The right-sizing effort, called Operation Dynamo, initially for the 173rd Airborne’s BCTs, was an attempt to match the BCTs’ operational power equipment with the power they actually needed, which included new, highly fuel-efficient power generation, distribution and environmental-control equipment. In a sense, that operation was an experiment to see if it could be done as efficiently as PM MEP projected.

    The benefits would be manifold. More fuel-efficient military generators would require considerably less fuel, which meant a lower risk profile for the personnel who have to deliver fuel by greatly reducing the number of fuel resupply missions to remotely located bases. There were also large sustainment savings in the operation of these bases.

    The right-sizing program was a success, Smith said. How it was done—by factually assessing the power requirements of the units and analyzing many different variables and use cases, then creating a well-crafted plan to meet power, delivery and environmental controls, and then implementing the plan—ought to be Army doctrine, Smith said.

    Smith routinely coordinated for the reception, staging and integration of the advanced medium mobile power sources generator fielding in support of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Afghanistan.

    By giving Soldiers (and Marines) the power they needed, their quality of improved significantly, Smith said. “There are Soldiers out there that don’t have any power. They’re going day-to-day with nothing. The current [power] equipment they have out there is in poor condition. It’s been out there for the entire Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and [it’s in] ill repair, and we’re going out there and improving their quality of life 100 percent.”

    That, Smith said, “is job satisfaction. It’s what makes everything worth it. I want to provide whatever it takes to do the best job that I can do and make it better for somebody else out there. Those guys are living outside the wire. They’re running convoys, they’re doing combat operations. They’re in harm’s way constantly out there. And when they go back to their base at the end of their mission, they don’t want to go back and eat cold food and have cold showers. Their lives are on the line. They’re giving their all. When they get back from those missions, we want to make their quality of life as favorable as possible. If you give your all to help their quality of life, it makes you feel good.”

    PM MEP’s job of providing operational power to Soldiers and Marines isn’t just a matter of lining up a bunch of generators and dropping them off, either, he said. The right-sizing includes the modeling and simulation of a base’s power and infrastructure needs, and delivering a solution that fits that the base, including environmental equipment, which, Smith said, can be thought of as operational HVAC—or heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

    Smith is recognized by the Army’s Acquisition Executive, the Hon. Heidi Shyu in support of his contributions to Operation Dynamo earlier this year. (Photos courtesy of PM MEP)

    But the effort includes even more. “We’re not just going out there and giving it to them and then they’ve got it. We’re a phone call away. If they run into additional issues out there, they contact us, and we come over and we provide them assistance. No matter what it is, if it means bringing a piece of equipment in there or replacing an existing piece of equipment or a component, or they need additional training because they’ve got new personnel on board, we’re the total package, providing all of that. And they love us.”

    Neil Cooper, another acquisition professional deployed to Afghanistan to support PM MEP and featured in Faces of the Force last month, said that Smith “did a great job” of bringing him up to speed in country. For a while, Cooper said, they were the only two government people there for the MEP program. According to Smith, the deployment was the “experience of a lifetime” for Cooper who, unlike Smith, does not have a military background. His time in Afghanistan gave him an up-close-and-personal crash course in how the operational Army works, and a chance to work with the end user—the warfighter.

    FOTF: What do you do in the Army? Why is it important?

    “I want to provide whatever it takes to do the best job that I can do and make it better for somebody else out there.”

    SMITH: I recently returned from serving as a logistics management specialist with the PM MEP Medium Power Sources Team, providing tactical operational energy to Soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan.

    Simply put, it’s important because, without energy, servicemen and women’s lives are placed at greater risk; tactical capability and advantage is diminished; training and combat effectiveness is degraded; quality of life is reduced and mission accomplishment is no longer achievable.

    FOTF: What has your experience been like so far? What has surprised you the most?

    SMITH: Of my 32-plus years of active duty and civilian service, it’s been a remarkable journey of learning the acquisition process, beginning with where the capability is actually needed in the field, maintaining and sustaining weapon systems, to coming full circle back to the project office where solutions are developed, produced and deployed. I’ve recently returned from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan in support of fielding a new generation of medium tactical power sources, the Advanced Medium Mobile Power Sources (AMMPS).

    FOTF: Why did you join the Army? What is your greatest satisfaction in being part of the Army?

    SMITH: To serve, to make a positive difference in the lives of those I support. My greatest satisfaction in being part of the Army are the professional relationships, lasting, meaningful friendships and the experiences I have had the privilege to be a part of.
     


    • “Faces of the Force” is an online feature highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce. Produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication Division, and working closely with public affairs officers, Soldiers and Civilians currently serving in a variety of AL&T disciplines are featured every other week. For more information, or to nominate someone, please contact 703-805-1006.

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  • Faces of the Force

    Template for Faces of the Force

    Mechanical engineer’s ‘shock’ing deployment

     

    By Steve Stark

     

    Neil Cooper is an engineer who spent several months deployed to Afghanistan performing power assessments of austere base camps in support of Project Manager Mobile Electric Power (PM MEP) and its effort to “right size” mobile power equipment. In an unusual twist, Cooper deployed while he was an intern in the TARDEC [U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center] intern program. ”I was told they do not deploy interns but after some research I found it was possible,” he said in an interview. Prior to his deployment, he had been working on modeling and simulation of expeditionary contingency bases.

    Cooper was working two projects, designed to “investigate the implications of changes to systems and how they impact the logistic system and the resource demands of bases. The CBI [Contingency Base Infrastructure] effort’s initial focus was on 50, 300 and 1,000-Soldier bases. We modeled and simulated changes to these bases to see what effect changes to base systems would have on resource consumption using a system-of-systems approach.” In a framework developed by Sandia National Laboratories, he said, “we modeled laundry, vehicles, repair parts, repair times, generators and any kind of system we could with scientifically sound data,” that could affect resource consumption.

    “You can have many different systems, [included in the simulation] run it thousands of times and get a picture of how resources are used.” In effect, modeling and simulation, Cooper said, helps to validate or invalidate assumptions using vetted data—a crucial step in the planning effort. According to Cooper, the practice could significantly aid acquisition decisions, no matter what the system, by helping to evaluate and inform requirements in every aspect of acquisition. Then, when acquiring a system, the program would have real data that the system would meet the mission. “After modeling bases on their own, we began to look at how the changes to the sustainment concept or one base affect another base with the JOEI [Joint Operational Energy Initiative].

    “At a JOEI meeting at Fort Lee,” Cooper said, “we saw an operational needs statement (ONS) stating that the way we do power distribution at contingency bases is inefficient, and there is a lack of a champion tasked with optimizing bases. I expressed to my supervisor an interest in working on this. I wanted to work on a project using my experience to directly improve things for the warfighter.” While he was working with JOEI, Cooper said, his supervisor was on a telephone conference in which it came up that PM MEP needed a volunteer to go to Afghanistan to help fulfill this ONS, “So I volunteered.”

    He got a week’s worth of training on “military generators, power distribution and environmental control equipment, and the software to determine the right sized generators and distribution systems you need along with the best way to hook them up,” he said. Then he went to Bagram, Afghanistan to help units quantify their energy consumption, and provide support in upgrading their assets from older commercial units to newer, more efficient and supportable military equipment.

    “… the thing that surprises me the most is how little the American public knows about our world. We are the largest employer in the world but most of the general public has no idea about what we do and how the government acquisition system works.”

    Helping units right-size and optimize their generation not only helps reduce logistics burdens, it also improves the quality of life for the Soldiers, Cooper said. The improvement in quality of life included replacing broken air conditioning equipment and sizing it correctly so it works like it should. “Reducing the logistics footprint,” Cooper went on, provides additional help to Soldiers because it “translates to fewer convoys transporting fuel and equipment, which translates to fewer to fewer Soldiers being placed in harm’s way.”

    In his position, Cooper designed plans for power, distribution and environmental equipment for expeditionary bases, including small special operations “village stability platform” bases that often support fewer than 50 people. Designing the grids, he said, means “determining the best way to design the power grids on expeditionary bases so that generators are used as efficiently as possible and all systems get the power they need.”

    FOTF: What do you do in the Army? Why is it important?

    A Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion, a heavy-lift cargo helicopter, delivers a replacement generator to a contingency base in Afghanistan. Throughout his deployment, Cooper helped units right-size and optimize power grids to increase generator efficiency and ensure all base systems get the power they needed. (Photos by Neil Cooper)

    COOPER: I support the force by providing engineering support to PM MEP, which is fielding the latest generation of tactical mobile electric power and environmental control units. These units are more efficient and supportable than legacy units that have been in use by the troops in Afghanistan. At many bases, equipment has been added and removed over time creating inefficient power grids with little attention being paid to the operational energy aspects of these actions. U.S. Forces – Afghanistan has recognized the issue and created multiple operational needs statements to address it.

    FOTF: What has your experience been like so far? What has surprised you the most?

    COOPER: My experience has been great and has taught me many things. As an intern and co-op, I’ve worked as a staff engineer in a program executive office; a program engineer for a product manager of a Milestone C program; an engineer on a Pre-Milestone A program; and in Afghanistan as power assessment engineer working directly with Soldiers and Marines in their operational environments directly supporting and improving their capabilities to operate.

    Stopping to reflect on this, the thing that surprises me the most is how little the American public knows about our world. We [the Army] are the largest employer in the world, but most of the general public has no idea about what we do and how the government acquisition system works.

    FOTF: Why did you go to work for the Army? What is your greatest satisfaction in being part of the Army?
    COOPER: I began working for the Army in 2010 as a co-op [in what is now the Presidential Pathways Internship program] halfway through earning an engineering degree. At a job fair, I met someone from TARDEC, and she asked me to send her my resume. Three or four months later the phone rang asking me to come in for an interview. They presented me with an offer I couldn’t refuse: “We will pay for the rest of your college and, also, if you do a good job, offer you a job on graduation.” At the time, I had no real grasp of how large the world of government acquisition was and, over the years, I’ve gained a great appreciation for how much our acquisition workforce is capable of accomplishing and how much we help the warfighter by developing and fielding so many different items that affect every aspect of his or her life and how we are always striving to provide better materiel support to the force.

    Cooper’s convoy travels through the Afghanistan terrain on its way to a contingency base earlier this year. Cooper visited several bases in support of Operation Dynamo to maximize energy efficiency, reduce the logistics footprint, and improve the quality of life for Soldiers.

    FOTF: What was your deployment like?

    COOPER: I deployed to Afghanistan from January to June this year. I was based out of Bagram for a couple weeks and then in the remote Paktika province from mid-January through the end of February. I went back to Bagram for a week before going to Camp Leatherneck in March through the end of June. In that time, there was a lot of bouncing around to small bases in the area. Volunteering to go, my thoughts were to do something like this while I’m young without any serious responsibilities at home.

    Before traveling to Afghanistan, the threat was a concern. While there is a threat present, it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. Also, the living conditions were better than expected. I envisioned living in a tent and eating MREs, [meals ready-to-eat] but it was more like living in a bloc apartment complex at the beginning. It was interesting and a good opportunity to gain experience.

    FOTF: What was your most memorable day?

    COOPER: The day I found out the first VSP [village stabilization platform expeditionary base] power grid design-and-push package I created on my own worked. It’s kind of an architectural diagram of power, distribution and environmental equipment for something like a small campus. We sent it out to our guys and they would call every day and give us a status, and the design succeeded. That was a good day.


    • “Faces of the Force” is an online feature highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce. Produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication Division, and working closely with public affairs officers, Soldiers and Civilians currently serving in a variety of AL&T disciplines are featured every other week. For more information, or to nominate someone, please contact 703-805-1006.

    Read more »