COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Joint Program Executive Office for Armaments and Ammunition, Product Director for Demilitarization
TITLE: Chief engineer
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 32
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in Engineering, Level I in Program Management
EDUCATION: B.S. in mechanical engineering, New Jersey Institute of Technology
AWARDS: Department of the Army Superior Civilian Service Award, the Ordnance Order of Samuel Sharpe, Department of the Army Civilian Service Commendation Medal, Department of the Army Civilian Service Achievement Medal
Orest W. Hrycak
by Ellen Summey
Orest Hrycak has been a proud Army civilian for more than 32 years, but he said the most meaningful and important experience of his career was training alongside Soldiers at Fort Drum in New York, 20 years ago. In the spring of 2001, he traveled to Fort Drum from Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, for the Army’s Scientist and Engineer Field Experience with Soldiers program, which was intended to give Army engineers some practical experience in the field. “It was still cold in May in upstate New York, where Fort Drum is, near the Canadian border,” he recalled. He chose to be embedded with the 10th Mountain Division because he wanted to know what it’s like to be on the ground with a “high-speed” unit.
“I showed up and, you know, everybody has a rank there. The company commander was a captain, and everybody else has a lower rank than that. But I show up—I’ve got a uniform and I don’t have a rank—so there was a little bit of getting used to how you fit in. I told the commander that I just wanted to be treated as an enlisted Soldier, and be part of a squad and see what it’s like.” Hrycak was 39 years old at the time, and feeling perhaps a little anxious about keeping up with younger Soldiers. “We trained together and at first we were doing just routine stuff, a little PT, some running. Then, we go out for a run one day. Now, I had been running a lot back then, five or six miles at a time, but these guys took off like bullets, and I thought, ‘Man, I’m getting old,’ but then I found out, we were only going a mile,” Hrycak laughed. “We ran to the battalion area, where we all worked out and I got to show them that I wasn’t that old yet. I was in pretty good shape.”
Hrycak completed the monthlong program and returned to Picatinny, still relishing the memories of that experience. When the 9/11 terror attacks happened, just a few months later, he immediately thought of his comrades from the 10th Mountain Division. “They deployed not too long afterwards, and they were in the midst of our Global War on Terror. It made me feel good that I knew some of them,” he said.
Today, Hrycak is the chief engineer for Product Director Demilitarization (PD Demil), within the Joint Program Executive Office for Armaments and Ammunition (JPEO A&A). “I work in ammunition ‘demil’ now, which is getting rid of old, obsolete or otherwise unneeded ammunition,” he explained. “I know not too many people think about it—it’s like thinking about where your garbage goes, you know? But if you didn’t take away your garbage, then it would be a real mess. In our case, if we didn’t get rid of this ammo, then there wouldn’t be room for the ‘go to war’ ammo and the training ammo. Eventually, it would fill up our storage areas, and that would be a bigger problem. So you have to routinely get rid of it.”
A major challenge in his job is finding more environmentally friendly ways to dispose of that unwanted ammunition. “We want to get away from open burning and open detonation. That’s where we might take old propellant and burn it to dispose of it, or put old ammunition in a pit and detonate it from a safe distance.” Many states no longer allow that sort of ammunition disposal, so Hrycak and the team at PD Demil work to increase closed disposal capabilities, like incineration. “It works for some things, but it doesn’t work for everything, so we’re trying to find out some things we can add to what we call our ‘thermal treatment capabilities.’ Anytime you incinerate something, it burns and it goes up through a stack, but along the way, you have to get the air pollutants removed as much as possible, because it’s regulated. We have the same issue when we incinerate our ammo. The effluents have to be removed and it has to be clean when it goes into the atmosphere, to the guidelines of the [Environmental Protection Agency] and state and local law.”
Hrycak said the greatest satisfaction he has as part of JPEO A&A is supporting the men and women of the U.S. armed forces. But it’s the personal connection—both the connection he feels to America’s warfighters and to his own family—that has kept him in this career field over his three decades of service, he said. His brother retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel and all of his brothers-in-law served as well, in the Marine Corps and the Army. “Knowing that I’m helping them out, one way or the other, is a driving force,” he said.
And it is fitting that Hrycak would be so committed to his family. His own parents modeled that same form of devotion throughout his life. “My parents emigrated to the U.S. from Germany—my father in 1949 and my mother in 1950. My mother was originally from Estonia and my father was from Poland. The family had been separated during the war, so it was important to them to be close together when they arrived here. My father’s brother had settled in New York with his mother, my grandmother, and my father got a job offer in Jersey, so that’s where they settled.” Though his father was technically from Poland, it was the far east of Poland, which is now part of Ukraine. “I grew up speaking Ukrainian, and even went to Ukrainian school on Saturdays,” he said. “You know when you were out doing other things on Saturdays? I was doing a sixth day of school. You can imagine I was real happy about that. I did enjoy Ukrainian Boy Scouts, though.”
Hrycak has remained active in his community as an adult, as well. “I am a scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 75 in Cranford, New Jersey. I also am an [National Rifle Association (NRA)] range safety officer, as well as an NRA pistol and shotgun instructor. I support the Patriots Path Council in New Jersey as an acting range safety officer and firearms instructor for district and council events. I leveraged my past experience in [the DEVCOM Armaments Center]as a small caliber engineer, where I conducted testing with a hands-on approach, to help our youth stay interested in safe use of firearms.”
Hrycak laughed that his next major career goal is “five years to retirement,” but he gladly offers guidance to junior acquisition professionals. “My advice to junior acquisition personnel is to always continue professional development, whether the development is training or special assignments. Professional development not only furthers your career, but results in a stronger and more efficient workforce for the Army.”
The most important lesson he has learned? Hrycak has a list. “Learn to motivate yourself. Become interested in all aspects of your career and not just your specialty. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Develop a good resource pool and reach out when needed. The Army has many organizations and individuals that provide relevant support for your organization’s mission, but developing a knowledge and talent circle is important to success. Look beyond your organization for solutions.”
From his early years in Ukrainian school and his first Army job in 1989, to his experience with the 10th Mountain Division and his ongoing dedication to serving America’s warfighters—Hrycak’s life and career have been molded by brotherhood and a connection to his community. His father and uncle who made sure he knew his roots, his own brother and brothers-in-law who served in the military, the Soldiers he trained with in New York, and the service members he supports through his work at PD Demil—Hrycak is proud to be part of a brotherhood of service.
“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 serving in various AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please go to https://asc.army.mil/web/publications/army-alt-submissions/.