Continuing to contribute

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Paul L. Price

COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate, U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC)
TITLE: Chief, Aviation Branch
EDUCATION: Continuing studies, Liberty University
AWARDS: Legion of Merit; Distinguished Flying Cross; Purple Heart; Air Medal (2); U.S. Army Master Aviator Wings; High Altitude Low Opening Parachute Badge; Parachute Badge; Armed Forces Civilian Service Medal; CERDEC Mid-Level Manager of the Year and Degraded Visual Environment Team Awards; Army Aviation Association of America Hall of Fame inductee

by Susan L. Follett and Douglas Scott

After retiring from the Army in 2002 following a long and distinguished career as an Army aviator, Paul Price was looking for a way to continue to support Soldiers. He found it in the Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVESD), where he now serves as chief of the Aviation Branch.

NVESD, part of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, researches and develops sensor and sensor suite technologies for air and ground intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and target acquisition under adverse battlefield conditions. Price supervises a team that includes two noncommissioned officers, eight civilians and 15 contractors. “NVESD has the reputation of being the best sensor lab there is. It’s my honor to be able to manage this workforce and flight-test present and future sensor arrays in support of Army aviation,” he said.

“We flight-test so much more than people think, often in one day—flight goggles and multiple sensors on a Black Hawk, the ISR sensor suite on an MC-12 [reconnaissance aircraft] and the one-pound sensor on a small unmanned aircraft system.” He also deploys with Soldiers to install and operate mission systems and transition the systems to Army users.

Price was originally hired at NVESD to work on transitioning systems from the laboratory to the field. “My boss decided that what he really needed is a pilot to work with the scientists and engineers when we start developing things, so they can ask me how things work—or how they don’t work. So I was reassigned to the Engineering Branch and now I’m part of the entire life cycle, supporting the acquisition workforce and still within my own comfort zone.”

Now with NVESD for 16 years, Price and his team have achieved a great deal. Among his proudest accomplishments is Night Eagle, a system to locate improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that was deployed in Iraq in 2007. “I deployed with it and spent over a year getting that platform ready, working with Soldiers either in identifying IEDs or doing overwatch for dismounted troops. I am very proud of the work we did because we put that system together in about a year and got it deployed.”

He’s also proud of current work to develop systems that allow pilots to operate in a degraded visual environment (DVE). “Our engineers have come up with a great sensor to combat DVE,” said Price. “It can’t do everything, but it can do a lot. What I really like are the distributed aperture and the heads-up display.” A distributed aperture uses cameras installed around an aircraft, each looking in a separate direction. Images from the cameras are combined to create a continuously viewable video sphere. When the images are paired with the heads-up display in an aviator’s helmet, the aviator can look around and virtually “see” the environment around them relayed from the network of cameras, no matter the conditions. “It’s just like riding on a magic carpet,” said Price.

“NVESD put together three airborne platforms when [operations in Iraq and Afghanistan] started,” he said. “Two of them are programs of record—that is how important our work is. So I am very proud of that. And that’s not just me; it’s the engineers and the scientists who make this happen. I help them implement those programs and make things work a little smoother with my background and knowledge of the Army. But it is the whole organization that helps make this thing happen.”

Price joined the Army in 1974 and retired 28 years later at the rank of chief warrant officer 5. As a pilot, he logged more than 11,100 hours, including 800 combat hours, in 30 different airframes. He was involved in the rescue of hostages held in Iran; as a special operations aviator, he played a key role in developing air tactics and night vision goggle skills. Price was part of a team that rescued Americans held in Grenada in October 1983. He also deployed to Bosnia to capture war criminals in 1997. After 9/11, he executed advanced force operations around the world in support of special operations forces.

His achievements earned him a place in the Army Aviation Association of America’s Hall of Fame in April 2018. “It is humbling, it really is. There are so many other folks who are equally deserving of the award. … There are people out there who have done multiple rotations and so many other things, and for me to be singled out among my peers and among other folks is truly an honor.”

Do good pilots make good acquisition professionals? “Not necessarily,” he said. “In either area, the keys to success are a drive to complete the mission and complete it successfully, as well as a work ethic and a motivation that ensures that you’re doing the right thing for the right purpose.” To be successful in acquisition, he noted, “you need to keep your sights set on leadership’s priorities and requirements, current and future, and you need to be sure that you’re moving where the team is going—that you’re not out in left field developing something that the Soldier doesn’t need, or that you’re not so far behind that by the time you’ve fielded your product, it’s irrelevant.”

Price noted that many of the aviators with whom he served “had what I would call a ‘Type A’ personality. The sharp end of the spear is where everybody wanted to be—up front and leading.” While it might seem to be difficult to lead a group where everyone wants to be in charge, Price has found it to be an asset. “In that situation, everyone—whether it’s pilots or the acquisition community—is driven to support the mission, and they each contribute something different. From a leadership perspective, it’s just a matter of harnessing each of those contributions and bringing all the different skills together to successfully complete the project.”

Related Links 
Army Aviation Association of America Hall of Fame Induction

“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 contact 703-664-5635.

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