The Nuts And Bolts Of Acquisition

By October 6, 2020Faces of the Force
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TITLE: Test Officer
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center
AAW/DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level II in test and evaluation, member of the Army Acquisition Corps
EDUCATION: M.S. in systems engineering management from Naval Postgraduate School, B.S. in electrical engineering from Wilkes University
HOMETOWN: Dickson City, Pennsylvania


Nicholas T. Kalinowski


by Ellen Summey

Nick Kalinowski is not a suit-and-tie kind of guy. He enjoys getting to roll up his sleeves, tinker with machinery and analyze data in his role as test officer at Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC), U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center (ATC), located at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. “I’m getting paid to have fun in this job,” he said. “I work in the developmental testing side of test and evaluation [T&E], which is focused on a system’s overall operation and its ability to meet the technical requirements in a controlled environment.” In other words, what would happen to a certain piece of electrical equipment at 50 degrees below zero? What if it were transported over very rough terrain, or encountered electromagnetic interference? Soldiers depend on reliable power systems and electronics, and often use them in harsh conditions. Kalinowski is the person who makes sure they will be able to function when needed. And he’s having a great time. “I could never go back to sitting at a desk for 40 hours a week,” he said.

This summer, he completed his Master of Science degree in systems engineering management at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, California, and was awarded the Meyer Award for Outstanding Student in Systems Engineering (distance learning). He said it was a challenging program, though he initially misjudged the amount of work involved. “The last two years have ended all my hobbies,” he joked. “I underestimated the amount of time that school would take, combined with our workload at the test center. My wife and I also bought a house, and we’re still working on repairs and renovations. Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave a lot of free time to watch sports.”

As most homeowners will attest, the stream of home renovation projects can last for years. “I’ve had to retile the shower, hang lights, install ceiling fans, and I also just tore down the old deck and replaced it,” he said. His current project is in the basement, where he’s creating a sports-themed getaway. “I’ve got a big TV with built-ins, I have speakers in my walls, and it’s all painted in Mets colors.” Yes, the Mets. His mother’s family grew up around Long Island, New York, so he was wearing orange and blue as a child in Pennsylvania. “My wife said it’s time to finish up the basement, so I hope to have that project wrapped up in the next couple of weeks.” Maybe then he’ll have time for hobbies again.

Kalinowski doesn’t mind hard work, but some things are more difficult than others. In his job at ATC, he said the most challenging thing is not the actual testing—it’s the stakeholder engagement and managing expectations. “The focus of my job is to work with the customer to understand the requirements and objectives of their system, and to help the customer understand what kind of testing is needed to verify that those requirements are met.” The ability to understand the test requirements and balancing those expectations with test timelines can be a challenging part of the job. “People sometimes ask why the process can’t be shorter, but it’s important to balance speed with the appropriate protocols. It’s like building a house—it would be great to move in next week, but you definitely want your home to be well built.” That’s the nature of testing, and something he tries to impart to younger team members. “I always tell them to take their time and do things the right way,” he said. “If you don’t fully understand the system, you could potentially create a problem—electrical hazards, fuel spills, etc. The first rule is to analyze and understand the whole situation. Do things the right way and take your time.”

Even with careful planning, sometimes things go wrong. Kalinowski has learned to stay calm and focus on clear communication in those instances. “It’s hard to make that phone call and give someone bad news about their test,” he said. “It’s difficult, but you always have to stay calm, explain what happened, and make sure you’re being clear. For some customers, a phone call is enough, but others might want to actually come in and see. It’s about developing those relationships and knowing that every case is different.” Every case is different, every test is different and Kalinowski said every day is different in his line of work.

“The best way to describe my job is that I have to be a jack of all trades for every situation, constantly herding cats while juggling 10 balls at the same time,” he laughed. Though he sometimes feels like a circus master for the Ringling Brothers, he loves his job and has no interest in leaving. “I’ve been on the other side,” he said. “I worked in industry before I came to the Army, and I know how good I’ve got it here—other jobs just don’t have an attraction for me.” He enjoys the work and is proud of supporting DOD. “The combination of working on data; seeing details down to the hundredth and thousandth of a second through computer analysis, while still having a level of ‘hands on’ work in the field, is immensely enjoyable,” he said. “The sense of pride I have, knowing that I can ensure that a system becomes a vital piece of the DOD fleet, and something that the warfighter can count on for years to come—there’s no piece of instrumentation to measure that.”



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