Faces of the Force: Project officer manages 'everything explosive'
April 17, 2013
Project Officer Patrick Scheerer's job is a blast--literally. One of the projects he manages, the Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System (APOBS), was originally designed to allow Soldiers to conduct safe breaching through enemy antipersonnel minefields and multistrand wire obstacles, and later repurposed to defeat improvised explosive devices. All of that makes APOBS a popular tool with Soldiers and other warfighters in Afghanistan. But the program, as Scheerer explains below, ran into a something of a minefield of its own that caused an APOBS shortage--a key subcontractor didn't have the right permits for making explosive devices at its location. According to Scheerer's chief of staff, Mr. Chris J. Grassano, Scheerer "quickly addressed issues with the APOBS technical data package and contractor explosive safety site plan (ESSP). His adept handling of the ESSP issue involved coordinating the activities and generating consensus across the integrated product team, including the Defense Contract Management Agency, Army Contracting Command - Rock Island Contracting Center, United States Marine Corps, Navy, APOBS prime contractor and a critical supplier. Because of his leadership and persistence, the prime contractor recently completed first article testing and is on track to deliver production hardware to the depot by May 2013."
FOTF: What do you do for the Army and why is it important?
SCHEERER: Basically, I manage "everything explosive" having to do with the acquisition of demolition munition systems that help keep Soldiers and warfighters across all the services safe in the field. Some of the munitions are used to clear a safe path through minefields and complex wire obstacles. Others are used for unique military applications, such as cratering charges that quickly excavate a foxhole, ordnance disposal tools that disarm all sorts of explosive hazards and underwater tubular demolition charges that clear underwater obstacles. Ultimately, what I do is important because I supply warfighters with the ammunition they need to conduct their missions effectively and as safely as possible.
FOTF: What has your experience been like? What has surprised you the most?
SCHEERER: I entered government service shortly after 9/11, so through my whole career the Army has been involved in active conflicts, which has imparted a sense of urgency to most of my experiences. If I don't deliver these demolition munitions systems, Soldiers' lives are at risk. That urgency forced me to quickly master the acquisition process so that I could contribute to solving critical problems. That has been stressful at times, but I believe I am a better employee because of it. What surprises me most on a consistent basis is the resourcefulness and persistence of Soldiers and the Army civilians supporting them. For as many times as seemingly insurmountable issues have arisen, we find solutions, no matter the problem.
FOTF: Can you give an example of one of these impossible challenges?
SCHEERER: We had a showstopper with a subcontractor on the Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System (APOBS), which is an explosive line charge that is primarily used to clear a safe way through fields of landmines but can also be used to neutralize improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are a big threat in Afghanistan. Soldiers use this system at such a high rate that stockpiles are quickly depleted. The sub that manufactured the fuzes for APOBS was performing the explosives work in suburban Los Angeles, Calif. This kind of work requires an explosives site safety plan, which was found to be deficient, so the sub was shut down for months. This was a big deal because if Soldiers didn't have APOBS, they couldn't protect themselves as effectively from IEDs; we had to keep them supplied. Since this vendor owned the proprietary data for the fuze, we were stuck because we couldn't obtain the product from any other source.
FOTF: How did you overcome this challenge?
SCHEERER: It was my job to identify all of the problems and the right people who needed to be involved and to quickly get them talking so a solution could be developed. Getting people to work together was one of the biggest challenges, so we set up conferences twice a week to bring everyone together to come to a consensus on how to move forward. While we were trying to fix the sub's problems, we got behind on the delivery schedule, so we worked a deal with the Marine Corps to borrow some APOBS to give to the Army so they wouldn't run short. In the meantime, we were able to resolve the problems, got the sub operational again, and we recently produced the first batch of APOBS since the problem arose, which will restock Army reserves in Afghanistan. During all of this, our workaround plans ensured that Soldiers were never without APOBS. I'm pretty proud of that.
FOTF: Can you give an example of how Soldiers have been resourceful with your systems in the field?
SCHEERER: We have noticed that the usage of APOBS in Afghanistan has spiked. We have also noticed that sometimes only some parts of the APOBS are coming back for returns to depot. It appears that Soldiers in the field are finding other uses for the system and alternate ways of detonating it. Since there aren't many minefields in Afghanistan, we suspect they are modifying the system to be more effective against IEDs. There is an ongoing effort to make things lighter for Soldiers, so it seems they are taking an existing system and experimenting with it to be more effective and easier to carry. That's what I call resourcefulness. It's also a great incentive for us here at home to quickly find solutions to meet their pressing needs. We are in the process of discovering exactly what they're doing with APOBS and planning for improvements based on their input.
FOTF: Has your job lived up to your childhood dreams?
SCHEERER: When I was in elementary school, I developed a fascination with the cannons that I saw on frequent visits to Antietam Battlefield, Md. This led me to dream of being the person who built cannons and other armaments. That interest has persisted to this day and played a substantial part in guiding my education and convincing me to accept of a position at Picatinny Arsenal after college. My greatest satisfaction is being paid to pursue a childhood dream while at the same time keeping warfighters supplied with the equipment that makes them effective and helps keep them safe. Every time I hear an APOBS rocket fire followed by a boom, the third grader in me grins from ear to ear.