Career Of Opportunities Leads To Cutting Edge Technology
March 26, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Sometimes a military career has a lot to do with timing.
For Lt. Col. Todd Cline, a 21-year Army career has been filled with opportunities and challenges that came at just about the right time.
The timing of his ROTC graduation papers led him to an assignment as a quartermaster officer in the active Army. The timing of the war in Iraq tested his abilities to provide leading edge robotic capabilities to Soldiers in theater, and to manage the development and manufacturing of much-needed combat vehicles. The timing of Hurricane Katrina further tested his abilities in recovering from a natural catastrophe to bring a vehicle production line up to full capacity. And the time of his assignment at Redstone Arsenal offered him challenging work in missile development and acquisition while providing his family with a place to call their forever home.
Now, timing has led Cline to leave the Army due to injuries he sustained while in theater.
"I've deployed to Iraq multiple times. On one of those deployments, I had an accident that led to multiple injuries that exasperated into health issues over time. I've been in front of a medical board and I have been medically retired. So, now I'm a disabled veteran with a combat-related injury," he said.
"But my whole career in the Army allowed me to practice my profession. What took place for me definitely was the job satisfaction. Over the duration of my career, I knew I was providing direct support to the war effort. It was the driving force behind what I did and why I did it."
Cline was raised in Phoenix, Ariz., and attended Grand Canyon University, where he was the first ROTC scholarship recipient, going to school at Grand Canyon and participating in the nearest ROTC program at Arizona State University.
Upon graduation in 1991, it looked as though Cline would, like other graduating cadets in his class, be assigned to the Army Reserves. Fully expecting that plan, Cline married and settled down to a civilian job. But a delay in his paperwork changed those plans, and he was assigned to the active Army, quartermaster, Fort Sill, Okla.
"It was very isolated and desolate. There was one hill there and they fired artillery at it," he recalled. "I was a platoon leader in warehouse operations, where we did receiving, storing and issuing of repair parts."
His next assignment was to Fort Irwin, Calif., to work logistics for the National Training Center with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. The assignment took him and his wife to yet another remote location. But the work was interesting and involving.
Cline was in charge of logistics -- supply and transportation -- for a unit of Soldiers who posed as a Russian tactical unit during 26 training rotations for U.S. troops.
Soon, with the eight-year service mark approaching, it was time for Cline to decide if the Army would be his career.
"It was the late '90s. A lot of my friends were getting out as senior captains. But I also had some buddies who were enjoying their work as contract officers. They were involved in testing, program management and all different facets of what the contracting corps is made of. So, I put my packet in for the acquisition corps," Cline said.
He was accepted and then sent to the Florida Institute of Technology at Fort Lee, Va., to get his master's degree in materiel acquisition management.
And on Sept. 6, 2001, he was assigned to the Joint Robotics Systems Project Office at Redstone Arsenal.
"I was in-processing when 9/11 happened. Everything changed right then and there. It was one of those moments when you knew everything had changed," he said.
In 2003, as a captain, Cline deployed to Kuwait to support units with robotics.
"It was just the beginning of our work there. I was told to get over there and find out what we need and then get the capability in the hands of the Soldiers," he said.
"Special Forces and engineering units were coming to us and telling us what they needed and asking us what we could do for them. We showed them our capability so they understood how to utilize it. That was the beginning of a lot of back and forth to Kuwait to make sure we knew what to do to issue, operate and repair robots, and train Soldiers."
Cline was also working with different units in the U.S. to refine requirements for robots. In November 2003, Cline deployed with the first robot fielded in Iraq.
"It was a small prototype with sensors that we used until it broke," he said. "We got a lot of good feedback from that experience. We took it to the limit plus some in Fallujah."
Cline brought that feedback back to Redstone, where it was incorporated in robotic development. Proving that robots could be used to Soldier benefit in Iraq, the next mission was to get them deployed to counter improvised explosive devices.
"It was not just the Army, but a joint services fielding of capability of small robots in the hands of EOD Soldiers," Cline said. "In February 2004, we deployed to Baghdad with 100-plus robots fielded to all four services in Iraq. They supported the EOD mission for the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force."
Cline was the subject matter expert to EOD teams who were being assigned robots. He was the only Army officer involved in the operation. He worked closely with civilian contractors and logistics assistance representatives from the Aviation and Missile Command at Redstone.
"I was charged with setting up logistics to maintain the systems forward. All this was new, so we had to establish a footprint," he said.
"I worked with contractors to provide repairs in theater. And there were a lot of repairs because of IEDs and sniper fire. The technician would bring back whatever was salvaged from a robot in an MRE (Meals Ready-To-Eat) box. They would tell us that if it hadn't been for the robot, they would have been the one in the box. The robots were out in harm's way and when they came to us each one represented a life that could have been lost. It takes about three months to build a robot, but it takes 18-plus years to make a Soldier."
If the repairs couldn't be made within a few hours, then the technician would be issued a new robot.
"We assigned robots all over Iraq, and when we did we tried to assign them based on the need assessment. The need was for speed or a camera or lift. Not one system could do all that, so we had varieties," Cline said.
The AMCOM LARs taught Soldiers how to use the robots, and about their capabilities and limitations. Cline's team also developed government training aids to help Soldiers with the robots, and they provided feedback to industry partners in the U.S. who were designing new robots for theater.
During the assignment, Cline had an accident where he fell while wearing full body armor. At the time it was a bruise to his pride, but soon he developed lower back pains associated with two vertebrates that were damaged in the fall.
Three months later, as the use of IEDs were skyrocketing, Cline was forced by his leadership to return to Redstone for treatment of back issues.
"That assignment was one of the most rewarding in my career. We knew we were combat multipliers in saving lives," he recalled.
Cline then was assigned to the Tank and Automotive Command, where he was charged with assisting with production of the M1117 Armored Security Vehicle.
"It was a light tactical vehicle and the Army only wanted 132 vehicles. Once those were produced, the production would shut down and we would just be in sustainment," he said.
But then the Army awarded the New Orleans-based manufacturing company a $750 million contract for 700 or more M1117 vehicles.
"We ramped up production from one a month to 48 a month so that the vehicles could be quickly shipped in units of five to Soldiers serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom," Cline said. "I worked with the defense contractors and supply vendors and we had production at 48 a month for 10 months."
Catastrophe then struck in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina damaged the company's two production plants.
"How do you sustain vehicle production when the contractor is not open? One plant had 12 feet of water and another plant had 12 inches of water. We rerouted some production to other locations. It took about 90 days to get production back up," Cline said.
His next assignment with TACOM was serving as an assistant product manager for Future Combat System, where he worked on a design for the next generation infantry combat vehicle.
"I went from bending steel to bending paper. We worked on mountables and dismountables with concerns about weight and what all needed to be part of the vehicle," he said. "We had to make room for nine Soldiers in the back, and make decisions about what it will look like, the shape, what it would carry, and how Soldiers will get in and out of it in full body gear.
"Designing a new vehicle is not easy. It gets everyone on edge. It was about the tradeoffs and what happens when people don't want to make tradeoffs."
Other assignments included a one-year stint with Boeing in Huntsville in the Training with Industry program and a second deployment in 2009 to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, to serve as deputy director for Forward Operations for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.
While Cline deployed, his wife and daughter stayed in Huntsville.
"When I was assigned to Boeing, I learned a lot about best business practices, contractor dynamics and industry regulations. My wife and I also came to know that we loved Huntsville. So, knowing I would be deployable after the industry assignment, we decided to buy a house here, and my wife and our daughter would stay here while I deployed," Cline said.
In Kuwait, Cline assisted with establishing processes through which more than 4,600 vehicles in various configurations were moved from Iraq to Kuwait, reset and then transferred to Afghanistan."
He then returned to Redstone, where he has served as the product director for Indirect Fire Protection Capability Increment-2 Interceptor, as the product director for Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System Exercise and, lastly, in special projects for the Cruise Missile Defense System Project Office, all part of the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space.
A longtime HAM radio operator, Cline hopes to have more time for his hobby in retirement. He and his teenage daughter Sabrina enjoy the hobby together. His wife, Jeanine, will now be able to focus on making long-time friendships without the worry about moving on to the next assignment.
"She is truly an Army spouse. Jeanine did not sign up for this when we got married. But she has enjoyed the good and taken the bad that has come with this. There is a special place in heaven for Army wives," Cline said.
Looking back over his career, Cline said it has been rewarding in many ways.
"The greatest satisfaction I got during my career was the time I spent overseas in Iraq because of the impact we were having on saving lives," he said. "We were providing the equipment that allowed Soldiers to go up against the IED threat. We put the robot in harm's way instead of the human.
"The biggest challenge was Hurricane Katrina. It was unique in that we had to address so many issues to get those vehicles to Soldiers in Iraq."