New NSRDEC acting director 'hit the ground running'
April 9, 2014
NATICK, Mass. (April 9, 2014) -- In just her second full week as acting director of the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, Dr. Laurel Allender was already hopping a work-related flight.
Jokingly referring to it as "a TDY within a TDY," Allender was off to Washington, D.C., having accepted an invitation to attend the "Third District Day 2014," a legislative issues seminar hosted April 8 by U.S. Rep. Nikki Tsongas of Massachusetts.
"I'm really glad to hit the ground running … to show the continuity of leadership," Allender said. "Before I got here, I had a letter of welcome from Representative Tsongas. Clearly, NSRDEC and the Soldier Systems Center here (have) a very special relationship with the state and national representatives."
Allender replaces Dr. John P. Obusek, who retired March 27 after serving as NSRDEC director since February 2011. She comes to Natick from the Human Research and Engineering Directorate (HRED), Army Research Laboratory, where she had served as director. In all, she has nearly 30 years in government service.
The new NSRDEC acting director holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Northern Colorado, and a master's degree and a doctorate in cognitive psychology from Rice University.
Allender has earned a number of honors, including the Superior Civilian Service Award in 2011.
"I'm pleased to be here," Allender said. "I had known Dr. Obusek when he was commander at (U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine) and worked very closely with some areas of NSRDEC already."
Allender pointed out that with HRED, she gained great familiarity with NSRDEC's modeling and simulation work. She added that she believes she can add further emphasis to the NSRDEC-led Soldier Systems Architecture.
"The Army is really attending to Soldier research, Soldier capability at that individual, small squad, small unit level," Allender said. "And NSRDEC is so well poised to be leading that conversation."
Allender admitted that the conversation takes place in an era of fiscal restraint.
"Budget's a concern," Allender said. "I know that as we look at what's currently planned, there are some programs at NSRDEC that have maybe more concern today than others. So that clearly will be a priority for me to understand why there could be some shortfalls, how we can address those, and ensure that there isn't a real impact.
"NSRDEC has some unique roles that are really not funded anywhere else -- and that's obviously the Combat Feeding program and the Airdrop program. So I intend to understand those programs a little more fully and see how we can better enable those conversations."
Allender acknowledged that leadership changes can be difficult for organizations such as NSRDEC.
"I know people get nervous," Allender said. "People like to prepare for the worst so when the worst doesn't happen, they can feel better. I firmly believe that we don't have to prepare for the worst, because it's a vibrant organization and it's got a very important part to play as we go forward."
NSRDEC's people have been understanding, said Allender, as she tries to absorb a great deal of information in a short time.
"Everybody has also already been very kind in letting me go back to the table at the buffet two or three times -- not insisting that it be one pass through and that I've got to have it all," Allender said. "There's also just been a lot of great support."
Allender said that she hopes to "contribute directly" to the important work underway at NSRDEC. Toward that end, she will get out of her office, make the rounds and meet people.
"Look for me," Allender said. "I'll be coming around."