As 31-year career ends, ARDEC leader pays tribute to colleagues
June 3, 2014
- "My career has allowed me to be part of something bigger than myself, to leave a legacy, to make a difference in the life of our Soldiers."
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PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. (June 3, 2014) -- Although the Roman-era aqueduct is physically located in Segovia, Spain, it was a solid fixture in the farewell remarks by Dr. Gerardo Melendez at his May 15 retirement ceremony at the Lindner Conference Center.
Melendez, who retired after 31 years of service, came to Picatinny Arsenal in June 2010 as the director of the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center.
With a background in electrical engineering, Melendez began his civilian Army career in 1983. As he outlined the contours of his career at his retirement ceremony, Melendez used the famed aqueduct in Segovia, with its two layers of semicircular arches, as a broad metaphor for key people who provided guidance, knowledge and support.
Melendez said two early mentors, each with a distinct style of management, gave him a deeper understanding of the phrase: "Mission first, people always."
"To me it talks to the balance that leaders must achieve when executing the mission, to consider that in order to achieve a sustainable situation, a leader needs to balance mission and people," Melendez said.
Although discussions of leadership styles tend to gravitate toward either the carrot or the stick, Melendez noted that over time he saw the virtues of a more measured approach.
"I came to appreciate that the key elements of good leadership are to have a clear understanding of the mission, to project that understanding relentlessly to those around you until it becomes a common and shared understanding, and then to be passionate about taking care of people, because they are the ones who ultimately will execute the mission."
Using the metaphor of the aqueduct, Melendez described his two early mentors as the lower set of arches on which his own arch stood. "You provided me with the foundation and stature of your shoulders upon which I was able to grow," he said.
Earlier in the ceremony, Dale A. Ormond, director of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, praised Melendez for setting a tone of closer coordination among all the scientists and engineers across the command, as well as for his overall leadership.
"The traits of whoever runs an organization--their work ethic, their personal ethics, they way they do business and the way they treat people--permeates throughout an organization," Ormond said, adding that it was clear that Melendez had infused ARDEC with positive elements of his leadership.
Ormond also thanked other members of the Melendez family--Dr. Elaine Torres-Melendez and sons G.J. and Juan Carlos--for their patience and support over the years.
"It is not a 9-to-5 kind of job and there are a lot of sacrifices that families have to make in order for someone like Gerry to be successful," Ormond said, adding that Melendez had demonstrated "tremendous dedication and leadership."
U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, one of the visiting dignitaries on hand for the ceremony, acknowledged the Picatinny Arsenal workforce before paying tribute to the retiring director.
"The beauty of Picatinny is that we have such wonderful military leadership… but we also have a remarkable civilian component here," said Frelinghuysen. "Dr. Melendez, let me say to you, thank you for your remarkable service not only here but at Fort Monmouth."
During his own remarks, Melendez thanked many former and current colleagues. Returning to the aqueduct metaphor, the retiring director noted the "adjacent arches that help to support one another, giving the whole structure stability."
As one example of someone with whom he had grown professionally and who served as a pillar of support, he mentioned ARDEC Chief of Staff Pete Glikerdas, who Melendez has known for some 15 years, and ARDEC Associate Director Harshad Shah.
"He was working in the background to make sure nothing fell through the cracks," Melendez said of Shah.
Melendez described his wife Elaine as a blessing who provided unconditional support for everything he did, including "small things like brewing beer at home." However, Melendez recalled the time that a keg of beer exploded while he was out of town. "That's not a good phone call to get," Melendez remembered. The brewing pastime, he also recalled, came to a "quick and conclusive end."
The retiring director described his two sons G.J. and Juan Carlos as the most important legacy of their parents.
"I thank you for your support and for understanding that, at times, the call of duty creates imbalances in life," Melendez said.
As a capstone to his days as an Army civilian, Melendez said: "My career has allowed me to be part of something bigger than myself, to leave a legacy, to make a difference in the life of our Soldiers."
In addition, Melendez was unsparing in his praise and gratitude for the ARDEC workforce, which showed steadfast resilience on many fronts, from hurricanes to budget cutbacks to furloughs.
"For those of you here, you were just amazing," Melendez said. "Your passion for innovation and to do what is right for the Soldier was an inspiration to me every single day. You worked through all the obstacles with resolve and not once did you say 'no' to the call of duty.
The Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness--technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection and sustainment--to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.