SMDC employee helps keep America's technological lead
January 6, 2012
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. - One U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command team member has helped keep America's technological lead on the cutting edge.
Gisele Wilson, chief of the SMDC Technical Center's Space Superiority Division, began working for the command in July 1981, and for more than three decades has been quietly behind the scenes on many of America's top defense projects.
After graduating from the University of Alabama Huntsville, Wilson began her career after hard work in the classroom and a little luck out of the classroom.
"An employee asked my neighbors if they knew anyone graduating from college and my neighbors gave them my name," Wilson said. "I received a call asking me if I would like to come in for a job interview. My father, who encouraged me to get my engineering degree, had worked as a civil servant and he told me the government is a good place to pursue a career.
"It has been good to me so far and I am still looking forward to what the future holds," she added.
Wilson began her career working in the Low Altitude Defense Project Office and worked on defensive missile and decoys for the MX Missile program.
After that, she worked on various radars, including the Ground Based Radar system, as well as a whole family of radars. She then turned her attention to the High Endo-Atmospheric Defense Interceptor program, going from the radar world to the interceptor missile world.
After the HEDI program was finished, Wilson went over to the Kinetic Energy Weapons Directorate where she began working with interceptor technology, as well as the different science and technology master plans, and worked on active-sensors to go on interceptor missiles.
Wilson, as program manager, played a major part in what was the Lightweight Exo-Atmospheric Projectile program and helped bring to fruition one of the cornerstones of America's current anti-ballistic missile defense systems.
LEAP is a lightweight miniaturized kinetic kill vehicle designed to acquire, track and intercept a variety of targets such as destroying incoming ballistic missiles inside or outside the Earth's atmosphere. As an advanced technology integration demonstration program, LEAP sought to develop, integrate and demonstrate the capabilities of a lightweight kill vehicle.
"LEAP was a very successful technology program, and we worked with the Missile Defense Agency and with the Navy AEGIS program office and that is the program we eventually transferred to the Navy," Wilson said. "And its follow-on programs are all now an integral part of their AEGIS LEAP Interceptor."
Wilson led the LEAP program team as they repeatedly demonstrated capabilities in a series of laboratory tests, simulations, hover tests and a space flight test.
The first LEAP intercept attempt was conducted in March 1995 and while the Army chose to pursue other programs, the U.S. Navy selected the Army LEAP kill vehicle for its Upper Tier Theater Missile Defense program in 1996.
Now known as the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, the SM-3 with its next generation LEAP kill vehicle, was originally designed and developed by SMDC for the U.S. Army.
"It's great to know something you have worked on is successful," Wilson said. "It is nice to see something you started come to fruition and to see it being used to help defend our troops makes it even more special. It is nice to see things become successful."
Along with LEAP, Wilson has been instrumental in playing a major role in the development of the Scalable Panels for Efficient, Affordable Radar (SPEAR), Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), High Endo-Atmospheric Interceptor (HEDI), Advanced Discriminating Interceptor Technology Program (ADI) and others.
"After working with the LEAP program, I moved to the Technical Center front office where I dealt with the engineers to the program analysts," Wilson said. "I also worked with everyone from budget to congressional visits to taskers and beyond. Afterward, I went back to working with radar sensors and then tests and evaluations."
After working with evaluations, Wilson became the division chief of the Lethality, Survivability and Kill Assessment Division for a couple of years before joining the Space Superiority Technology Division.
"I've learned that on most projects you still need to go through the same processes, ideas, requirements, development and then you have to design it and test it," Wilson said. "Every project is different, but the process to help make it successful is mostly still the same. It is just different levels of whether you are at a smaller technology level or you are on larger projects at the test range.
A longtime friend of Wilson's spoke about her reputation as a leader, and her proven ability to accomplish the mission at hand.
"Gisele has been a key leader and manager of successful advanced development activities within this command dating back to the 1980s under the Strategic Defense Initiative," said Doug Burdette, a program manager in the Space and Cyber Directorate, Space Superiority Technology Division of the Technical Center. "She is a recognized technical expert in the interceptor development community and has an excellent professional reputation for excellence and leadership across the challenging joint service technical development community."
One of Wilson's former supervisors talked about his time working with her and how the mission came first and her work ethic was second to none.
"When I first met Gisele, I had eight different sections working for me as the director of the Weapons Directorate," said Bill Reeves, former SMDC Technical Integration and Matrix Center director and now a senior acquisition analyst for BCF Solutions. "She was an engineer when I selected her for a new position. After selecting her, I had no regrets because she was technically proficient, conscientious, very energetic and one of the main reasons we have been so successful at SMDC. Had she not stepped in at times, I am sure we could not have accomplished the things we did.
"Gisele worked with me on the hit-to-kill programs which ultimately transitioned into the THAAD and other programs," he added. "She is very innovative in how she approaches problems and also from the conceptual standpoint in terms of ideas. Her breadth and depth of understanding what we were trying to accomplish made her stand out among her peers.
Reeves said how proud he was of all Wilson has accomplished and knowing her, there are going to be many more successes in her future.
"Since those early days with me, Gisele has gone on to do great and wonderful things here," Reeves said. "She always had great patience and tenacity, coupled with an attitude that is always aimed at getting the job done."
Reeves also said that like a THAAD missile, which travels at more than 9,000 feet per second, "Gisele has two speeds; fast and faster."
"Gisele is a great person," he added. "I can't think of anyone who has earned and deserves all of her successes. I am very proud of her and am honored to call Gisele my friend."
When talking of her time at SMDC, Wilson talked about working with people on all levels, from the leadership all the way down, and that no matter how successful we are in the lab or on a test range, the important thing is defending the nation and the Soldiers on the ground.
"I try to work well with others and I try to be honest," Wilson said. "I try to tell it like it is. Sometimes people want to hear it, sometimes they don't. You have to work with people on all levels and you have to be able to explain what it is you do so everyone can understand and be successful.
"And if we are successful in here, then our troops can be successful out there," she added.