Maj. Gen. Nick Justice reflects on his tour at RDECOM, APG
January 31, 2012
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Maj. Gen. Nick Justice will retire Feb. 13 after 42 years of U.S. Army service. He assumed command of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Dec. 4, 2009, from Maj. Gen. Paul Izzo. Dale Ormond will become RDECOM's acting director Feb. 10.
The following excerpts are from Justice's exit interview with RDECOM historian Jeff Smart.
What were your first impressions of APG and its facilities and the RDECOM mission and past accomplishments?
Going through that old Edgewood Area gate, I knew it was a place time had forgotten. No combat division would live like that on an Army installation.
When I got out to meet the people, and you see where the people are working and the mission going on here, it was amazing. But to see this place, you had to wonder how this could be a center of excellence. It was a dichotomy in your mind, struggling with the image you see and the mission the people are doing.
We needed to demolish some of these old facilities that are no longer used. Make this place more attractive for our workforce. The evolution at this place is amazing. There has not been a month go by that I've had the privilege to command this organization that we haven't cut a ribbon and opened something new.
What changes did you make to RDECOM to make it better?
I wanted to get people to understand how each of the missions in the headquarters interacts with each other and how it applies to our engineering centers. We are creating the integration and synchronization in the products that we produce. We are building the engineering staff because that's our core mission.
Reach out to our field support elements -- Science and Technology Assistance Teams and Science and Technology Acquisition Corps Advisers -- are linked back into headquarters. They know what we have available to support them in the field. Bring our presence to a combatant commander and his mission so he can leverage our capabilities.
How has base realignment and closure affected RDECOM?
It has been a tremendous boost to the installation with a lot of high-tech people coming in. BRAC overall has been a positive for the Army and certainly for APG.
Aberdeen Proving Ground benefited because of the people here in Maryland. The leadership in Maryland at all levels -- city, county, state, national delegation in Congress -- all very supportive of the BRAC move and the mission at APG. The new arrivals to APG found open arms.
How would you describe the relationship between RDECOM and its primary customer? Are we more technology driven and Warfighter focused since you got here?
Absolutely. Especially Warfighter focused. You have to put the customer first. Getting that operational mission really focused on delivering products to a combatant commander and helping him understand what he needed is critical to our success.
One of the things that we added is RDECOM Field Assistance in Science and Technology-Center, our science and technology field team. They took a prototype facility forward with them in Afghanistan. They have an incredible capability to engineer and prototype things in the field, which cuts the time down that it takes to solve the problem.
We have engineers forward in theater face-to-face with the Soldier with the problem. Have him show you why it's not meeting his needs, then you don't over-engineer a solution that doesn't help him. You understand the conditions, the operating environment. You understand thresholds of criticality -- time, danger, exposure, speed limitations, driving requirements. Provide him something more focused on his need, deliver a better-quality product in a shorter time.
What role did you play in coordinating between RDECOM's laboratories?
The labs have historically been set up in a domain. That worked well in the 1980s when we didn't have things integrated together. Today, integration has become the defining capability of this generation and this time.
We set up processes to force that integration. We've still got a long way to go, but we've brokered all the integrations up front in our funding stream.
What was your role in RDECOM's STEM education mission?
That's been one of the fun missions. Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley asked us to be part of the recruiting mission, partner with them. 'Can you help me sell the nation that the Army is a high-tech organization?' Well, that's pretty easy to do in this command.
Lt. Gen. Freakley and I talked about a dream of recruiters recruiting Army civilians through the same methodology that we recruit Soldiers. It's important for us to raise the importance of our Army civilian workforce, especially as we draw down some of our combat units. We should take government civilians and make them a more integral part of what we're doing each and every day.
I was with the national finalist eCYBERMISSION team in San Antonio. You should see the maturity in that group of young people. To see how much those kids have fallen in love with science and technology was great, and we became a tool for some phenomenal teachers that want to make their kids enthusiastic about this stuff.
What are your major accomplishments during your tour of duty?
As the installation commander, I got to relight a historic lighthouse -- oldest lighthouse in the state of Maryland, a beacon of a different age in our nation. It allowed interstate commerce to take hold, not much different than GPS is for us, or the interstate highway system. It created a great deal of good will for this installation with the state and the people who truly do treasure their state and history.
Seeing the improvement we made to something as simple as a bullet -- the A3-green ammunition. It's a tremendous advance in capability. Apply the rigors of scientific research and engineering to improve its quality, detrimental impact to the environment, the effectiveness to the Soldier is tremendous.
Robotics and sensors -- assist the Army in leveraging industry to bring those robotics to the battlefield and change the way EOD elements disable improvised explosive devices. What we have done for our EOD teams is incredible.
Maybe the most important is to get back to engineering. Getting to know the customer creates a demand for engineering and we have the teams that are so good that people come to demand services -- and they bring money. The engineering discipline throughout the command that's not going to allow one technology to be successful, but literally hundreds of them that are more effective and quickly fielded and simple, easy to use for the Soldier and not burden him to solve a problem, but enable him and empower him to do so.
Did you accomplish all of your personal objectives at RDECOM?
There are so many opportunities here -- there's a lot of stored capacity here that could still be tapped to rapidly change our Army.
I truly think the modernization path we're going on, and the Army's constantly marching on the road to modernization will have to come internal to the Army because we're not going to have the procurement tail out there for the next few years. So the internal engineering staff can build the technologies and prototypes that we need so we can build them, integrate them into our infrastructure and combat formations, and set the conditions for modernization.
What is the future of RDECOM?
The Army needs to modernize. Technology continues to evolve and we need to prepare for the modernization of the Army. Plan to modernize at the last moment because I want the latest and greatest technology in the hands of the Soldier.
We've brought some of the social sciences into this command. I want to learn how a Soldier learns. We can't afford a dedicated amount of time to train. We have to get involved in continuous learning. The country recognizes it and we haven't found the solution for it yet, but that's the one place where our future really has to hit. We have to get into continuous learning and what are the technologies that will deliver that continuous learning to those formations, whether it's collective or individual training.
What do you see as the most urgent objectives for your successor?
Stay on your marketing plan. You got to make sure that people constantly know the value of your organization with credible, real-life examples where you made orders of magnitude differences in cost and effectiveness of completely new capabilities.
And you've got to do that in the context of the resources that you have. You've got to make your priorities based on the best bang for your dollar. If you don't, you have to put the highest priority technologies the most valuable on the battlefield and you have to align your resources to support it.
Education is critical. We really haven't figured out that man-machine interface in collective or individual training yet. We can do much better. The more I take off his cognitive load, the more the Soldier focuses on his primary mission.
Were there any stories or events at APG that were particularly memorable?
The capacity of the young people in our organization -- five years or less of government service -- how much folks that young contribute to the mission.
It's just thrilling to see that next generation come along and already be making an impact. It makes you feel really secure that there's going to be somebody out there tomorrow to do this because they will be as great as the greatest generations.
What are your personal plans once you leave?
Not sure what I'm going to do, but I know what I want to do. I've learned to love being involved in the educational aspects of the next generation, and make sure the country is handed over to a generation that is well prepared to receive it.