Despite retiring, technical director advocates for command
December 19, 2012
By Robin Boggs
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - After a "fairly typical" start right out of college working for the government, Brian Simmons didn't aspire to be in the Senior Executive Service. In fact, it took him several years to even develop a love for the Army and sink his heart into his career.
"In high school my dad was an SES, and I am very proud of him for that," said Simmons, who served his last day as the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command's executive technical director Dec. 14. "You couldn't have told me that this [being an SES] would be fun or cool when I was a teenager."
Luckily for the Army, his love for the service and his career grew exponentially, and has lasted more than three decades. Early in his career, Simmons worked for the U.S. Army Ballistic Research Laboratory before moving on to the U.S. Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity in 1984. There he was an evaluator for infantry anti-armor weapons systems.
"After about six years, I realized this job was both fascinating and rewarding," he said. "It was a 'Be all you can be' Army then and that took over for me. AMSAA unleashed me to realize my potential and development, and prepared me for interaction with the Pentagon."
It was that preparation and subsequent participation in interactions that allowed Simmons to make his mark between Aberdeen Proving Ground and "downtown," catapulting him to various positions at both APG and the Pentagon.
Simmons, as humble as they come, never accepted job opportunities out of desire for a higher income. Instead, he was steadfast in his belief about perfecting the mission. In 1988, he joined the former Test and Evaluation Command (now ATEC) as the chief of Test Business Operations, a position he held until transferring to the Pentagon in 1996.
"I started at the technical bench level of proficiency and converted to management leadership," he said. "It kept snow balling - getting richer and deeper and more rewarding."
Forward to ATEC
Simmons returned to APG in 1998 reflecting on a time when decisions were being made on how to orient testing and evaluation. Before Base Realignment and Closure, multiple commanders governed different pieces of the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, he said. A vision of consolidation was offered during those years, but never took hold due to poor timing and different ideals.
"We were doing the right thing and doing it well, but not as a unified team," he offered. "After many years, we've achieved consolidation and we continue to evolve."
Part of that evolution, he added, is reflected in the recent dedication of the ATEC headquarters building to Walter W. Hollis. An event Simmons considers the "crowning jewel" on his last day in service. Hollis served the test and evaluation community for more than five decades and is known as the "grandfather of test and evaluation." In true spirit, Simmons redirected his comments to showcase Hollis, his vision and achievements for Army T&E.
"Recognizing the guy who had the vision out front by dedicating the ATEC building in his name is an honor," he said. "Mr. Hollis had the vision of integration long before we achieved it."
That vision is the one Simmons and ATEC Command General Maj. Gen. Genaro Dellarocco implemented in a matter of two years that changed the path of ATEC. "We've turned this command around immensely from where it's been," Simmons said. "ATEC's strategic direction is pointing very differently than the prior decade achieving excellence in who we are."
The highlight of Simmons' career was this revolution of the command's realignment. ATEC is a command full of the technical staffs and talent to make the change work, Simmons said confidently. He's happy to have Robert "Bob" Carter coming in as acting executive technical director for ATEC until a permanent fill can be announced by the Pentagon. "He's the right guy at the right time to carry the command to the next level."
The changes in the command didn't come without challenges. Simmons openly described the challenge that ATEC still struggles to overcome - the emotional ties of the combined workforces. "It's not technical," he said, referring to the vast technical expertise of the workforce. "We will have to lean on each other as a unified operation in the times ahead. We must integrate as a team to get through it."
The headquarters current structure is in its infancy, but the commands consolidated within it, have long legacies. "We establish roots and communities and cultures in this business. Economics and politics play a huge role in what we do," he offered. "The Army says change, but it's not the same as casing the colors; it has the emotional ties of legacy work."
He perceives the challenge for ATEC will lie with the workforce and its ability to let down its guard about who they used to be and reflect on who the Army needs them to be. "The business process should remind us that before we spend even one dollar, we need to ask, 'Can someone else do this in the command more effectively and efficiently?'"
Simmons admits that ATEC is not done changing, but it is on a process path to get there and time will bear it out. In fact, he is proudest of getting this formation integrated at the top to set the stage for completing integration throughout the command. "It's about having the right skills and talent to make sure that happens," he said. "This place is ready to rock and roll; as I leave, it will do even better."
And it must. After all, the command is the direct connection to the quality of the products and systems Soldiers receive. "Some would suggest you can do it [provide quality] without testing," offered Simmons. "But there's an independent aspect to what we do that is key.
Soldiers should not have anything to hold back their fighting capability; we're something like their insurance plan," he said. "We ensure that what they're going to receive in theater is effective and survivable, so they don't have to worry about something going wrong with the equipment."
Simmons argues that to frame the independent advice offered by ATEC, user and acquisition viewpoints must be separated otherwise it's biased. "We have expertise from armor protection to chemical-biological and beyond. Where else would you test over land to intercept incoming threats?" he asked. "Only at ATEC. So much of what we do can't be replicated; someone has to prove it out."
The reality of where ATEC sits, said Simmons, is that the command sits at the head of the table for every acquisition decision to provide independent advice on what's not quite right about systems considered for acquisition. "We have the powerful responsibility to advise the Army and the Office of the Secretary of Defense on the capabilities of systems for the warfighter."
That responsibility ultimately requires ATEC to be integrated across its activities and test centers and be culturally ready to lead itself into the future. "Are we ready for that?" asked Simmons. "I know the answer is 'yes.'"
According to Simmons, ATEC's mission is an enduring one for the Army. "There's no technical challenge we can't overcome," he said. "Expertise flows from start to finish on a program, and when you marry that with the Army's deepest analytical well in AEC, ATEC remains a powerhouse for the long haul."
As the new guard comes in, Simmons has a few thoughts to offer.
"Maintain openness and transparency on all issues," he encouraged. "With budget cuts and proposed civilian reductions as the likely course ahead, we should focus on the strategic end of where the command wants to go."
Continuing emphasis on interdependence is critical, said Simmons. Interdependence is a top priority for Dellarocco, and it's critical that the executive technical director support interdependency in the command's strategic plan. "The technical director sets the strategic vision for the command ensuring that all information and expertise are integrated to support our products," he said. "Looking at what we can do is vital for success."
And while the leaders set the direction, Simmons also understands that without the workforce none of the excellence could be achieved. A hard charger, he notes that he rarely "stays in the moment" and constantly points out the things the workforce needs to evolve rather than stating, "thank you."
"Here we've changed so much, and I haven't paused to say thank you enough," Simmons admitted. "Thank you all. I really have been blessed with almost all my career here."
More importantly, Simmons wants the ATEC workforce to know they're relevant and very much needed today.
"Your mission is enduring, the Army will always need what you do," he shared. "You represent the epitome of what public service is about, and it's been my privilege to have been a part of your team."
Simmons had hoped to quietly retire to his farm, but the command staff at ATEC weren't about to let him sneak out the back door. With all the hoopla, he remains humbled and isn't sure things are in balance.
"I appreciate it," he said. "It feels out of balance. I'm of the belief that the Army deserved everything I could give it and then some. I feel that way even as I leave, and that is what made me dig in and work."
It's likely that Simmons will dig in and work on other more personal priorities following retirement, such as building his long-awaited log cabin and spending much deserved time with his family. He won't be resting too long, however, he'll be going back to work in the private sector. "I'll be working with longtime acquaintances and friends I'm met throughout my Army career, I just expect it to be at a different pace."
After 32 years of government service, Simmons is retiring at a time when he's most fulfilled.
"As I leave, I realize I just got a little farther along than some," he said. "I'm tremendously fulfilled that it's [the command] is pointed right - it took a long time to pull it off."