'Every day I learn something'
February 21, 2013
FORT HOOD, Texas - Nestled at the end of a winding road at West Fort Hood and surrounded by trees, sits the headquarters for the U.S. Army Operational Test Command, the Army's only independent test organization.
A mix of soldiers and Department of the Army civilians, the unit works year-round testing systems to determine if they should be purchased and used by soldiers. Most of these tests can't be talked about until completion, but the Herald was able to meet with the unit's commander, Col. Joseph Martin, to discuss how things have been going since he took over less than eight months ago.
However, Martin, who has been confirmed by Congress to receive his first star, won't be in the unit too much longer. He will be heading over to serve as the 1st Cavalry Division deputy commander.
"I always look forward to what's next, but I've got a lot to do here. I have no idea when I'm leaving, and so we're continuing to march on with the business of this command. There have been a lot of great things that we've worked on this year and so I'm going to do everything I can to see as many of those things through before I leave," Martin said, seated at the conference table in his office.
Beneath the glass of the table is a chart outlining the integrated defense technology lifecycle management system. It's not there for show, he said, but functionality.
"It's a good process, but it's very complicated," he said. "There are people that have been doing this business for decades and they still have to refer to that."
Despite having served at all levels of command, Martin said working in the test command, he learns something new every day.
"I was convinced I could learn no more, I thought my learning days were over with," he said. "It is something that is so out of my comfort zone and lane, that every day I learn something. ... And that really speaks to the incredible complexity of the acquisition, the testing business we're in that supports that, and the people here that taught me so well to do a very complicated job in a very short amount of time."
He took command of the subordinate unit of U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command in June. The test command has seen many different names, and been under the leadership of names including Gen. Robert Shoemaker and Maj. Gen. Stewart C. Meyer, but has always been a resource to test the capabilities of equipment and systems before it can reach the hands of soldiers.
Last year, the command conducted 112 tests, including two network integration exercises, which test several systems at once. The most recent exercise, conducted at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., included nine tests.
"That is a very unique event, because we bring a whole bunch of equipment together, and we create an environment that is unique because it is a robust brigade-sized environment and we allow a network to stand up and we can test things a little bit more vigorously than we could elsewhere," Martin said.
Most tests are conducted throughout the year as isolated tests across the country, including the test at Fort Irwin, Calif., of the Army's new drone -- the Gray Eagle unmanned aerial system. The Army is creating company-sized elements within divisions to operate the system and the construction is under way on West Fort Hood for the hanger that will house the Gray Eagle company operating under the 1st Cavalry Division.
"The Gray Eagle, I could talk first person on that test because I witnessed it," Martin said. "It was very impressive. It is an incredible piece of equipment that we put a great test together (for), and the equipment did well."
An armor officer, Martin has spent eight nonconsecutive years at Fort Hood -- serving most recently as the III Corps chief of staff -- but surprisingly, none of those years have been with 1st Cavalry Division. He said he's looking forward to getting a Stetson, but also to taking many lessons of the test command with him.
"I've learned a lot more about systems here. I know a lot more about the Army acquisition community, the logistics community and the importance of how they all link to each other. But working with civilians, principally, the largest cohort in the workforce, you just learn things you can't learn in a homogeneous organization where everybody wears a uniform," Martin said.
During a previous position with the Human Resources Command, Martin oversaw civilians.
"There was military, but the civilians made things happen," he said. "So I learned then the importance of leveraging the experience of the folks that stay here. Because of the repetition, they become experts at what they do. That dynamic I saw there is here, too. We've got some incredible experience.
"Because that's something that you (service members) cannot, with the way that we move around, have the ability to gather over time. You just can't do it," Martin said.
While he said when the time does come, he'll be sad to leave West Fort Hood and head back over to main post, Martin said he is happy to be staying in Central Texas -- and not just because he has a daughter attending Texas Christian University and a son on the swim team at Belton High School. He's also gotten to know the community through Rancier Middle School, the unit's adopt-a-school, and a partnership with city of Florence.
"I've just about served everywhere you can serve in the United States Army and I've seen some very engaged and warm communities. The community here is by far the best I've ever seen. It amazes me," Martin said. "It's amazing the love, the unconditional love, that this community provides for Fort Hood. Most of them take it for granted, they don't know any better. I've climbed the mountain and I'm here to tell you it's amazing, so it's a great community and we're very happy to be a part of the community."
This article was posted with the permission of the Killeen Daily Herald. Contact Rose L. Thayer at email@example.com or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary.