Technical Director Spotlight: Obusek focuses on Soldiers
March 8, 2013
NATICK, Mass. -- Dr. Jack Obusek is the technical director of the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center. He leads about 700 Department of the Army employees and 16 Soldiers. He oversees about 100 contractors and executes an annual program budget of about $353 million.
He earned a bachelor of arts degree in biological sciences from the University of Delaware, a masters of physical therapy from Baylor University and a doctor of science in applied kinesiology (with distinction) from Boston University.
Before joining the Senior Executive Service as NSRDEC director in January 2011, Obusek served as the center's associate director with responsibility for strategic plans and programs.
Obusek served as a U.S. Army officer for more than 27 years, culminating his career as the commander of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, also at Natick. He also served as U.S. representative to a NATO medical research panel.
His military education includes the Military Health System Executive Skills Capstone Course, the U.S. Army War College and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.
What do you want the rest of RDECOM to know about your workforce?
NSRDEC is the critical HUB for RDECOM and the Army in generating and applying technology to the Soldier System -- the only Army platform with a human "chassis."
I see this role as critical not only to the Army but for all services. When Natick Labs was established in the 1950s, the intent was to create an Institute of Man, where every aspect of human performance, when integrated with clothing, equipment, and nutrition, can be studied.
Establishing this capability was the result of the conditions experienced during World War II that America's forces were not able or prepared to counter.
Today, along with our installation partners at NSRDEC, we continue the mission to enhance human performance -- making the U.S. Warfighter the most capable in the world.
As our experience over the last 10 years of war has shown, the Soldier on the ground remains the most important battlefield system.
I see NSRDEC's role increasing as we pivot to adjust our focus to future battlefields and the potential deployment of Soldiers to new missions in challenging environments.
Systems engineering is critical to the integration of new technologies that we apply to the Soldier System.
I see NSRDEC's role as the lead systems engineer for technology development for the human platform as key and critical role in the future.
Because the human platform is highly complex and inherently variable, when we conduct research to enhance capability, we need a broad spectrum of expertise covering a wide variety of disciplines.
Therefore, NSRDEC's workforce, as we like to say, includes people with diverse backgrounds that range from aerospace to zoology.
How do you encourage collaboration and sharing across RDECOM?
Soon after I became the NSRDEC technical director, I established an Enterprise Transformation Process. I viewed this process as a means of changing the way we do business rather than just a reorganization.
We moved away from commodity-based thinking and began to task organize communities to solve the most urgent Soldier problems. By creating communities of interest around Soldier challenges, we bring the right people together from all Science & Technology arenas, Warfighting centers (the Army Capabilities Integration Center and Army Centers of Excellence), program managers, and test and evaluation organizations, to develop ways to solve the hard problems Soldiers face now and in the future.
As part of our Enterprise Transformation process, we also moved to a portfolio planning process: looking at collaborative S&T planning by portfolio (individual multi-threat, human systems integration and performance, and force projection and sustainment portfolios) agnostic to where the solutions come from. And then encourage competition in order to seek the best possible solutions from across the entire RDECOM enterprise.
You can see this as a combination of top-down and bottom-up planning: employing both home-on-home bilateral organizational program discussions with leaders and scientists and engineers from across all RDECOM organizations, to encouraging investigator-to-investigator contacts and providing incentives for developing cooperative proposals and projects.
In using this combination approach, we also take maximal advantage of information technology sharing capabilities and social media to promote better awareness and understanding about what we are doing across the S&T spectrum.
As we execute programs under this transformed process, collaborating across RDECOM is not just an option but an essential way of doing business.
What are the biggest challenges facing your organization?
In this era of fiscal contraction, everything is considered on the table for possible reduction, including travel, technical conference attendance, the hiring of people with new skill sets, and certain types of training.
As leaders, we need to find creative alternative means that continue to excite the workforce and meet their needs.
There are also a large number of highly skilled personnel getting ready for retirement in the not-too-distant future. We are challenged to transfer their knowledge and capture their years of experience in successful S&T development and methodology.
Their experience must be preserved for the future workforce, and we are doing this through formalized knowledge transfer programs that are proving to be highly successful.
We also need non-traditional means of bringing in new talent with fresh perspectives. For example, we have launched an intern cohort initiative in which interns are assigned "super-mentors" and rotate through the organization gaining the bigger picture right from the start.
Moreover, and one of a kind, we formed an R&D partnership with University of Massachusetts at Lowell in February. HEROES, Harnessing Emerging Resources Opportunities Empowering Soldiers, brings together NSRDEC scientists and students collaborating on flame-resistant and high-performance fibers, aerial delivery and photovoltaic solutions.
Efforts like this helps to overcome such workforce challenges.
We are also committing more energy to partnering with federal and state representatives, academia, and industry. We are addressing challenges by placing special emphasis on our core competencies, such as fiber and material science and engineering.
For example, we are applying significant effort with our tri-compartment polymer fiber extruder that has been used by NSRDEC scientists and engineers to develop new variable loft fibers.
Industry partnerships with companies like Polartec allow for rapid technology transfer and the production of new clothing to protect the Warfighter.
What excites you about the future?
The people of NSRDEC are more creative and innovative than ever, and I'm sure the other RDECOM technical directors see similar things in their organizations. We benefit from both an experienced and a newer, younger workforce.
As much as 50 percent of our workforce has been hired in the last five or so years and the innovation and technical expertise these individuals bring to this organization and the Army is outstanding.
Given the opportunity and encouragement, NSRDEC employees perform. Last calendar year, our S&T efforts enabled the cutting edge development of female body armor. This was a top 20 invention by Time magazine for 2012.
I am excited how the NSRDEC workforce has been responding to new initiatives.
Embracing change is never easy but a flexible agile workforce will embrace change for the better and see where opportunities exist.
Embracing NSRDEC's enterprise transformation is part of being flexible.
Through an organizational redesign, we have created a new portfolio management construct. This new structure promotes more effective S&T project planning and oversight.
There are quite a number of new technologies that make NSRDEC an exciting place to work, whatever your field of expertise. By gaining a deeper understanding of human and material sciences, for example, we will be able to effectively forge new science and engineering frontiers.
The promise of nanomaterials to provide leap ahead capabilities in Soldier protection and functional uniforms or synthetic biology that promises to provide the ability to "code" sequences into 3D printers to create new materials with novel properties.
NSRDEC is enthusiastic and ever committed to keeping Soldiers' dominant on the battlefield with the decisive edge.
What advice do you have for the workforce?
Sequestration and Continuing Resolution Authority present us with challenging times, but we need to view these as opportunities to exploit rather than roadblocks. The organization needs to be prepared, ready and able to turn those opportunities into reality.
I would advise employees to look for ways to apply their talents to address new and emerging Army problems.
We need to be flexible and agile to accomplish the mission. I also recommend that employees consider taking risks in their careers moving into areas that stretch their thinking.
It's critical to build teams of people with diverse backgrounds. Science and engineering is more of a team sport than anytime in the past.
Teams must agree on common objectives and goals allowing all to share in the success. Relationships matter -- take time to build your networks and exercise them to the point of developing strong mutual trust.
Have a clear-eyed understanding of why you are working on a project, what it will do for the Soldier on his or her mission, and be able to articulate it to anyone.