ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Feb. 4, 2013) -- Eric Edwards is the director of the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center at Redstone Arsenal, Ala. He leads about 3,500 Department of the Army employees and 24 Soldiers. He oversees about 6,500 contractors and executes an annual program budget of about $3 billion. He graduated from University of Alabama with a bachelor of science in aerospace engineering in 1987 and Florida Institute of Technology with a master of science in management in 1999.

Edwards has held in a variety of technical jobs from systems engineering to Army product and project manager. He is a top civilian authority and scientific and engineering expert on research and development for aviation and missiles.

Q: What do you want people to know about your workforce?

Basically the mission for AMRDEC is to provide research and development for aviation and missile systems as well as providing lifecycle engineering to our program executive offices, program managers and other customers. The largest part of what we do is really the "E" in RDEC. The engineering piece is technical data management, configuration management, quality and specialty engineering activities, airworthiness engineering and all of the disciplines associated with missile launch, flight and target engagement.

We provide life-cycle engineering in support of the weapons systems in the program executive offices and program managers that we support. AMRDEC has many recent success stories. One of the big ones is the multi-launch rocket system, commonly referred to as MLRS. It's an area suppression weapon that the Army wanted to be more precise. Now we call it the GMLRS, or guided multi-launch rocket system. The research, development, science and technology that went into taking the MLRS to the guided MLRS came from our engineers. All of the testing, research and development in proving that concept and then transitioning that to the program office, to the program of record, so that could go to the Soldier, that came directly out of the AMRDEC and the S&T portfolio.

Another example is our work integrating the Hellfire missile onto an unmanned aerial system. The integration work and the things necessary to fire that off an airborne platform were done out of the AMRDEC.

On the aviation side, the Army recently introduced the AH-64E version of the Apache helicopter, which is the world's best attack helicopter. There are 11 new technologies on the new helicopter. Seven of those 11 technologies were part of the S&T, R&D investment in the aviation portfolio. We worked with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, DARPA, the U.S. Navy and other RDECOM research centers and laboratories.

That partnership was critical to get the capability that we now have on Apaches that are in the fight. It's one of those great stories where we can show what we did. Here's the technology. Here's the collaboration across the services and within RDECOM and now that's fielded and in the hands of Soldiers -- and making a difference.

Q: How do you encourage collaboration and sharing across RDECOM?

AMRDEC is a huge organization. We have large directorates and we are geographically dispersed. So, even getting collaboration within the AMRDEC -- between directorates -- is a challenge. Folks are embracing it, but a lot of it comes down to communications and understanding what the other directorates do and what capabilities they have.

We've got to get past the mentality of an "eat what you kill approach" to where you're rewarded for how much work you bring in. Instead, we should incentivize collaboration. Take that up a level. It's the same with RDECOM. I recently had something come across my desk and I looked at it and said, "Why are we doing this? Why is this not something that Natick is doing?" Again, it's senior leaders understanding what capabilities exist in the other research centers and laboratories. I do not want to stand up a new lab and hire new people, particularly in today's environment, if that capability already exists at Picatinny or Natick. I want to leverage what they have and do it that way.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing your organization?

What's going on with sequestration and the budget drills is clearly a challenge. That's the thing that has me most concerned for the workforce.

I'm the RDECOM champion for human capital development in the director's implementation of his lines of effort. We're hearing words of hiring freezes and of having to let temporary employees go. That's our seed corn. If we're doing things that preclude us from growing the bench, then, as we have an aging workforce, this is a challenge.

Our average employee age at AMRDEC is about 45. There's been a very concerted effort to get young folks in and bring them up because we did have a graying workforce. We had a great workforce that did some phenomenal things for the Army, but they are retiring and moving on.

Who have they mentored and who are their replacements? If we start doing things where we're not going to be able to hire folks ... we're not going to have the young folks ... that number is going to creep back up and we're going to get to the point where people are going to leave and we have not done anything to grow somebody behind them. That's a huge challenge.

We've got a great organization. We do everything from software development, system simulation, specialty engineering in our Engineering Directorate, which also has our Prototype Integration Facility, which has won many of the Army's Greatest Inventions in the last several years. They've done some phenomenal things and received some great feedback from the Soldier.

Our Weapons Development and Integration Directorate has done some amazing work with lightening aircraft weight. For every pound that you can get off an aircraft, it's another pound of fuel or weapons you can carry. The directorate undertook an effort to lighten the missile launcher on the Kiowa Warrior and they were very successful. They received a note back from Soldiers in the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry: "You guys rock!" What better validation of what you do every day than to get a man or woman in uniform that's over there in harm's way who takes the time to send a note back to say thanks for what you did?

Q: What excites you about the future?

We're real proud of our work with unmanned aerial systems. From my standpoint, another major project is our work in designing and developing the next generation of vertical lift aircraft.

AMRDEC has an integral role of the Future Vertical Lift initiative in developing a replacement for the Black Hawk, Apache and Chinook helicopters. That is where a significant amount of our aviation S&T investment is going. We're being very deliberate about the research and development. We're working with the TRADOC to get their requirements. We're working with industry for the "art of the possible." And, we're working with academia. The intent of this is to get an operational capability in the 2030 timeframe.

So this isn't tomorrow, but it's very deliberate. On the missile side, I'm excited about our research in the Kinetic Energy Active Protective System and the Extended Area Protection System.

Other big areas in the missile world are counter-unmanned aerial systems and counter rocket artillery and mortars, as well as integrated base defense. Those are some things that we're actively developing. I love to see the young folks that come in to brief what they're doing.

On the aviation side it's the Future Vertical Lift initiative. There's a whole lot more going on, but those are the big hitters.

Q: What advice do you have for the workforce?

When I mentor folks there are a couple of things that I tell everybody. One is just to never stop learning professionally or personally. There is a lot of opportunity that the Army gives you and it may change a little bit with some of the restrictions that we're under but there's a lot of opportunity to continue to grow professionally, whether it's Defense Acquisition University courses and certifications, or advanced degrees. We have a lot of folks with doctorates and advanced degrees. If you haven't already done so already, take an opportunity to get a master's degree or Ph.D. Never stop learning. I think it's important for employees to sit down with their supervisor. All of us have to do an Individual Development Plan and articulate what it is that we want to do. You sign up for that together so that you're on the same journey and your supervisor understands what want to do.

Another thing is goal setting. I realize it may be a personal thing, but I'm very much a goal-oriented person. I like to have a goal -- something that I'm working toward. I encourage to folks that I mentor to look around and ask, "What job do I want to have? What is it that you aspire to when you have reached the zenith of your career?" Write that down and then write down the steps you need to complete to arrive at your goal.

Personally I'm motivated by having something that I've decided that I want to do, whether it's personal or professional. At one point many years ago I wanted to run a marathon. Every one of my siblings and my parents had done that. I was the only one who hadn't. I decided to run a marathon. I planned out how many miles I needed to run every day and I got a book and laid out what I needed to do. Pretty much rain or whatever, I was out doing what that plan was. But that was my goal, and I did it. That's just how I'm driven. I encourage everybody to set a goal.

One other thing, I highly encourage people to look for and take developmental opportunities. Look for opportunities to get out of your comfort zone a little bit.

Take jobs that challenge you. You'll take something away from it. People may mentor you. People will help you. But, at the end of the day the responsibility falls on the individual employee. You need to reach out and find a mentor. Most folks are willing to help.

There's really only one person who's responsible for your career and your professional development, and that's you.