ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (May 19, 2014) -- A civilian Army employee who was instrumental in delivering a mobile tactical communications network to Soldiers in Afghanistan has been named a finalist in the prestigious 2014 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals (Sammie) awards.

Serving as the deputy product manager (DPdM) for the Army's Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2 program, Patrick DeGroodt was recently chosen as a finalist for the awards, along with 32 other individuals representing agencies across the federal government.

He was nominated for his work in helping to provide mobile tactical network communications to Soldiers in Afghanistan, where users have referred to the system as their "digital guardian angel."

"As units return home and network infrastructure is dismantled in Afghanistan, WIN-T Increment 2 enables our forces to continue to communicate on-the-move and stay connected across extensive distances and terrain obstacles," said Brig. Gen. Daniel P. Hughes, program executive officer for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), to which PM WIN-T is assigned. "Pat DeGroodt and his team worked diligently to get this critical capability into the hands of these Soldiers, while continuously improving it for future users."

The Sammies are presented annually by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service to recognize outstanding federal employees who have made significant contributions to the nation. The finalists were honored at a tribute breakfast on May 6 at the Russell Senate Office building, Washington, D.C., with the final awards ceremony to be held in September.

"Pat Degroodt has made a monumental impact on the future of Army tactical communications that will positively impact Soldiers for decades to come," said Col. Ed Swanson, project manager for WIN-T. "His dedication and commitment to providing the best equipment and capabilities possible is unmatched."

DeGroodt's program management skills contributed to the successful development, integration, testing and fielding of WIN-T Increment 2, the first satellite and line-of-sight communication system that automatically tracks and maintains connectivity while combat vehicles are on-the-move, in all terrain and environments. He has helped provide critical communications links to Soldiers, while consistently increasing network performance, making the system easier to use and reducing program costs by nearly $725 million.

"Pat is a great leader, communicator, motivator and technical expert and is very deserving of this recognition," said Lt. Col. LaMont Hall, PdM for WIN-T Increment 2. "These abilities combined with his skills in managing and prioritizing tasks, schedules and funding are the keys to Pat's success as deputy program manager and to the success of the overall program."

With WIN-T Increment 2, Soldiers down to the company level can now send and receive information from anywhere on the battlefield despite mountains, valleys and other challenging terrain. Leaders once bound to their command posts to maintain situational awareness and exercise command and control now employ the same mission command capabilities in their vehicles. Missions are no longer limited by distance or by the necessity of having to stop on the side of the road to communicate. Soldiers can communicate through voice, video and data, anytime, anywhere.

"One of the primary benefits of WIN-T Increment 2 is that it untethers commanders from a fixed command post and allows them to move out into the battlefield and make decisions based on real time input instead of having to rely on secondary reports," DeGroodt said.

To advance this new network to its first deployment to Afghanistan in 2013, DeGroodt helped lead the extensive planning, preparation and execution of the two largest operational tests in Army history, involving more than 6,200 Soldiers spread over 2,000 miles. Following these operational tests and subsequent capability improvements based on Soldier feedback, WIN-T Increment 2 is currently being fielded and deployed as the mobile network backbone of the Army's Capability Sets -- an integrated network package providing mobile communications down to the dismounted Soldier.

Capability Set (CS) 13 has been fielded to two division headquarters and four infantry brigade combat teams (BCTs), with three of the BCTs and the two division headquarters having deployed to Afghanistan with the system. During the 2014 calendar year, eight additional BCTs and two division headquarters are being fielded with components of CS 14 and WIN-T Increment 2.

Army BCTs serving as Security Forces Advise and Assist Teams (SFAATs) are leveraging WIN-T Increment 2 as they work with Afghan National Security Forces to improve their capabilities and help the Afghans stabilize their environment. As fixed network infrastructure is dismantled and forward operating bases are closed during retrograde operations, SFAATs are still able to conduct their missions and effectively communicate by employing the satellite communication and mission command capabilities of WIN-T Increment 2.

As the DPdM for a critical and high-profile program, DeGroodt has teamed with and gained the respect of a variety of stakeholders, from Soldiers in the field to top Department of Defense and Army senior acquisition leaders.

"We have to interoperate with numerous other systems in the vehicles and we enable a lot of different applications to communicate across the network," DeGroodt said. "So execution requires a lot of interaction with other organizations, both internal and external to the PEO and Army, to make that happen."

DeGroodt, who has been working on the Army's tactical communications network for nearly 20 years, said that in looking at the achievements of past Sammie finalists and winners, he feels humbled and honored to be counted among them. He attributes his success to the men and women who have worked by his side to advance communications solutions for Soldiers.

"As part of the WIN-T team I worked on some of the early on-the-move satellite communications capabilities when they were just emerging technologies," DeGroodt said. "To have gone from early engineering prototypes to actually fielding terminals in support of a brigade of Soldiers who are operating this equipment in wartime conditions is very gratifying. It's been the result of a great team effort, and I take pride in being part of that team."