By JOE FERRARE, RDECOMOctober 17, 2008
For more than 40 years the Army's senior leaders have turned to the U.S. Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity at Aberdeen Proving Ground to get the hard numbers and clear analysis they need to guide the Army.
AMSAA celebrated its anniversary Oct. 2, but that ceremony was only one of many observances the organization held this year to mark the service it began at the height of the Vietnam conflict. Since that time, the organization's mission statement has become more succinct - provide analytical solutions to enhance Warfighter capabilities - but its role in the entire Department of Defense has grown, according to AMSAA Director William F. Crain.
"Over the last decade or longer than that - at least back to the eighties - AMSAA has been recognized as not just the Army's, but the Department of Defense's single source for certified performance data," Crain said. "That may sound like a lot of geek speak, but what it means is that any kind of analysis that goes forward, whether it be for the Marines or the Air Force, if the data they're using are not provided by AMSAA, it is not accepted, period."
To get the data the DoD depends on, AMSAA has expanded to have a global presence.
"We've got a data collection and development effort to maintain that ability," Crain said. "We've got about sixty or seventy people in theater (Iraq and Afghanistan), and we've got a data collection presence on every major Army installation in the continental United States and, I'm not sure if we have someone at every overseas installation, but at most. Literally, it's almost a phone call away from any part of the world."
Crain said that playing at that level has brought a lot of recognition to his team, but it has also brought a lot of responsibility.
"You can't cut corners," Crain said. "That's part of the price you've got to pay in order to maintain the reputation, and AMSAA has been successful in maintaining that for four decades now."
AMSAA expanded its reputation this year with its work on the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, which led to the organization winning the large category of the Army's Dr. Wilbur Payne Award for Excellence in Analysis.
In another mark of AMSAA's standing in the analyst community, AMSAA alumni Pete Reid will be inducted to the Operations Research Society of America Hall of Fame. Reid joined two former AMSAA directors to bring the number of AMSAA alumni to three of only 11 people so honored.
AMSAA's reputation is as strong with its team members as it is with those outside the organization.
Operations Research Analyst Matthew Rosenblatt was an active duty first lieutenant at the Ordnance School here when he was recruited to work for the "whiz kids" that became AMSAA.
"They put on a show for us and took us from one office to another. They showed me a one-on-one tank-on-helicopter duel and said 'if you come to work for me you'll get to work on this kind of thing.' That made the sale," Rosenblatt said.
"They took the Weapons Systems Laboratory and parts of some other labs and they made that into a separate Class II activity called AMSAA. I was here when it happened," Rosenblatt said.
In some ways the AMSAA Rosenblatt saw created bears little resemblance to today's organization. One had many active duty officers and a sign up sheet to use the Ordnance Discrete Variable Automatic Computer, known as ORDVAC, one of only two computers available - the third modern computer ever built.
Today's AMSAA has almost as many contractors collecting data as it does civilians assigned, and the tools at their disposal go far beyond computer punch cards and calculators the size of telephone answering machines. But Rosenblatt can make more of a claim to defining his own field than most.
"The original standard for what an analyst is was written in 1968 when most of them did cost work. By 1988 it had branched out with people like me all over," Rosenblatt said.
The Office of Personnel Management, which defines government jobs, was too busy to research the specification, so AMC volunteered. Rosenblatt represented AMSAA on the team AMC put together.
"A team went all over the country to the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, a few universities, the Department of the Interior and to 'think tanks.' The team wrote the standard in 1988 or 1989, and we submitted what we recommended in a report based on interviews with workers and supervisors and questionnaires we sent out," he said.
Rosenblatt said he doesn't know how much the report influenced the national definition of a research analyst, but he was quite sure what influence being on the team had on him.
"What I found out was this is a good place to work. Sometimes you're sitting at your desk, pleasing the customer, and it's very easy not to see the big picture. What I learned is that if you're going to be an operations research analyst, one of the best places [to work] is AMSAA," Rosenblatt said.