COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center; U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command
TITLE: Supervisory general engineer and team leader, Infantry Combat Equipment Team
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in science and technology management; Level II in program management
EDUCATION: M.S in engineering management, Tufts University; B.S in mechanical engineering, University of Massachusetts Amherst
AWARDS: Maj. Gen. Harold "Harry" J. Greene Award for Innovation; Specialty Professional of the Year Award; Greater Boston Federal Executive Board Excellence in Government; Commanders Award for Civilian Service

Thinking differently to keep Soldiers protected

In his 13 years in acquisition, Robert DiLalla has played a big role in keeping Soldiers safe: as an engineer matrixed to the product manager for Soldier protective equipment (PM SPE) in the Program Executive Office (PEO) for Soldier, he supported the procurement of 30,000 Interceptor body armor vests in one month, and helped the program manager with the procurement of more than a million sets of Improved Outer Tactical Vests and 150 explosive ordnance disposal suits. He also had a hand in introducing female body armor and facilitating the transition of all body armor from the universal camouflage pattern to the operational camouflage pattern.

More recently, he and his team at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) developed the Ballistic Combat Shirt (BCS), an integrated armored shirt that offers ballistic protection to the chest, upper arm and neck areas. Unlike tactical or concealable flexible armors fielded to date, the BCS is a comfortable, sized-to-fit athletic-style outer garment that could be worn in place of the current Army Combat Shirt (ACS). It's cooler and lighter than the current Interceptor Body Armor components and the ACS, and it improves range of motion, enhances marksmanship and reduces bulk while maintaining a high level of ballistic protection.

"The greatest satisfaction in being a part of the Army Acquisition Workforce is seeing how the work that we do impacts the Soldier," said DiLalla, supervisory general engineer and team leader for the Infantry Combat Equipment Team (ICET). "Whether it's a knowledge product that influences new requirements, a new test method to better characterize performance or a novel product, it all helps shape the end items that the Soldier uses. Seeing Soldiers wear and use the items we work on is an extremely rewarding feeling."

As the leader for ICET, he manages two groups of scientists and engineers. One group executes Army science and technology projects in ballistic and blast protection, and the other provides matrix support to the = Marine Corps Systems Command in procuring protective products, individual clothing and equipment. "ICET plays a critical role in supporting Soldiers and Marines from a science and technology and development and engineering standpoint," DiLalla said. "We have the ability to influence products and systems currently fielded and planned for the next generation."

The BCS was developed through a technology enabled capability demonstration (TECD) focused on force protection for Soldiers and small units, one of five TECDs managed by the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, NSRDEC's parent command. For his efforts, DiLalla earned the FY15 Maj. Gen. Harold "Harry" J. Greene Award for Innovation in the individual civilian category. (See "Honoring Innovation".)

In developing the BCS, researchers thought of the Soldier as a mobile weapon system and collaborated with nontraditional sources of armor, including the athletic apparel industry. The result was a design that resembles something a hockey or football player might wear.

DiLalla wants to see that kind of unconventional thinking take root. "As team leader, I want to encourage the great minds on my team to think outside the box. I want them to know that they are capable of doing something novel and revolutionary," he said.

He has his dad to thank for getting him started in a military career. "While I was an engineering student [in college], my father--who is an Army veteran--told me about an Army laboratory in Natick, Massachusetts, that developed all sorts of cutting-edge technology. Intrigued by what he told me, I found a website, called the base number and found out that there were job opportunities for students." One month later, he was working at NSRDEC.

"I got to experience what the Army Acquisition Workforce was all about, and I thought it was cool that all of these engineers and scientists were working on new technologies that one day could benefit Soldiers," he said. "I knew from that point on I wanted to work for the Army upon graduation." He spent one more summer at NSRDEC before being hired full time in 2003.

He noted that his work for PM SPE, from 2008 to 2012, "was one of the most profound experiences in my career. I was working on items that were literally being developed, procured and immediately fielded to Soldiers deploying to Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom." He was involved with all technical aspects of the acquisition development life cycle for both the Interceptor Body Armor and the Soldier Protection System programs. "I got to experience firsthand what I had learned through my acquisition training."

He also noted the contribution of two mentors. "Ken Ryan, chief of the Warfighter Protection Branch, is my current supervisor and was also the first engineer I worked for fresh out of school. He has taught me over the years how to become a better engineer and civil servant. Without a doubt, I wouldn't be the engineer or manager I am today without the support he has provided to me over my career."

He added, "I also have to mention Lt. Col. Craig Fournier, who empowered me to think out of the box and allowed me the flexibility to pursue new, innovative ideas. He also taught me a lot about the uniformed side of the Army." Fournier is currently the product manager for petroleum and water systems in the PEO for Combat Support and Combat Service Support. "During the first five years that I worked for the Army, I didn't really work directly with anyone in uniform," DiLalla said. Fournier "took the time to teach me a lot about Army command structure, staff functions, etc. In addition, he was a scientist who previously had worked at NASA as a contractor. He was a problem-solver and a good manager."

This article was originally published in the October -- December 2016 issue of Army AL&T magazine.


"Faces of the Force" highlights members of the Army Acquisition Workforce through the power of individual stories. The series, produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication and Support Branch in close coordination with public affairs officers, features Soldiers and DA civilians serving in a variety of AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, go to http://asc.army.mil/web/publications/army-alt-submissions/.