ADELPHI, Md. -- The newest Soldier assigned to the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory is also the senior enlisted advisor to the laboratory’s director. Meet Sgt. Maj. Luke Blum, a senior noncommissioned officer with 20-years of service. He assumed responsibility as the lab’s sergeant major in August.
Blum is from a small town in the Pacific Northwest: Colville, Washington. He joined the Army in 2000 with the encouragement of his father. He sought and attained a satellite communications position, and soon found himself stationed in Germany. Two years later, he deployed to Kuwait and then Iraq during combat operations. He’s no stranger to deployments. During his career, he’s served in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Qatar. Along the way, he became an Army paratrooper and jumpmaster. Blum enjoyed parachuting so much, he went to the Army’s freefall school and later became a military freefall instructor with more than 1,000 jumps.
Throughout his career, Blum not only became an expert at his satellite communications job, he learned to motivate and lead Soldiers in crisis situations.
It’s with this frame of reference he approaches his new mission to advise the laboratory’s director, Dr. Pat Baker, on military matters from a unique perspective.
“There’s a few things that I’ve jotted down over the years that have helped me be successful, and it really helps build a team and that trust between each other,” Blum said. “As a leader, you need to be present. You can’t sit up in your office dictating orders from up above and never join the team.”
As a sergeant major at the Joint Communications Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, Blum would visit with his Soldiers and take a personal interest in how things were going and what they were working on.
“I would tell my team leaders down there, ‘Hey, I’m not trying to come down here and micro-manage. I’m coming down here to see what you guys are doing, see what the troops’ gripes are, what they’re happy about, how they feel things are going,’” he said. “That way, I can take that information and internalize it and try to figure out how to make the unit a better place.”
As sergeant major for the laboratory, Blum said he hopes to build a bond of trust.
“Showing you care, it doesn’t take much,” he said. “Asking somebody how their family is doing builds that bond of trust. When things are good, people talk to you all day long. But when things are not going well, I think that’s a true testament on whether they trust you and they believe in you as a leader. If they’re willing to come to you in the bad times and they trust you to help them out then that’ll show that you’re doing things right.”
The sergeant major said analyzing the organizational culture is important for any leader. Coming to the laboratory is a new experience for him because it is an organization primarily composed of Army civilians, but he said it’s important to get to know the people and understand them before assuming anything.
“That’s one of the challenges for me, because the culture—you know it’s a civilian-based organization—so I can’t just come in and apply the typical leadership strategy I would for a military organization.”
In a military organization there is a natural, built-in respect that comes with military rank and position. Civilian employees with little exposure to the military’s rank structure don’t necessarily know the difference between a private and a sergeant major, he said.
“You build credibility with your actions as time goes on,” he said. “I can’t just come in with the same tactics. I have to adjust my style.”
During his tour of duty with the laboratory, Blum has several goals.
“Some of the things I would like to accomplish while I’m here is educating the military, DOD force on what ARL’s mission is and what its capabilities are,” Blum said.
It’s important for Soldiers to know how the research conducted at the laboratory impacts their Army missions, he said. Blum plans future engagements at the Army Centers of Excellence, and even hopes to take researchers out to large maneuver exercises to demonstrate the science and technology they are working on to modernize the Army.
“Hopefully we can bring a prototype. Maybe we can share stories of some of the things we’ve developed and just educate the force,” he said. “Really that’s where you’re going to get the ground truth. When you’re visiting with Soldiers, they’re going to tell you what their needs are and what’s going to help them.”
Blum hopes this will give Army researchers context to what they’re doing.
Another one of his goals will be to create opportunities for the civilian employees to learn about military culture.
“I would like to get military researchers out to the field,” Blum said. “We’ll find some large exercises that are going on. We’ll take them out to the National Training Center, the Joint Readiness Training Center, take them to the large divisional posts, Fort Bragg, Fort Benning, Fort Drum, and allow these researchers to embed with a unit as they do their operational planning, execute their mission and then do post-exercise after action reviews.”
The sergeant major said he hopes this will create a new perspective on Soldier missions that could drive how Army scientists and engineers approach their research.
“Ultimately I see myself as a facilitator,” he said. “That’s where I see my strength—in creating those in-roads and progressing the organization forward.”
During his first meet-and-greet with researchers Sept. 21, Blum toured the dry room and learned about advanced lithium ion battery research. He also took a walk-by tour of the BioLab and met with Dr. Keith Krapels, the director of the lab’s Sensors and Electron Devices Directorate.
Blum said his first opportunity to meet with researchers was fantastic. He said he was most impressed how passionate the researchers are about the work they do.”
“When you talk to them about the work they’re doing, they get so exciting about it. I like getting out and seeing what our researchers are doing,” he said. “That’s going to be a lot of what I do, you know, having my finger on the pulse of the organization.”
Blum is married and has four children. The family moved into military quarters at Fort Meade, Maryland.
CCDC Army Research Laboratory is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. As the Army’s corporate research laboratory, ARL discovers, innovates and transitions science and technology to ensure dominant strategic land power. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win the nation’s wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.