YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz.-- The intelligent use of artillery has long been identified as essential to battlefield success.
But for all its might, even small anomalies can take a large howitzer out of commission, putting Soldiers in a vulnerable position against our adversaries.
In fielding the best equipment possible, testers are particularly interested in inspecting mortar and artillery equipment for microscopic anomalies. It’s not the most dramatic side of testing, but it is critical to the safety and success of American Soldiers, and David Le, mechanical engineer in the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) Physical Test Facility, is regarded as one of the most experienced professionals in the field of non-destructive testing.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” said Le. “By the same token, one measurement is worth a thousand guesses.”
Le gets up close and personal with gun tubes using high tech equipment found exclusively at YPG, but also uses the same cannon tube bore scope commonly used by artillery units in the field. It is a job he has performed for more than a quarter of a century, spanning the tail end of the Cold War to the present day, and his reputation for diligence and expertise extends across the armed forces.
“He gets asked for by name,” said Hector Herrera, site manager for the M777 howitzer. “He is well known and he is good. I’ve never seen a gentleman who takes so much pride in each inspection and is so thorough, whether it is howitzers, mortars or cannon tubes.”
Le says his career was greatly influenced by mentor Terry Davis, formerly the shop’s lead engineering technician.
“David came here right after completing his schooling,” recalled Davis. “When he came, we didn’t really have anyone else that knew anything about it. David is sharp and he wanted to learn, so I took him under my wing and it worked.”
Over the years, Davis and Le constructed a clean room and began adding and developing specialized measurement devices, such as a laser bore mapper, from scratch. Often, a howitzer under test would break down late in the work day, and testers with a tight schedule and expensive range time already scheduled would bring the weapon in for repairs. In many instances, Le would conduct his comprehensive inspection to identify any structural failures, and if present, Davis would fabricate replacement parts to continue with the mission. In doing this, the shop saved test customers time and money, but accumulated significant levels of overtime work for themselves without complaint. Whereas waiting for a replacement part could halt a test for days, Davis and Le usually brought the item back into service for the next day. With this customer-centered ethos, YPG gradually has become the Army’s premier location for non-destructive testing. Virtually every mortar and artillery system tested or developed in the past 30 years has spent time under Le’s careful scrutiny.
“It’s so easy to say, ‘no, we can’t do it,’” said Davis. “Our attitude was, ‘Let’s try it; what’s the worst that could happen?’ Well, there were very few things we weren’t able to do. This became a one-stop shop, and that’s why the customers came.”
“One thing I learned from Terry is to never give up trying to find a better way to do things,” added Le. “That’s what we try to do here.”
Appropriately, both men are inductees in the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara, a prestigious honor society for those associated with artillery in the United States Army or Marine Corps.
“They put the customers’ needs before their own,” said Keith Gooding, program manager for towed artillery. “They always understood that the real customer is that Marine or Soldier who is going to be using these guns.”