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REDSTONE ARSENAL, ALA. (Aug. 12, 2021) - For Maj. J.D. Sauer, it was a practical plan for college that led him to a career in the skies.

Sauer, an experimental test pilot for the U.S. Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center, did not grow up in the a military family, but had always been fascinated with Soldier service and the military. As high school graduation loomed, he knew that he would need to find a way to pay for college and the U.S. Military Academy was as good a plan as any.

The self-professed, “nerd at heart” knew he had always liked engineering – more specifically, taking things apart and putting them back together. At West Point, after receiving his first helicopter ride, Sauer knew aviation was the path for him and he has never looked back.

“I found out that there are these pilots that develop new equipment, test it out and make sure it is safe. Chinook is my primary airframe and what I grew up on. Since then, I have done Black Hawk and a variety of fixed wing testing within the Army. It has been awesome to work with great people and to have had the opportunity to mold and shape pieces of equipment that are going out to the Warfighter.”

Sauer enjoys being the conduit between the science and technology component of the Army and the operational side.

“I have always joked that in the Army we have phenomenal engineers, who are super smart people. And we have phenomenal Army leaders -- but the two can’t ever talk and you don’t want them to talk to each other,” he said. “So we are the warrior nerds that provide the translation from the highly technical to the ‘so what,’ to allow the Army to make accurate and informed decisions on new technologies and equipment.”

When not in the cockpit at Fort Eustis, Virginia, Sauer tries to make it home to Tennessee, where he spends his downtime with wife Liz, working on projects at their house in a downtown historic district. Originally the house was planned to be “a simple flip, right?” Sauer said with a laugh. “And then you are standing in the frame of a house like, ‘Oh my God, what did we get ourselves into?’ But it has all worked out -- we absolutely love it.”

For Sauer, even though he has spent his entire career in uniform, he still is a bit hesitant to give advice to the next generation of pilots. However, that old, “What career advice would you give someone following in your footsteps?” question became not quite so rhetorical, recently.

“We just had six West Point cadets come through,” Sauer said. “I have never been the type of person to say, ‘This is what you should do.’ But generally in mentoring, I would say, always do the best of whatever you are put into.

“You are not always going to get the job that want, but it may be the job that you need.”


The DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the Army’s research and development focal point for advanced technology in aviation and missile systems. It is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. AvMC is responsible for delivering collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions, as required by the Army’s strategic priorities and support to its Cross-Functional Teams.