REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (Sept. 29, 2021) – While a beautiful part of the country, upstate New York is not known as a major engineering hub. Which is why his position as a liaison engineer with the 10th Mountain Division was serendipity for Nick Schroeder.
Schroeder’s career has come full circle since his years as an undergrad at Purdue University. On a Navy scholarship, but still trying to figure out what he wanted out of life, Schroeder decided to enlist in the Navy. After six years in the military - and three deployments – the Ohio native went back to school at Wright State University, where he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering.
He went to work for GE Aviation in Cincinnati, and while Schroeder enjoyed his career, he and his wife had talked about moving back to New York, where she grew up. After finding his current position on USA Jobs, Schroeder was back in the military world, only this time on the Army side.
Liaison engineers are embedded with units and provide engineering support for aviation problems. Unlike many of his contemporaries, who were formerly Soldiers and familiar with the aircraft, “I came from the Navy, none of these were familiar,” he said with a laugh. “But I use that to my advantage. ‘Tell me what is wrong as if I have no idea what aircraft this is.’ That helps the Soldiers and everyone look at the bigger picture.”
“Nick embodies the attributes required to be a successful LE,” said Clarence Hitchings, chief of the Liaison Engineering Branch, Maintenance Airworthiness Engineering Division in the Systems Readiness Directorate. “His customer knows they can depend on him to be responsive to their needs, understands their mission requirements and will provide them with solutions that maintain airworthiness requirements.”
The vast range of aircraft at Fort Drum helps keep the job interesting, Schroeder said, and with 80 aircraft but only one engineer, sometimes Schroeder has to get creative to come up with problem solutions.
“There is the backup support of Redstone behind you if you are stuck, but you get to start the process yourself,” he said.
That backup support from Redstone was still there when needed when Schroeder deployed to Afghanistan in 2018 and 2020 as an LE, but the urgent mission requirements and time zone differences meant more to shoulder. While the experience was relatively more comfortable than his earlier deployments as a sailor, “It was drinking out of a firehose in terms of work. Every aircraft had to be up every day,” he said.
Schroeder brought back lessons from his time in theater and said that being with the unit every day helped him learn that just fixing a problem sometimes is not good enough – it is prioritizing which problem to fix that is sometimes the most important challenge. Which makes his advice for future engineers not all that surprising.
While engineering students learn essential skills in college, Schroeder’s guidance for the next generation of liaison engineers is to think outside of the classroom - and the office cube.
“Try to get a deep dive into something – get as much hands-on experience as possible,” he advised. “If you are still in college, intern or get a side job in a machine shop or some sort of apprentice work where you are using your hands, measuring, those types of tasks. That has been the most useful for me. I can come up with the repairs with all of our computing power but none of them can work without a technician who actually creates the sheet metal work. You can really differentiate yourself if you have that experience.”
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.