REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. – Internships and college jobs provide students the opportunity to learn critical job skills and build their resumes, but for one U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command team member, her internship also means following in her family’s footsteps to be a part of something bigger than herself and support Soldiers in the field.
Kaylee Ray, USASMDC Technical Center, joined the command in July 2021 as a research aide, where she has been working with technical subject matter experts and learning about the impact an engineers’ work can have on Soldiers.
“It’s great to watch and have a role in the process of taking an idea and turning it into a real capability that assists Soldiers on the ground,” Ray said. “I’ve had the chance to work with and learn from people who have dedicated their lives to studying engineering and who are incredibly passionate about the defense industry and the work they do to support Soldiers.”
Ray is a freshman in the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s engineering program, but her interest in the field started long before college.
“When I was really little, my family lived with my great grandparents for a while,” Ray said. “My great-grandfather was a jack of all trades, master of none. While he never got a degree in engineering, he could do a little bit of everything- electrical work, wood working, metal working, air-conditioning. He’d take me out to do tinkering projects with him and I always loved doing stuff like that.”
Her great-grandfather, Floyd Battles, also worked for the Army most of his life, and Ray said she loved hearing his Army stories growing up. These inspired her to work with the Army, to contribute to and protect the country.
Ray also has ties specifically to USASMDC.
“My father worked for SMDC for 17 years,” Ray said. “He was part of the team that worked on SMDC-One in the Concepts Analysis Division and put the Army back into space after 50 years. I got to grow up watching him do that and hearing him talk about it.”
A month before beginning her freshman year at UAH, Ray joined the university’s Systems Management and Production program, which assigns intern engineers jobs either on campus or at government facilities as contractors. USASMDC has a long history of hiring and training interns from various programs, including the SMAP program.
“Some of my coworkers worked here while they were in the SMAP program and after they finished college they were able to come on full time with SMDC. That’s my goal,” Ray said.
During her time at USASMDC, Ray has had the opportunity to meet the Secretary of the Army, participate in field testing, and learn how an idea can become a real Army capability.
“I’ve really enjoyed watching the process of how these projects turn into something that can assist the Soldiers on the ground,” Ray said. “It’ll start as an idea, pitch and proposal. Then you have to put the hardware together and get the software working. Then there’s lots of testing and learning through trial and error. It’s just really great to have a part in this process and see these projects and ideas become something larger that can help Soldiers.”
Ray has also had the opportunity to work with seasoned USASMDC engineers, who she says, have the Soldiers at the forefront of every project they work.
“The engineers I’ve worked with are really dedicated and passionate about what they do, and you can see it through their work,” Ray said. “They take precautions to make sure what we do is the best that it can be to ensure the safety and protection of our Soldiers. We’ve gotten feedback from Soldiers saying they appreciate what we’re doing, because it’s so crucial to get that information back to them as quickly as possible.”
Ray said that as she supports the USASMDC team and Soldiers in the field, Technical Center engineers have supported and mentored her.
“I’ve quickly learned a lot of skills I wouldn’t have expected to be able to learn,” Ray said. “SMDC has the best people who are so willing to help, teach and mentor. They show you what they’re working on and help you to understand it, and I really appreciate that.”