AUSTIN, Texas – National Engineers Week, which takes place from Feb. 20 to 26, provides Americans with an opportunity to acknowledge the important contributions engineers have made – and continue to make – in the building of our nation.
U.S. Army Futures Command (AFC) is taking part in the tradition by recognizing the instrumental work of our many engineers throughout the organization, whose designs and innovations are driving Army readiness for the future.
In keeping with this year’s Engineers Week theme of “Reimagining the Possible,” we asked three AFC engineers to share their thoughts on what it is like to devise solutions for future Soldiers and what continues to motivate their interest in the discipline.
Their insights on engineering, AFC and the future of the Army are summarized below.
Jessica Larson, a general engineer with the Technical Insights and Analysis Team at Army Applications Laboratory (AAL), graduated from Texas A&M University in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering.
“We work on processes, analytics, optimization,” Larson said of her field of study. “We also do human factors, so it’s actually a very wide gamut of engineering.”
Larson originally chose to relocate from Florida to Texas for college because she planned on pursuing a career in petroleum engineering – and because her grandfather, a retired lieutenant colonel, was also once an Aggie. However, she soon learned that she found the field of Industrial Engineering much more compelling.
“I have a technical mindset, but I also like the business side of things, and Industrial Engineering is really good for that,” Larson said.
As someone who had once considered serving the military, Larson was intrigued when a representative from AFC visited her program at Texas A&M to discuss the work of the Army’s newest four-star command. She went on to become one of AFC’s first interns, later joining AAL in a full-time capacity.
Larson quickly “fell in love” with her role at AAL, and she remains highly motivated by the ever-changing nature of the lab’s work.
“I am constantly learning about new technology,” she said.
Larson also admires AAL’s momentum; “they take great ideas here and run with it.”
“We specifically try to cater toward small businesses and bring small businesses into the government world,” Larson explained of AAL’s mission.
“My skillset works really well here because we’re constantly reading technical papers,” she added.
Larson helps translate technical language into commercial speak to convey the Army’s needs in a way that is approachable and actionable. Her efforts include refining problem statements, reviewing proposals, liaising between engineers and companies, and providing data and information to facilitate Army–small business partnerships.
By working across AAL’s 16 focus areas, which include robotics, artificial intelligence and electrical technology, Larson is able to apply her expertise and penchant for problem-solving in ways that propel the Army’s modernization aims. For example, she is currently engaged in projects to advance robotic combat vehicle systems and utilize exoskeleton data to monitor Soldier fitness and health.
“One thing I really love about AFC and the model we have here is that we’re trying to break down the barrier of what the Army has always done and really innovate,” she said. “I find that refreshing.”
Maj. Corey Burns, an engineer concepts officer with the Futures and Concepts Center (FCC), holds a bachelor’s degree in Engineering Design from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, and a master’s degree in Geological Engineering from Missouri University of Science and Technology. He is also currently pursuing a second master’s degree in Environmental Engineering.
Burns is what you might call a “jack-of-all-trades” engineer. He has served as a vertical and horizontal construction platoon leader and route clearance commander in Iraq, worked with Bradleys while stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, and fulfilled the role of engineer operations instructor.
His background also includes experience working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a project engineer in Oklahoma, the Commander of the 565th Engineer Detachment Forward Engineer Support Team in Afghanistan and an operations coordinator during Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irma relief efforts.
Burns was initially interested in joining the Army in an engineer or infantry role, but his interactions with Soldier engineers at a career fair at Advanced Camp changed his mind.
“There was an NCO there, and the NCO talked about how he and his team went to a village,” Burns said. “They were able to build a school and a storage facility, as well as improve their well, so they would be able to have running water. Once they got done with everything and they got in their Humvees and were driving off, the kids were running right next to the vehicles, waving and thankful for everything they had done.”
“That really just motivated me to actually become an engineer,” Burns said.
Currently, Burns serves as an engineer concepts team lead for the Maneuver Support Capability Development Integration Directorate (MS CDID) at FCC. In the role, he is responsible for identifying, developing and documenting concepts related to the protection warfighting function and engineer equities. His work includes supporting plans for operating in challenging terrain, advising on considerations such as how to construct buildings or ensure reliable power sources in an arctic environment.
“We are enablers for the maneuver force,” Burns explained.
Burns views the ability to “work toward solving problems” and “think with no boundaries” as rewarding aspects of his job, which he sees as setting up future Soldiers for success.
“I know that I’m making a difference,” Burns said.
Jason Reherman, a systems engineer with the Network Cross-Functional Team (NET CFT), holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering (Aerospace) from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a master’s degree in Program Management from the Naval Postgraduate School.
Commissioned in 1992, Reherman served seven years of active duty as an infantry officer before transitioning to a position with the Army Reserve.
He went on to work as a maintenance supervisor at a steel mill and a manufacturing lead at GE Power Systems before shifting to the engineering department.
As a Department of the Army (DA) Civilian, he has worked as a systems engineer at every echelon of the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense.
As a Reserve officer, Reherman has additionally worked with the Army Research Laboratory, with the Combat Capability Development Center (DEVCOM) Armaments Center and as a DA Systems Coordinator at the Office of the United States Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.
Today, he remains both an officer in the 75th Innovation Command and a DA Civilian.
Reherman’s Civilian work as a systems engineer for NET CFT involves assessing and enabling synchronization, vision, process and structure to “help us as a community manage modernization across all of those different capabilities.”
“The Network is a complex system-of-systems, so a lot of what we do is about how that ties together,” Reherman explained, emphasizing the importance of analyzing and optimizing the integration of systems and processes.
In addition to interacting frequently with external stakeholders, Reherman facilitates the development of systems, putting together a framework to manage the life cycle of the Army's capability sets, which incrementally deliver key network modernization updates – including satellite systems, radios, mission command applications, data fabric tools and multiple other capabilities – to operational units.
“What I enjoy most about this role is the opportunity to shape modernization,” he said, adding he feels a sense of “purpose and reward” when reflecting on the chance to “give back to the next generation of Soldiers.”
“That’s what drives me, is the opportunity to be a part of that and to bring new capabilities to the force and the Soldiers,” Reherman said.
Reherman also sees significant modernization advances occurring at the 75th Innovation Command; “We’re leveraging the civilian capabilities that some of our Citizen-Soldiers have – whether they work in academia or industry or even government – to help complement AFC and the modernization enterprise.”
As for the appeal of approaching modernization aims through an engineering lens, Reherman describes his journey toward the field as a “natural fit.”
“In school, math and science always appealed to me. I was one of the kids that always liked to take things apart and try to put them back together,” he said.
“The hands-on, practical application in engineering is what appealed to me,” he added, noting he appreciates being able to “bring everything together to make it better.”