From testing equipment for the Army’s future fight to coping with a worldwide pandemic, Yuma Test Center (YTC) Commander Lt. Col. Alicia Johnson served in impactful times.
Among other things, during her tenure the test center hosted Project Convergence (PC) 2020 and 2021, the Army’s largest capabilities demonstration in 15 years.
“For me, it was like the blink of an eye,” she said. “It was a fast-moving train and an amazing experience.”
The test center was also the busiest in the Army testing virtually every piece of equipment in the ground combat arsenal. YTC hosted the first major Future Vertical Lift Cross Functional Team test with a demonstration of the SPIKE air-to-surface missile in September 2019 and a 70 kilometer test fire of the Extended Range Cannon Artillery in December 2019. Before the pandemic struck, in early 2020 YTC personnel supported the YPG 2020 open house that drew over 23,000 people, the largest public event in YPG history.
“To say we are busy is an understatement, but, more importantly, we are relevant,” Johnson said. “Yuma Test Center has been the tip of the spear of Army modernization for years and has done a remarkable job.”
Johnson credits the expertise and experience of the YTC workforce with meeting these heavy demands.
“I am amazed by the professionalism and resiliency that this workforce has displayed over the last three years,” she said. “I can’t emphasize enough how impressive this workforce is.”
When COVID struck, Johnson and YTC’s civilian directors faced the challenge of keeping the Army’s vital test mission running. Testers sent live video and data feeds back to personnel on the East Coast who were prevented from participating in person as a result of Department of Defense travel restrictions, and YTC personnel unable to maintain six feet of separation were required to wear cloth face coverings at all times. As the number of COVID cases in Yuma County rose dramatically, YTC personnel developed COVID safety protocols to ensure the Army Futures Command’s PC 20 capstone testing proceeded as planned in a safe manner. Johnson had no doubt that the YTC workforce would meet the challenge successfully.
“They selected us to host Project Convergence for a reason. They chose Yuma Test Center for its technical expertise and understanding, and our terrain.”
Johnson praises the YTC workforce for accepting the safety measures necessary to continue the mission. To protect both YPG’s resident workforce and the hundreds of visiting personnel during PC 20, a key safety concept was keeping those directly supporting Project Convergence in so-called ‘bubbles’ that were separate from each other. Visitors working on Project Convergence remained in several remote locations around YPG’s vast ranges during duty hours, and were asked to restrict their off-duty activities to only essentials like grocery shopping or purchasing gasoline
“The workforce understanding and buying in to the protective measures was critical to our success,” Johnson said. “A ‘bubble’ is only effective with the cooperation of everyone in it.”
Johnson believes that YTC’s can-do culture made the workforce resilient throughout the challenging COVID environment, as well as the normal daily operations at the Army’s busiest test center.
“I believe in our mission of protecting the men and women who protect and defend our country. When you look at the developmental test mission, it takes the initiative and expertise of so many people to accomplish. We have embraced the team concept and understand how to collectively link our time and talents to make the team better.”
As she prepares to relinquish command on May 26, she is grateful for her time leading YTC.
“My team has made me a better person and a better officer. They have invested in me as I have invested in them.”
As for advice to her successors, she offers the following:
“Invest in relationships and people. When I say invest in people, it isn’t just money: it is understanding people’s desires about what they want to do in their lives and how you can help them achieve their dreams.”