PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- After more than 42 years of federal service, stretching back to days when his metal desk was one of four grouped together, a setting that created tight bonds with adjacent coworkers, John F. Hedderich III, is retiring as the head of the largest organization at Picatinny Arsenal.
Hedderich, who began his career as a mechanical engineer in the area of tank ammunition, retired as director of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Armaments Center. The center has an obligation of more than $1.3 billion, 64 laboratories, and a workforce of more than 4,000 government and support personnel.
The Armaments Center plays a role in the development of a number of U.S. Army Modernization Priorities, including a primary focus on Long Range Precision Fires, and is part of the Army Futures Command.
Hedderich's retirement ceremony was held on May 23, with an official retirement date of June 3.
DEVCOM Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Edmond “Miles” Brown, noted that the critical role of providing lethality to Soldiers on the battlefield is a defining feature of the Armaments Center.
“John and his team have done a lot to enable not only the modernization priorities but lethality. It is unique here,” Brown said. “The team puts lethality in the hands of Soldiers and formations in a very personal way.”
Brown also noted the Armaments Center’s strong commitment to safety, a notable feature of Hedderich’s legacy. Brown said that the safe transport of explosives and energetics materials through supply chains has been an ongoing concern of the Armaments Center, the type of attention to detail that makes a difference between life and death on the battlefield.
Acting Commanding General of the U.S. Army Futures Command, Lt. Gen. James M. “Jim” Richardson, who hosted the event, noted that special nature of the day because it was also the birthday of Hedderich’s wife, Margaret “Maggie” Hedderich. She was also presented with the Meritorious Public Service Award.
“Family is very important to John, who grew up in Bergen, New Jersey,” Richardson said. “John is part of a tight-knit family where you work things out and learn together. This translated into his outlook on life and leadership.”
Family members in attendance for the ceremony included siblings, nieces, nephews, granddaughters and in-laws.
“John’s office was not big enough this morning to host the (extended) family. I’ve never seen a family that large and they are all here,” Richardson added.
“DoD families are not without their struggles,” Richardson said. “They often have long hours. It can be a thankless job as a Department of the Army civilian. And Army civilians are often the unsung heroes, providing the leadership, stability, and continuity. They keep the wheels on the bus, which is what John has done for the past 42 years.”
Richardson credited Hedderich for strengthening a safety program and for his vision of an Armament Graduate School, which offers a specialized education in armaments research and development.
Over the course of the ceremony, a portrait emerged of a leader with a devotion to both his immediate family and to the larger community of colleagues that share a focused sense of mission.
“I have two families, I really do,” said Hedderich. “Our community is a family … with a mission to make this stuff so that our Soldiers and service members can do their missions and come back to their families alive and well.”
Hedderich reflected on the work environment and culture when he first starting working at Picatinny Arsenal in 1980, a time when it was common for employees to sit in four clustered metal desks with a single telephone in the center.
“We were tight,” Hedderich remembered. ”We knew each other, we knew families, wives, girlfriends and kids.” Hedderich said that the same spirit has not diminished over time. “We really do act like a family here, I think that’s our secret weapon,” he said. “We know each other and it goes back to that culture.”
The retiring director said that in 1980 in his work section there were two or three groups of four people. One such group had veterans who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
“The thing that they had in common…is that they all loved this country, they loved liberty. They were so proud that they fought for it, that they served. They were engineers, so they wanted to give even more when they got back from their service.
“It does something to you, it really does,” said Hedderich of the culture created by working with such people in close proximity. “I think there’s where I felt this love for this place, for the love of the mission. It was the way I was brought up. People say you are the product of your environment, and I truly believe that.”
Hedderich said it was critical to keep transitioning knowledge to the next generation of engineers and scientists, technicians and operations because “we have a lot of work left to do.”
Hedderich repeated a common theme that was heard in many of his town hall meetings: The work that employees may be engaged in today could well extend far into the future in the form of fielded products that can play a decisive role in whether Soldiers survive and return home safely to their families.
“They can come home because we did it—provide reliable and safe things. That’s the business we’re in. There is no Ford Motor Company for what we do.
“It’s been a great, great career for me. I love the Army and I love this place more than anything.”
During the ceremony, Hedderich was presented with Department of the Army Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, recognition for Outstanding Service in the Army Senior Executive Service, and the Meritorious Public Service Award.
The ceremony also featured music by the West Point Brass Quintet and a cannon battery salute.