Telling the ATEC Story The People Behind Test & Evaluation: Michael Zwiebel

By ATEC G 3-5September 14, 2022

Michael Zwiebel's father's words are indelibly etched into his memory: "Michael, do it right or don't do it at all." That simple phrase became the lifelong work ethic that guided him. It motivated him throughout his life and his 40-year career with the Department of the Army to always try harder to do it or make it better.

Zwiebel's father passed away three years ago at the age of 85. He was the president and salesman for the family’s business—a machine shop his grandfather and great uncle started during World War II that sold mechanical power transmission equipment and built packing seals for steam engines.

Zwiebel grew up in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, with his mom and dad, two brothers, and one sister. Located in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Wilkes Barre was once a prominent coal mining town. Nicknamed "The Diamond City" because of its vast coal reserves, it was an ideal place to raise a family. Everybody knew everybody, and many people spent their entire lives there without ever leaving the area.

He had a storybook childhood playing baseball in the spring, swimming at the community pool in the summer, and playing basketball in the winter. His parents attended Rotary Club and PTA meetings, and he and his brothers were boy scouts and altar boys. When he wasn’t busy playing sports, his father taught him basic home improvement skills in his basement workshop. Zwiebel spent many happy hours there, taking things apart to understand how they worked.

When he was 11, his hometown was ravaged and nearly destroyed by a flood caused by Hurricane Agnes on June 24, 1972. Zwiebel vividly recalls the aftermath of the storm and the homes, businesses, and factories that were severely damaged. His family was among the many displaced families whose homes were flood damaged.

They lived in a three-bedroom trailer for a year while their home was being repaired. Though not easy, the outpouring of human kindness he and other displaced families received more than made up for it. He learned the value of helping others from watching the selflessness and generosity of his fellow neighbors. They pitched in to help others in need despite having lost everything.

While rebuilding the town, it adopted the motto, "The valley with a heart—coming back better than ever." Watching his hometown rebuild itself and return better than before taught him a valuable lesson that served him well: there are opportunities in adversity and after failure.

Zwiebel's career path became more focused as he got older. His seventh-grade math teacher pushed him in mathematics and his 11th-grade physics teacher at Bishop Hoban piqued his interest in electronics.

The hours he spent dismantling objects in his father's workshop and his interest in math and physics helped him decide to attend college and get a degree in engineering. He also wanted to become a Navy helicopter pilot and applied to the Naval Academy but wasn't selected.

Not to be deterred, he considered reapplying during his freshman year in college. After graduating from high school in June 1978, he started attending Wilkes College in the fall. After investing a year in college, starting over at the academy didn't sound like a good idea.

He threw himself into college life and his academic studies with a naval career off the table. He enjoyed attending college, and most days, he walked or rode his bike two miles to campus. He was active in the college's engineering club and became its vice president in his senior year. He was also chairman of the local student chapter of the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers.

He didn't leave Wilkes Barre until after he graduated from Wilkes College in May 1982 and moved to Maryland in July to work at Aberdeen Proving Ground, or APG.

With his Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering, Zwiebel started at the Material Test Directorate, now Aberdeen Test Center, or ATC, as a project engineer in the Instrumentation Development Branch of the Materials and Analysis Division.

It was a small organization doing exciting things, using computer applications to solve data collection and control problems. Zwiebel felt it was a good fit because it offered many opportunities to expand his technical skills and grow as an engineer.

That was the first of many positions of increasing responsibility Zwiebel held while at ATC. He later became chief of the Design and Methodology Branch in June 1993 and the Instrumentation Development Team leader in August 1995. The technical experts around him motivated him to be a better engineer. They gave him lots of hands-on exposure to emerging technologies to help grow his skills.

Today, Zwiebel is director of the Capabilities Integration Directorate, or DCI, at the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, or ATEC, Headquarters at APG. Before this, he was the director of the Test Management Directorate, or G9, since April 2012. After its realignment, he became the director of the new DCI directorate in October 2019.

As DCI director, Zwiebel is responsible for integrating ATEC test and evaluation infrastructure, policy, standards, and enterprise business information tools.

In addition, he's responsible for addressing ATEC's critical test and evaluation capability gaps and developing and defending the resourcing strategies needed to resolve them. He helps senior Army leaders make informed decisions by providing them with the test and evaluation capabilities necessary to collect information on the weapons and equipment that will be placed in the hands of Soldiers and throughout the lifecycle of those systems.

He leads 30 personnel in three divisions in securing resources for ATEC's test operations and infrastructure, developing test management business tools and test standards, and managing over $8 billion in test and evaluation capabilities spanning organizations at 12 locations across the country.

He considers his developmental assignments with the U.S. Cyber Command a major highlight of his career. This assignment allowed him to apply the leadership, acquisition, and capability management skills he had gained over his career to help the organization develop their capability investment and acquisition processes.

Zwiebel acquired many essential skills throughout his Army civilian career. The one he considers the most important is the ability to communicate complex problems in simple terms in a manner relevant to his audience. More than a few times, this skill proved invaluable when he had to defend ATEC's critical requirements to senior Army leaders in the Army's budgeting and programming process.

He's also proud of earning a Master of Strategic Studies in 2005 from the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

At some point, all journeys end. For Zwiebel, who is retiring in December, it’s more a beginning than an end. Work and travel always competed and interfered with spending quality time with his family and young grandsons. Now, he’s looking forward to working less and giving back some of that time lost.

It's been an incredible ride, and no one knows it better than he does. He has always measured his success by how much he loves his work, and as his 40-year career draws to a close, he can easily say he’s loved every minute of it. He doubts any of it would have been possible if not for his father’s sage advice on doing a job well. He hopes he made him proud.