REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (April 25, 2023) – 2023 started out on a high note for the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center’s Dr. Terrance West.
West, branch chief for missile science and technology execution, was named a Modern-Day Technology Leader at the Black Engineer of the Year STEM Conference awards. But it was no surprise to his DEVCOM AvMC teammates who have known West as a leader and innovator in the formation since he came on board in 2009.
Growing up in Meridian, Mississippi, and tagging along with his uncle on jobs, West thought that he would grow up to become an electrician. But thanks to high school teachers who recognized his talent for math and science, West found a new path at Mississippi State University.
However, his collegiate career actually started at Mississippi State’s in-state rival, the University of Mississippi, where in only the tenth grade, West applied for and was awarded with a physics apprenticeship. While the experience was invaluable in showing him what he wanted to do with his life, the idea of spending an entire summer away from home was daunting to the teenager.
“Then they said, ‘Hey, we will pay you eight grand,’ and I said, ‘Okay, I will go!’” West said.
He obtained a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in electrical engineering at Mississippi State. West, no stranger to opening doors for those behind him, then became the first African American to receive a PhD in electrical engineering at the university. As graduation approached, West traveled to Nevada to a job fair that connected him with DEVCOM AvMC and his Army civilian career began.
“I went all the way to Las Vegas to get a job when I was just next door to Alabama!” West said with a laugh.
West has held a multitude of roles within DEVCOM AvMC, but a pivotal opportunity came last year as he served in a development assignment as the modeling and simulation chief for the Short and Intermediate Effectors for Layer Defense Project Office under the Program Executive Office Missiles and Space. Also instrumental was his time as executive officer to the Center’s former director, James Lackey.
“It was a great experience looking at the organization from a different lens. I was able to see how my small piece in sustainment added to the overall piece of the acquisition cycle for the Army.”
When not at AvMC, West enjoys traveling and is a cigar enthusiast who enjoys not just smoking cigars but also learning and studying the different types of cigars and their composition – as a scientist would.
“Every year, Cigar Aficionado has what is called, the Big Smoke. We meet a couple of my friends and go to the cigar conference in Las Vegas where we talk to the different vendors and walk around to different booths and see the actual owners of the cigar labels and talk to them,” he said.
When West travels back to Mississippi State to mentor future engineers, his advice to them is one that comes with age and experience. As a student and young engineer, West said he was always concentrating on the next challenge, the next step. He tells the kids to appreciate where they are – there will be time to achieve all they want.
“I would say slow down, pay attention, and enjoy the path. I know the goal is always to get out, become a great engineer and solve the next problem. But make sure you enjoy the time you have in that moment. Take advantage of all the opportunities that you can to gain different perspectives and different ideas - technical and non-technical.
“I am not saying stay in school forever. But take into account the experience - and I think that that will lead you a long way.”
The DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the Army’s research and development focal point for advanced technology in aviation and missile systems. It is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. AvMC is responsible for delivering collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions, as required by the Army’s strategic priorities and support to its Cross-Functional Teams.