REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (Sept. 7, 2023) - Be all you can be.
It is a familiar slogan that resurfaced as part of the U.S. Army’s push to gain and retain more recruits. For many cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, the question isn’t whether you can be all you can be, it’s how to be set on the correct path to reach one’s full potential. What comes with that effort? More hands-on learning, which includes a program set up specifically to help cadets make the right decision in their majors — the Advanced Individual Academic Development program, or AIAD.
One of the potential stops in the program: The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center.
“It’s out of the lab or classroom experience they’re not going to get in the academy,” says Jody Creekmore AvMC Black Hawk Aircrew Trainer Project Director and Senior Engineer. “They’re not going to get a lot of opportunity to either apply, or touch or feel anything that’s related to their undergraduate degree. This is for cadets who have to balance a lot in their summer with military training, it’s not like a traditional internship where they are here all summer long. It will be for three weeks, and it will probably be the only opportunity in their time at the academy to have a hands-on opportunity like this.”
So how does the Academic Individual Advance Development program work? It provides cadets an opportunity to be immersed in a setting that helps advance their knowledge in their major and do research alongside mentors who shepherd them through their internship. All of this furthers their field of study and gives them a look into real-world applications in both a civil and military capacity.
Creekmore, being a West Point graduate himself, has a desire to help the next generation of officers and Soldiers find ways to further their careers, in both a current military mindset and wherever their futures take them.
“I think this is the best opportunity that the Academy can offer them, given the limited amount of time they have to be exposed to something outside of the classroom.”
The cadets that came through his department this summer were Michael Berlingieri, Marisa Swiatek, Ethan Reinhardt, Beatriz “Bea” de los Heros de Uriarte. Most are declared mechanical engineers — with one declared nuclear engineer — were eager to better understand the manufacturing process in a full application setting. It’s a hard-pressed learning curve with a three-week timeline, but it’s a timeline Creekmore pushes to make the most of.
“These are important senses: see, touch, smell and feel. The AIAD program allows them to ask questions that can help validate their decision about the undergraduate degree they’ve chosen. It’s the reason why this program exists," said Creekmore.
Not only is the program beneficial, it’s also a graduation requirement. Soaking in all the information they can is vital.
“For me, it’s understanding what a mechanical engineer is and does and what to expect from what I’m going to learn. I just want to get a grasp of what my future career can hold,” said de Uriarte, a mechanical engineer major. “It’s an opportunity to experience real Army, or real-world, mechanics. How it works, where it’s made, how it’s applied. At West Point we are in a pretty controlled environment, so this is a chance to see how people operate in a real-world setting.”
“At the Academy we learn materials, but here I hope to learn and see more of the big picture,” said Berlingieri.
Spending time with the Black Hawk Aircrew Trainer team, that’s exactly what happened: from installing cockpits for the simulators, working on the programming, reading engineering drawings and using blueprint instructions, they even were able to take a flight in a Black Hawk with pilots from the team. The experience is something Berlingieri won’t take for granted.
“Marissa and I put together a power distribution unit. It’s just a little box, but we had to run and crimp all the wires which was new for both of us. We put in power supplies and breakers and when we finished we were really proud of what we did because we had never done anything like that before.”
“I believe it’s important for AvMC that we do this,” explains Creekmore. “This is a great opportunity because one day they are going to be the ones defending you, me and this country.”
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.