Members of the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team, pictured at Detroit Arsenal, Michigan, include employees who additionally serve in the National Guard or Army Reserve.
Members of the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team, pictured at Detroit Arsenal, Michigan, include employees who additionally serve in the National Guard or Army Reserve. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

DETROIT ARSENAL, Mich. — The Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team (NGCV CFT) recognizes that Soldier insights are invaluable when it comes to understanding the nuances of how warfighters will use new equipment on the battlefield.

In addition to hosting Soldier touchpoints to gather warfighter feedback on prototype systems, the NGCV CFT draws expertise from its own staff, many of whom currently serve or have served as Soldiers.

"Our mission is to provide new combat vehicle capabilities for the total force,” said Brig. Gen. Geoffrey Norman, director of the NGCV CFT. “To do that, we need to tap into the knowledge, skills and abilities of a combined team of active-duty, Guard and Reserve Soldiers, along with our Army Civilian teammates. Our Guard and Reserve Soldiers bring their own unique insights, which help to enable us to accomplish that mission.”

The NGCV team, which is made up of about 35 members, currently includes seven National Guard members and three Army Reserve members who are serving either in full-time Soldier, Department of the Army Civilian or contractor roles – and who appreciate the opportunity to apply their experiences serving in the Army to the work at hand.

The team, which is based at Detroit Arsenal, Michigan, is part of the broader Army team that is developing the XM30 Combat Vehicle, the M10 Booker and Robotic Combat Vehicles, among other efforts.

Soldiers participate in an XM30 Combat Vehicle Soldier touchpoint at Detroit Arsenal, Michigan.
Soldiers participate in an XM30 Combat Vehicle Soldier touchpoint at Detroit Arsenal, Michigan. Gaining input from Soldiers across the Total Army is a driving force for the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

“Things that I’ve learned, systems and experiences that I’ve had in the Reserve, I’ve been able to apply to the civilian side,” said Karen Bryant, an NGCV CFT operations manager who also serves as a master sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Bryant explained that she joined the Army Reserve on her 17th birthday and became a Department of the Army Civilian at age 20.

“My entire adulthood has been connected to service,” she said.

Bryant spent several years working for the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center before transitioning to her role with the NGCV CFT. She also served as a small group instructor in the Army Reserve, gaining combat experience and becoming familiar with military terminology along the way. She is now able to apply expertise gained from both areas of her past work to support NGCV CFT operations.

“I feel like it’s still one mission, I’m just wearing a different outfit,” she said.

She also sees value in having Army personnel from various fields, experiences and hiring mechanisms participate actively in future force design and development efforts.

“To secure that advantage in overmatch on the battlefield, we need to be leaning forward,” Bryant said.

Master Sgt. Karen Bryant, left, is a member of the Army Reserve and a Department of the Army Civilian. Her background includes teaching small group courses on leadership.
Master Sgt. Karen Bryant, left, is a member of the Army Reserve and a Department of the Army Civilian. Her background includes teaching small group courses on leadership at non-commissioned officer academies around the country. “I think being in those instructor/leadership positions definitely helped with working with service members full time on the civilian side – understanding the language, the acronyms, the Army way of doing things,” Bryant said. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

Maj. Brian Szczepanek, who began serving in the Michigan National Guard 20 years ago, has been a member of the NGCV CFT’s operations team for approximately two years.

His current active-duty role is informed by previous experiences supporting domestic and international Army activities, including deploying to Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and, more recently, working on command and control activities for Army North’s COVID-19 response.

Szczepanek said he recognizes he is like many other Soldiers who have served in both part-time and full-time capacities over the years to support the global war on terror and other defense initiatives.

“About 50% of the Army’s combat power is in the Guard,” Szczepanek explained.

Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team (NGCV CFT) employees Maj. Brian Szczepanek, left, and Karen Bryant are members of the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, respectively.
Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team (NGCV CFT) employees Maj. Brian Szczepanek, left, and Karen Bryant are members of the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, respectively. Szczepanek, who has completed two deployments to Iraq and one deployment to Afghanistan, sees the Army as an organization that offers a broad array of opportunities. The Army “is what you put into it,” he said. Bryant agrees. “I don’t think I would have had this life and these opportunities if I didn’t join the Army,” she said. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Dan Heaton, NGCV CFT) VIEW ORIGINAL

Szczepanek initially enlisted in the National Guard for education benefits. After he completed his college degree, he was able to commission as an officer in the Michigan National Guard, through a college ROTC program.

His work with the NGCV CFT is now driven by a desire to help with “the realization of desired capabilities while also mitigating or negating perceived risks.”

“We have to be able to – number one – counter what (our adversaries) are trying to do and either enhance or fulfill what we’re trying to do in that same timeframe,” Szczepanek said of the Army’s need to maintain a strategic advantage over near-peer adversaries.

The work he contributes to the team includes consideration of how National Guard formations will use next-generation combat vehicles down the road.

“Guard members are right there serving with our active-duty counterparts, informing how Guard formations, when they are activated, are going to be using the same equipment and accomplishing the same missions,” Szczepanek said.

Another NGCV CFT colleague, Brianna Hemwall, is a knowledge management specialist for the Department of the Army and a captain in the Michigan National Guard.

Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team employee Brianna Hemwall is a Department of the Army Civilian and a captain in the Michigan National Guard.
Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team (NGCV CFT) employee Brianna Hemwall is a Department of the Army Civilian and a captain in the Michigan National Guard. She has worked as a knowledge management specialist with the NGCV CFT for approximately four years, completing 18 months of active-duty deployment to the Middle East and Germany during that time. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Dan Heaton, NGCV CFT) VIEW ORIGINAL

Her role at the NGCV CFT, which she has held for four years, involves “providing the right information to the right people at the right time,” whether that be through organizing communication platforms and file-sharing portals or providing IT support.

Hemwall decided to join the National Guard seven years ago, at the recommendation of a friend, to help pay off business school loans. “The educational benefits that come with being in the National Guard are amazing,” Hemwall said.

Her experience since has been rewarding, as she enjoys contributing to Army objectives both in and out of uniform. She remembers thinking she couldn’t even run a mile before joining the Guard but now commands about 90 Soldiers on the weekends and interacts with people from around the globe in her Army Civilian role during the week.

“From my point of view, both have been absolutely amazing for my career and my personal side,” she said of being a dual Army Civilian and Soldier.

“I’ve just had so much support on both ends of the scale.”