Telling the ATEC Story: The People Behind Test & Evaluation - Caitlin Kaehny

By ATEC G 3-5March 11, 2024

Caitlin Kaehny is no stranger to struggle. She grew up in a small trailer park community in Perryman, Maryland, raised by a mother who struggled with managing money. This struggle led to many a month when basic necessities became luxuries. Too often, the electricity had been shut off or the phone disconnected due to unpaid bills. But those early struggles became Kaehny's greatest sources of strength and instilled in her the values of financial stability and security.

Now, Kaehny is a program analyst in the Operations Division of the G3/5/7 Directorate at the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, or ATEC, located on Aberdeen Proving Ground, or APG, in Harford County, Maryland. Her journey to ATEC, which culminated in July 2022, was neither straightforward nor easy but nonetheless filled with hard-earned successes and significant learning experiences.

Her journey began shortly after she graduated from Aberdeen High School in Aberdeen, Maryland, in 2008 and accepted a part-time clerical position at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, in Silver Springs, Maryland, filing papers, delivering mail, and making copies. When she wasn't working, she attended Harford County Community College, working toward her associate degree in business administration.

Driven by a desire to make a meaningful impact on public health and safety and inspired by her mother, who worked as a lead secretary at the FDA and was part of the team that pioneered the approval process for the initial treatment of AIDS, and her uncle’s career in the Department of Health and Human Services, she knew it was a smart move that would give her the financial stability she needed as well as a rewarding career where she could make a difference. Her mom and uncle often spoke about the benefits of working for the government and how fortunate they were, compared to their friends, to have a government job.

However, her role at the FDA was cut short in 2011 due to budget cuts, leading her to a contractor position at APG’s Network Enterprise Center, or NEC, despite lacking any information technology, or IT, experience. What the NEC needed at the time was someone who could run system reports and answer phones, both of which she could do.

Even though her expertise aligned more with business and management, as time passed, she became more fluent in performing and providing IT services, such as helpdesk support, cybersecurity, and network and system administration.

In 2015, a NEC customer offered her a position as an information management officer at the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center. In 2019, she was selected for the civilian equivalent of this job and transitioned back into the federal government. At the C5ISR, she wore multiple hats. In addition to her role as information management officer, she was also the IT helpdesk team lead, telephone control officer, and entitlement manager.

In 2021, Kaehny’s work in enterprise systems integrations earned her and her IT infrastructure team recognition as the C5ISR Center's employees of the year. Their work streamlined operations and improved decision-making for military missions. The following year, Kaehny was awarded the Department of the Army's Civilian Service Achievement Medal for leading her IT team through continuous process improvements during a major reorganization of the C5ISR Center while maintaining productivity amidst the remote work challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite her many accomplishments, after several years at C5ISR, the stress of the job, combined with the realization she was in a position that wasn't suited to her interests or skill set, made her feel burned out and frustrated. She recognized she needed a change. That need for a change led to her applying for an open position at ATEC as a program analyst in the Operations Division of the G3/5/7 Directorate.

Now that she's at ATEC, Kaehny finally feels she's where she needs to be and where she was destined all along—in a career field that aligns more closely with her values and aspirations and where she can make a tangible and positive impact. Even though she's only been at ATEC for a relatively short time, she quickly proved her worth and was named the G3 employee of the quarter twice in 2023.

Kaehny began at ATEC primarily managing orders—operations orders, warning orders, fragmentary orders, and operations plans—and distributing them to the workforce. She now manages ATEC's Army Requirements Oversight Council, or AROC, as its coordinator.

AROC is a group within the U.S. Army that helps decide what equipment, technology, and resources the Army needs to do its job effectively. The group reviews and approves requirements for new weapons, vehicles, systems, and other things the Army might need. The AROC ensures the Army gets what it requires to stay prepared and successful in its missions. Her role as coordinator involves organizing crucial meetings across the Army to discuss and determine Army requirements with senior leadership. Kaehny ensures these discussions and decisions are well-organized and ATEC’s testing and evaluation strategies are clearly presented.

She explains that the AROC process allows the Army to examine directed or requested capabilities and evaluate whether they will add value to the force. ATEC's role is to test and evaluate these capabilities to see if they are effective, suitable, survivable, and safe. With the testing capabilities that ATEC provides, the Warfighter can trust that their equipment, munitions, and everything they touch has been thoroughly tested and evaluated and are reliable for the missions they have been given.

Despite her non-technical background—she has no technical certifications or formal training in the IT field, Kaehny mastered the art of learning on the job while working at the C5ISR Center. She was always willing to ask questions to increase her knowledge and understanding so she could contribute positively to her team. The same holds true for AROC. Kaehny says there are so many types of topics and systems in the AROC process that there's no way she can possibly know them all in detail in the short time she's been coordinator. However, participating in the meetings and getting high-level overviews has helped her learn and understand the things she needs to know about tests and evaluations and how to communicate what she knows to others. For her, being effective in her job is about showing up, staying positive, and always being ready to pitch in and help out where needed. It’s about making sure she’s at the table, even if it’s just to listen and learn.

Kaehny's personal life is as rich and rewarding as her professional one. She met Chris, her husband of 7 years, while she was a contractor at NEC. They realized they were going through similar things after being thrown together on several projects. They also shared a lot of the same life philosophies. Now, they are raising three adorable children who are the center of their world. Knowing firsthand what it's like to struggle, Kaehny is beyond thankful for what her family has: security, financial stability, and a whole lot of love. She remembers the days without electricity, phones, or even basic school supplies all too well and is determined to make sure her kids never have to face that.

Kaehny is all about learning from her past and never missing a beat to better herself. Her approach to life is deeply influenced by the Japanese concept of Kaizen, the philosophy of continuous improvement or change for the better. This principle guides her not just in her professional endeavors but also in her personal growth and relationships. She strives to be a better version of herself each day, to learn from her experiences, and to pass these lessons on to her children. The quote, "Step back. Evaluate. Recognize," sums up her life philosophy and reminds her to appreciate the journey, acknowledge the progress, and continuously realign her goals and aspirations for the future.

Despite humble beginnings marked by financial struggles, or perhaps because of them, Kaehny’s journey is a testament to the power of determination, the importance of finding one’s true path, and the ability for resilience and hard work to pay off. Yet, even with her resolve to carve out a different type of future for herself and her family, Kaehny never imagined that financial stability, once an elusive dream, would one day enable her to provide her family with the comfortable life they now enjoy, free from the financial worries that clouded her childhood. Financial stability is something she deeply appreciates, with the understanding that not everyone is as fortunate. Her gratitude for what she has been given continuously motivates her to pay it forward whenever she can and appreciate the small things that make life rich and fulfilling.

At the heart of her success has always been this simple truth that guided her journey from the start: true wealth is not just about having enough money to pay the bills but about creating a life rich in purpose and meaning.