Local educators meet the innovators of APG

By Austin FoxApril 1, 2024

Maj. Gen. Robert Edmonson, commanding general of U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command and Aberdeen Proving Ground senior commander, poses for a selfie with educators from the local community while flying on a Blackhawk helicopter during Immersion Day at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, March 21, 2024. Immersion Day brought educators, school administrators and community leaders to APG to learn more about opportunities on post. (U.S. Army photo by Austin Fox)
1 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Maj. Gen. Robert Edmonson, commanding general of U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command and Aberdeen Proving Ground senior commander, poses for a selfie with educators from the local community while flying on a Blackhawk helicopter during Immersion Day at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, March 21, 2024. Immersion Day brought educators, school administrators and community leaders to APG to learn more about opportunities on post. (U.S. Army photo by Austin Fox) (Photo Credit: Austin Fox) VIEW ORIGINAL
Erica Harris, C. Milton Wright High School Principal, listens to a presentation during Immersion Day at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, March 21, 2024. Immersion Day brought educators, school administrators and community leaders to APG to learn more about opportunities on post. (U.S. Army photo by Austin Fox)
2 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Erica Harris, C. Milton Wright High School Principal, listens to a presentation during Immersion Day at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, March 21, 2024. Immersion Day brought educators, school administrators and community leaders to APG to learn more about opportunities on post. (U.S. Army photo by Austin Fox) (Photo Credit: Austin Fox) VIEW ORIGINAL
Dr. Jessica Jones, a biologist with Defense Center for Public Health-Aberdeen, passes a cockroach to a Soldier participating in Immersion Day at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, March 21, 2024. Immersion Day brought educators, school administrators and community leaders to APG to learn more about opportunities on post. (U.S. Army photo by Austin Fox)
3 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Dr. Jessica Jones, a biologist with Defense Center for Public Health-Aberdeen, passes a cockroach to a Soldier participating in Immersion Day at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, March 21, 2024. Immersion Day brought educators, school administrators and community leaders to APG to learn more about opportunities on post. (U.S. Army photo by Austin Fox) (Photo Credit: Austin Fox) VIEW ORIGINAL
Immersion Day participants receive a flight brief at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, March 21, 2024. Immersion Day brought educators, school administrators and community leaders to APG to learn more about opportunities on post. (U.S. Army photo by Austin Fox)
4 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Immersion Day participants receive a flight brief at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, March 21, 2024. Immersion Day brought educators, school administrators and community leaders to APG to learn more about opportunities on post. (U.S. Army photo by Austin Fox) (Photo Credit: Austin Fox) VIEW ORIGINAL

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Erica Harris navigates the halls of C. Milton Wright High School with confident authority. As she weaves between students and greets colleagues with a welcoming smile, her ability to identify a dress code infraction in one step and offer a word of encouragement in the next seems almost instinctual. As the school’s principal, Harris is charged with a myriad of responsibilities. Of Harris’ many duties, including the safety of her students, mentorship for her educators, and keeping the school’s population of parents well informed, one task stands at the center of everything she does: preparing Harford County students for their graduation into adulthood. For Harris, it’s more than implementing a curriculum or pushing students toward higher education. It’s about putting every possible path in front of her kids so they can find their way into a meaningful life and contribute to society. At every possible opportunity, Harris jumps at the chance to participate in events around the community that may benefit her students. Aberdeen Proving Ground Immersion Day did just that.

Immersion Day brought approximately 30 educators, community leaders, and Soldiers together on March 21 to tour APG and to understand the unit’s missions on post. The event allowed Harris, along with other school administrators from the community, to bring back a wealth of information to their students and colleagues.

“It was very interesting, the standpoint of how APG works, where you’ve got the civilian piece, and you’ve got the military piece,” Harris said. “It really kind of laid open that the right people don’t know what goes on at APG.”

As the home to several Army units at the forefront of research, development, and modernization, APG’s success is heavily reliant on a skilled workforce, especially in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM. For educators and youth leaders in the community, understanding the opportunities at APG is as obvious as it is auspicious. The overarching goal of wanting the best for their students, like advanced education and a job in STEM, can be achieved, quite literally, right down the road..

One such institution, housing as much opportunity as it is groundbreaking research for the DOD, is the Defense Centers for Public Health-Aberdeen. After a quick trip down Route 40 to APG South (Edgewood), Harris and her colleagues began their day at DCPH-A. A subordinate organization of the Defense Health Agency, DCPH-A is one of several centers focused on military public health.

From a hands-on laboratory experience with DCPH-A researchers, to an up-close visit with a few Madagascar hissing cockroaches, participants saw the work being done daily to support the public health of the military community.

Dr. Jessica Jones, a biologist with DCPH-A, underscored the impact of events like Immersion Day and how speaking with educators offers a bridge to students. As a specialist in the Vector-Borne Disease Branch, Jones led a discussion with participants aided by insects and other tools of her trade.

“I would like to reach as many people as I can by casting a wide net to hopefully trickle down that information to the rest of the community,” Jones said. “It would not be reasonable to visit with all of the kids from all of the schools that are represented here today.”

Jones radiates excitement about her work, proudly holding up a cell phone-sized cockroach to the educators in the room like a beacon of off-putting enlightenment. Harris is one of the few unfazed by the bugs, soaking in Jones’ information while curiously inspecting the insects.

STEM is the way forward

Following their time at DCPH-A, the Immersion Day group was greeted by leaders from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense. A component of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, MRICD works to enable warfighters by developing medical solutions in response to chemical threats.

One presentation, which focused on new Army technology to detect chemical exposure with blood test kits developed from standard glucometers, was particularly impactful for Harris.

“How they are parlaying what they’ve learned about glucometers into things they can use and upgrading the materials so that there’s an ease of use for Soldiers,” Harris said. “Those are scientists who are [Army] civilians who are working on it, and it will be for the troops, but then could be used in other situations as well.”

For visitors, discovering this work was revelatory, and for some, quite exciting. For those  doing the work, this type of innovation is indicative of APG. The APG workforce continuously transforms the landscape of their respective fields, developing new techniques and developing pathways to push the boundaries of technology.

Maj. Gen. Robert Edmonson, commanding general of Communications-Electronics Command and APG senior commander, joined the group throughout the day. At every opportunity, Edmonson emphasized the groundbreaking work on post, the foundational role of the APG workforce and the need to find the next generation of innovators.

“There is a race for talent underway in the United States, and it is absolutely critical that we in Harford County and Cecil County capitalize on the potential that is at APG,” Edmonson said.

Commanding a global workforce with thousands of employees, Edmonson understands where trends are headed.

“Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math is the way forward; STEM is important to the high schools, it’s important to the colleges, and it’s important to Aberdeen Proving Ground,” Edmonson said. “If we want to remain the world’s premier fighting force, it is absolutely critical that we surround our Soldiers with the best technology to win and win fast.”

Roughly halfway through Immersion Day, the group found themselves preparing for a view of APG unlike any other. Hosted by the Maryland Army National Guard, Harris and her colleagues were given a tour of the flight facility at Weide Army Heliport. After walking through a few different aircraft and learning more about the MDARNG mission, the group stepped out on to the airfield and found themselves walking toward a Blackhawk helicopter. With ear protection in and belts buckled, they were airborne.

Understanding the impact

With wind-whipped hair and chilly faces, the group next visited the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives Command for more hands-on experience with state-of-the-art equipment and an opportunity fair to speak with dozens of APG organizations.

For Harris though, the stop at 20th CBRNE offered something more worthwhile. As one of the majority military organizations on post, Soldiers were the primary presenter, which allowed for discussion with some of the warfighters that put this technology into practice.

“There was a lot of eye-opening stuff from our military counterparts,” Harris said. “They talked about how they enlisted, and how they got there, and how that wasn’t necessarily their plan from the beginning.”

Speaking with Soldiers who love their work but hadn’t set out on their current path initially had a significant resonance with Harris. For educators, Harris said, you seldom come across students who know exactly what they want to do and have a plan to achieve that goal.

“There were a lot of people, very much like me, who were career changers,” Harris said.

Aside from the near limitless opportunities to serve as an Army Civilian, Harris wanted to make sure she had a solid grasp on understanding service as a Soldier for students who set out to join the Army.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Allen, a master trainer with the U.S. Army Baltimore Recruiting Battalion, was a part of the Immersion Day group throughout the day and highlighted the importance of working with the community.

“I think this is something we need to do more of,” Allen said. “Expand it out to more teachers and more principals in the community.”

Familiarizing educators and students with opportunities in the Army is a pillar of Allen’s work as a recruiter. As a master trainer with years of experience recruiting, Allen exudes knowledge and a desire to help students achieve their goals.”

“I think this [Immersion Day] is really good tool to showcase that we’re not just about blowing stuff up, we’re about the STEM field too.” Allen added.

The day culminated in a fitting location. Some of the Army’s most essential, advanced and timely work occurs at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command C5ISR Center, and the group had a front-row seat to the work that supports American troops around the world.

From experimental batteries that are wearable and long lasting, to advanced solar testing facilities and energy storage, the team at DEVCOM was able to show the group how truly impactful it can be to work at APG.

Harris and her colleagues rode quietly back on the bus to their cars. Though riddled with yawns after eight hours on their feet the group still couldn’t stop talking about their students. They promised to touch base about something they saw, exchanged emails to coordinate later, and prepared what they planned on bringing back to their teams.

The free world demands a U.S. Army that is well-prepared and globally ready. The next generation of innovators that will continue and transform our Army for the better are sitting in classrooms around the country, unsure of what they will be. Luckily, educators like Harris and her colleagues in the community remain unwavering in their commitment to their students, ready to give gentle guidance or, in some cases, a push.

“Each place we visited was so focused on how what they were creating would be for the betterment of not just the military, but of the world,” Harris said. “Each place, they’re passionate about what they were doing, and the impact it is going to have.”