By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneOctober 1, 2010
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- For an engineer who first tested his mettle on the aviation and missile systems of Redstone Arsenal in the 1980s, being assigned to the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center is like going home.
But going home for Eric Edwards doesn't involve working on a new military system for an Arsenal customer. Rather, it means immersing this engineer-turned-manager into all the technology and development that has made AMRDEC a research powerhouse at Redstone, throughout the Army's Research Development and Engineering Command, and among the Department of Defense's research institutions.
As the new director of AMRDEC, Edwards continues a high standard of engineering know-how and can-do that defined the organization during the tenure of its previous director, Dr. Bill McCorkle (who was named director of AMRDEC's former organization -- the Army's Missile Laboratory -- in 1980 and then the director of AMRDEC in 1997), and continued under the temporary leadership of AMRDEC's Dr. Robin Buckelew in late 2009 and early 2010.
"AMRDEC was an opportunity that presented itself when Dr. McCorkle retired," Edwards said. "But filling his shoes is difficult. He is a legend. A lot of the things in the hands of today's war fighters are directly attributed to his legacy."
Edwards joined AMRDEC in May, in the days surrounding the tragic death of two AMRDEC contractors in an explosion at one of the organization's facilities. And, although that tragedy is still seeking closure as investigators work to determine the cause, Edwards is optimistic that the employees of AMRDEC will be stronger and better because of it.
"We lost two great employees that day, and we've lost a few others since in off-duty accidents," he said. "We take those losses personally. These employees were part of our family. They made a difference here and in the local community. We continue in our mission in their honor."
Edwards' 27-year engineering career has touched on many of the programs that have also been on AMRDEC's radar. A Grissom High graduate, he began as an engineering trainee in 1983 with the Missile Intelligence Agency as part of the University of Alabama Co-operative Education Program. After college, he continued to work with MIA, analyzing Soviet surface-to-air missiles and anti-satellite weapons.
From there, his career took him to the Missile Command's Special Programs Integration Office, Joint Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Project Office and Targets Management Office. He has worked for the NATO Medium Extended Air Defense Systems Management Agency and on programs associated with the Utility Helicopters Project Office, Air Warrior Product Office, Comanche Project Office, Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter Program and Lower Tier Project Office.
In September 2008, Edwards was selected for the Senior Executive Service and appointed to serve as the director of the Aviation and Missile Command's Integrated Materiel Management Center.
Although he felt his time at IMMC was productive and rewarding, Edwards is glad to get back to his engineering roots at AMRDEC.
"IMMC was a wonderful organization in terms of providing parts to Soldiers," Edwards said. "But I'm an engineer by degree. That's where my heart is. And I'm thrilled to be back in the engineering world."
Yet, this assignment is different. Instead of working technical issues involving missile integration, unmanned aerial systems and helicopters, Edwards is charting the strategic path for a highly recognized Army organization charged with providing research development and engineering technology and services for aviation and missile platforms across the life cycle.
"Our job up here (in the director's suite) is to make sure our employees have the resources to do their job," Edwards said. "It's very important for us to grow the bench, to recruit from our local universities. For that reason, it's important to continue the great, great strides made by Dr. Buckelew in education outreach."
But educational institutions are important to AMRDEC for other reasons besides recruiting. Edwards views them -- as well as industry -- as a partner in technology research.
"It's important to recognize that we need to be partners with academia and industry. We're all in technology research and development together. If one fails, it will likely affect the others," he said.
"I want us to reach out to our industry and academia partners as well as other government agencies to further our research and development."
Even as he works to "fill the shoes" of AMRDEC's McCorkle, Edwards is looking toward the future. Along with building partnerships, he also will work with AMRDEC leadership to chart a strategic path for an organization of 3,200 Department of Defense civilians and 4,200 contractors at Redstone; Moffit Airfield, Calif.; Fort Eustis, Va.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Corpus Christi Army Depot, Texas.
"Even though I was well-aware of the work AMRDEC employees have been doing, I was blown away by the pure depth and breadth of what's going on in this organization. There are some incredible things going on in basic research and applied research," he said.
"The support we give to the war fighter, and to the program managers and program executive officers is outstanding. It never ceases to amaze me at what our employees are doing every day. I really didn't appreciate some of the science and technology going on here."
As for those employees, Edwards asks that they "basically exhibit the Army values every day, and ask themselves 'What can I do to better support our Soldiers'' I look for experience and diversity in employees. I look for employees who are constantly trying to improve themselves both professionally and personally, and who have a good work/life balance."
Of those challenges facing AMRDEC, recruiting and maintaining a quality engineering work force is a top priority.
"We need to continue outreach programs that grow the interest of youth in science and technology," Edwards said.
Communicating the AMRDEC story to its mother organization - the Research Development and Engineering Command - is also a top priority, especially in a time of funding issues.
"I don't know if they have a full appreciation for what we do or the commodities we support," Edwards said. "What we do here is not about AMRDEC. It's about the customer and what we do to support the customer."
He also wants to work to "re-establish a positive relationship with our congressional delegation."
The challenge facing all Army organizations these days is finding ways to create efficiencies that help reduce costs without compromising employees or value.
"We need to make sure AMRDEC is organized in a way that is most efficient and relevant to the customers we support today," he said.
AMRDEC is a partner in the Aviation and Missile Command's life cycle management emphasis. It's a partnership that creates challenges as organizations work closely together on aviation and missile systems from their inception and throughout their life cycle.
"AMCOM is the model life cycle management command. The relationship that we have with the program executive offices, IMMC, G-3 and AMCOM leadership is absolutely phenomenal. There are times we disagree. But we are a very close knit group. We've grown up together and we know what it takes to work together. We are a model of how it can work as a life cycle management command in supporting the Soldier."
Edwards said his career has been blessed with good leadership and good teams that have shown him how to "take care of people and how to encourage employees."
"It's easy to look good when you are a member of good teams," he said. "I have worked with some great leaders and mentors."
Edwards can't think of a better team to be on than the one at AMRDEC.
"We have 118 PhDs here. They're the 100-pound brains. And they are all doing the science and technology on the next great idea for supporting the war fighter," Edwards said.
"My job is to make sure they and all of AMRDEC's employees have the resources and leadership to get the job done."