ORLANDO, Fla. - After 27 years of developing the best technology for Army Soldiers, Dr. Gerardo Melendez received an award for executive excellence in the military.

"I have been exposed to great leaders and mentors in the U.S. Army," he said during his acceptance speech Oct. 8 at the 2010 Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference before about 500 people from the military, industry and universities. "Seeing in me, not a Hispanic engineer, but simply an engineer committed to the common cause of supporting our men and women in uniform, they pulled me up."

Major Gen. Nick Justice, commanding general of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, presented the honor to Melendez.

"Freedom isn't free," the general said. "The treasure of our nation, the young men and women who serve in our Armed Forces, the best technology, the best equipment that we can provide them as a nation.

"Dr. Gerry Melendez has spent 27 years as a government career civilian working for the Army, providing just those technologies."

Melendez thanked those who helped him achieve his goals.

"My accomplishments have been made possible by family, friends and colleagues around me who willingly lifted me higher," he said. "I am fortunate, perhaps even blessed, because I have experienced this synchronized push-pull.

"On the push side, I count my parents' relentless emphasis on education and my family's support, which enabled me to emphasize my advanced education and career."

Melendez started in June as director of the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center in Picatinny, N.J. He reflected on his new position, as well as past assignments, during an interview in August.

Through all his positions, he has focused on RDECOM's mission -- to empower, unburden and protect the Warfighter to enable the dominance of the Army.

"You go to work in developing some systems -- and then you have some guys -- and in their view, their lives had been saved by the system you helped develop," he said. "That really gets you.

"The capabilities we've fielded, that we've enabled the fielding of -- those are always great accomplishments, especially when you get feedback. That whatever you did saved the life of a Soldier or made the life of a Soldier more bearable."

He holds a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from Tulane University, a master's degree in electrical engineering from Brown University, and doctorate in electrical engineering from Drexel University and a master's degree in strategic studies from the Army War College.

Melendez, like all Army researchers, has encountered obstacles and disappointments when developing new technology for Soldiers in the battlefield.

"You really have to get many different stakeholders to align and decide whatever you're trying to do," he said in August. "I approach the problem more in terms of aligning motivations, because dealing with that side of a person is a better way to motivate, to galvanize people, to get them behind an idea and execute."