REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The workforce at the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center's Prototype Integration Facility here gets the job done.

The PIF has supported America's Warfighters since 2002 by rapidly prototyping and delivering technology to the battlefield, and working more than 100 ongoing projects, often around the clock.

The PIF also supports the Army's Education Outreach efforts by encouraging students to become engineers and scientists, motivating young people to be ready for the future, and helping build the bench here at Redstone Arsenal.

An important and direct means of achieving these goals is the PIF's support of local, regional and national Collegiate Cooperative Education programs.

When students participate in these co-ops, they work alongside government employees and contractors to gain on-the-job experience, learn what it is to be a member on a team, and achieve success. They also earn an income for tuition and laboratory fees.

It's win-win -- good for the student and good for the PIF. And leadership hires many co-ops each year.

"It's a great idea," said Steven Carr, PIF mechanical design lead and manager of the PIF's co-op program.

"Bringing in new blood is never a bad idea, and their enthusiasm is refreshing. They're always excited to get to work and are genuinely hard workers," he said.

It's more than simply "building the bench" because co-op students bring so much to the table.

"Co-ops are a good match for what we do at the PIF. They bring new insights into our programs and allow our engineers to be current in what's changing in the world," said Danny Featherston, PIF program manager.

One former co-op student, now a full-time employee, Travis Grant, graduated in May 2010 from The University of Alabama with a degree in electrical engineering. Grant worked at the PIF four semesters between 2007 and 2009. Today he is part of the PIF's technical execution group and has worked on projects like UH-60 MEDEVAC carousel refurbishment and the Army Airborne Command and Control System.

For Grant, already set on being a career engineer, seeing the PIF workforce and its dedication convinced him he wanted to be a part of the organization.

"I was instantly blown away at the hands-on nature of work that went on here," Grant said. "It became readily apparent to me that the PIF was where I wanted to go should they choose to make me an offer. Not long after the tour, I received an offer and hastily accepted it."

First impressions are not just made by the prospective employee.

"In all the interviews [I had] before, the people seemed bland and just going through another day of work. The PIF guys, though, were honestly excited about their job. You can tell the people who are faking excitement and the people who truly are. The PIF guys truly love their jobs," said Zachary Jones, an Auburn University co-op student, currently working toward a mechanical engineering degree.

While working on projects such as Apache 30mm chaingun laser boresighter, multifunction display airflow diverter, CH-47 F-Model - used to cool MFD Displays, Blue Force Tracking Security vehicle mobile TOC kits, and an upgrade for the Apache Pilot M4 gun mount, Jones learned lessons that he can use wherever he chooses to work after graduation.

"I've worked hands-on with projects that, as a mechanical guy, are a dream to work on," Jones said. "Being at college after working here made me appreciate this place so much more, leading me not only to try to be on time, but to try to be early."

Future scientists and engineers looking for challenges and opportunities that universities can't always provide, the co-op program fills the gap and more.

"I learned from a broad range of people covering many teams: the shop, test and inspection, shipping and receiving, budget, contracts, technical data, design, program management, and more," said Whitney Montgomery.

Montgomery began her co-op work at the PIF in 2008 while working toward a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering from the University of Alabama. After graduating in May 2010, she transitioned into a full-time project lead position within the PIF's missiles team and has been working on various Patriot projects and smaller design efforts for the HELLFIRE missile and the guided multiple launch rocket system.

Proud of what he has accomplished, Zachary Jones is eager to spread the word about the PIF workforce.

"When people ask about co-op'ing as an engineer, I tell them to have the PIF on their interview list," Jones said.

"One of my friends who is co-op'ing elsewhere had a class with me this summer. He was shocked at how much I loved my job and said he wished he had interviewed with the PIF, too."