By Mr. Dan Lafontaine (RDECOM)November 4, 2011
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- A U.S. Army computer scientist from APG has been developing mission-critical software in Afghanistan to support Soldiers in combat.
Zach Hall, a civilian scientist with the Communications--Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, has deployed twice to Operation Enduring Freedom as part of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency team. His first tour was at Bagram Air Base; this past summer, he spent three months at a small outpost in Kandahar Province.
Federal Computer Week magazine recognized Hall in October as a "Rising Star" in government information technology for his work in theater.
DIRECTLY AFFECTING COMBAT OPERATIONS
Hall said he takes tremendous pride in providing improved capabilities to Soldiers who could then instantly use his work during a mission.
"It was mainly about keeping the Soldiers safe day to day. What can we give them to plan or executive their missions better?" Hall said. "It was an amazing feeling to give a unit software. They [would] come back from a mission, shake your hand and say, 'Thank you very much. We had to use that on a MEDEVAC and that could have very well saved his life by shortening the time it took to get a helicopter on location.' "
Gaining direct, instantaneous feedback from Soldiers is the greatest benefit to working in theater, Hall said. He would like to continue working directly with Warfighters, possibly with a U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Field Assistance in Science and Technology team.
"Working directly with Soldiers is completely different from being back here in the States," Hall said. "They tend not to have very robust communications in theater, especially at the lower echelons.
"It might take days or weeks, or you might not even get feedback from Soldiers when you're back here. When you're there with them, it is first-hand direct user feedback."
Before his deployments to Afghanistan, Hall also worked on machine-language translation programs in support of multi-national coalition exercises. He developed software as part of humanitarian and peace-keeping operations in Thailand, Japan, Nicaragua and Ecuador.
PURSUING SCIENCE AT A YOUNG AGE
Hall earned his bachelor's degree in computer science at Drexel University, where he specialized in human-computer interfaces and operating systems. Working in a co-op program for defense contractor Lockheed Martin sparked his interest in working with Warfighters. He is pursuing a master's degree in systems engineering.
If students want to pursue a career in science or engineering, Hall encourages them to start early.
"I was inspired early on. We always had a computer in the house for as long as I can remember, going back to an old DOS 386 machine," Hall said. "In high school, [I was] teaching myself Java while everybody else was still doing Pascal.
"It's important for [students] to be passionate about computer science, engineering or mathematics -- whatever field they're really interested in. Pursue that full on."