Forty-two years ago, Nickolas Justice left his small town in North Carolina to joint the Army as an infantryman.

With his pending retirement next month, the once lowly private shared his "war stories" Jan. 20 with an audience here at the Lindner Conference Center -- snippets of a life's journey that took a former self-described "bumpkin" private to the rank of major general commanding the U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command.

RDECOM is the parent command of the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC), the largest organization at Picatinny Arsenal.

Justice said he had prepared slides, but he didn't want his aide to be flipping through viewgraphs.

"It wouldn't do much good," the general said. "Better to just tell you."

There were two key points that he wanted to make, he explained. The first was that there was value to be found in taking time to reflect.

When Justice joined the Army, it was very different, he said. He wore the "Castro cap," rode in the iconic vehicle of World War II, the Willeys Jeep, and said the M-14 was still around.

Shortly thereafter he used the M-16. "The old M-16 that used to jam," he added. "It was not the M-16 Soldiers use today."

Soldiers now use an M-16 or M-4 with the new M855A1 round, with its superior penetration. Justice cited other examples of new processes, weapons, vehicles, medicine and clothing as examples. "And it's not just the new gear; it's the changes to the old gear.

"Look at how much the Army has changed," Justice repeatedly asked of employees at the Lindner Center.

In today's Army, "every rotation that goes out there comes in with a new set of kit. The unit that replaces that unit on station comes in with kit that is more capable," said Justice. "Ten years ago, it wasn't like that."

"We don't always pause much to see how much things have changed," he said. "But you should. Stop sometimes and tell some of your war stories about what you've seen and how it's changed."

"Honestly, I believe it is in our human nature to get caught up in what you're doing today and not see what you've changed."

For Justice, the value of reflection comes from realizing "from where you came, where you are now and where you are going. That gives you perspective on what you are doing now."

The same human characteristics, Justice noted, also make it hard to see the talent around us as anything less than normal.

"Recognize the skill in the people around you," he said. "The skill sets here that you see every day that you think are normal--they're not."

Pointing to the Baldrige Award banner, Justice said: "That is not normal." (ARDEC won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 2007.)

"Your processes allow things to rapidly get out there," Justice said of ARDEC and its success in the "Army Greatest Inventions" annual competition.

He compared the talent and ability in the RDECOM's various centers to American corporations. "We can match any industry in the country, and sometimes we can outmatch them," he said.


He asked ARDEC personnel to recognize that valuable skills exist at other RDECOM research centers and to seek working relationships. "We've got a lot of other good people in other centers," he added.

To make his second point, he asked the audience to share their unique skills in math and science with America's youth.

"Our country desperately needs more young engineers," he said.

Justice urged ARDEC engineers to seek out opportunities in their communities to help youth learn and develop math skills at a young age. "By the time they're teenagers, if they haven't learned, it may be too late."

Leadership in education is needed, he said, and the Army is an example of good leadership. "We take people from all backgrounds and walks of life and in ten weeks we make the greatest Army the world has ever seen." (Ten weeks refers to the duration of basic combat training.)

"It's amazing the changes you will see take place in these Soldiers, simply because a platoon sergeant gave them a clear set of standards and held them to it."

Justice's visit to Picatinny will likely be his last before his retirement in mid-February, ARDEC Director Dr. Gerardo Melendez announced to the workforce by e-mail before the general's visit.

Justice, the former infantry private, has earned a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Maryland; a master's degree in Institutional Management from Pepperdine University; and a master's degree in International Relations from Salve Regina College.

His military education includes the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, the Senior Acquisition Course of the Armed Forces, the Adjutant General Basic and Advanced Course, Systems Automation Course, and the United States Naval War College.

Before serving as RDECOM commanding general, Justice was the Program Executive Officer for the Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO-C3T) at Fort Monmouth, which closed last September.

His joint service experience includes a two-year assignment to the Sixth Allied Tactical Air Force as chief, Project Management for Command and Control Systems.

While in this assignment, he participated in Operation Desert Storm as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, he served as commander of the Information Management Task Force in Kuwait and Iraq.

His 20 years of acquisition experience includes assignments as project manager, Transportation Coordinator's Automated Information for Movement Systems, and project manager, Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below.

In an article published in the Fort Monmouth newspaper about his March 2009 induction into the Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame, he credited the Army for what it offered him and others.

"I think it's one of the greatest opportunities a youth can take to serve our country because that service is rewarded with opportunity, by education and training and leadership skills.

"I've lived a life that was my father's dream and I was just so privileged to do that."