By Roger Teel, RDECOMSeptember 13, 2012
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Sept. 13, 2012) -- The decision to apply to the Army's Engineer and Scientist Exchange Program seemed like an easy one for an engineer assigned to the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.
"The [Engineer and Scientist Exchange Program] came as a right-time, right-place moment for me," explained Steve Carrig. "I'd been in my job with the Joint Project Manager for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Contamination Avoidance for roughly five years, and was feeling the itch for something different."
Carrig now serves as an engineer at Australia's Defense Science and Technology Office in Melbourne. His tour runs through 2013.
The Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army, Defense Exports and Cooperation manages the Engineer and Scientist Exchange Program, or ESEP, and selects top-performing, mid-career level engineers and scientists from across the Army every year for assignment to an allied military establishment. Assignments complement a participant's background and offer tangible benefits to both the Army and the overseas host.
Jason Craley is a member of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's International Technology Integration team that coordinates the ESEP and prioritizes command applicants before submitting packages to Army Materiel Command and DASA DE&C.
"A call for applications, called the ESEP Group Announcement, is issued by DASA DE&C by the end of June each year," Craley said. "We are currently accepting applicants for Group 9, which will deploy overseas in August 2013. Applications are due to our team by October 12th."
"When the call came out for ESEP applications in 2010, I was almost too late," Carrig recalled. "Thinking my wife wouldn't want to move, I didn't bring it up until nearly the last minute. I was on leave the week applications were due, and I ended up submitting mine really late in the evening on a Sunday night to meet the Monday morning deadline.
"During the application process, the International Point of Contact will assist you with putting the paperwork together," Carrig said. "You can also rely on ITI for help as well."
Craley stressed the application requires four elements: a resume, a list of career-broadening objectives, a position description outlining your intended overseas assignment, and a technical director endorsement signed at the senior executive service or general officer level. Staffing the endorsement memo may take time, so applicants should plan accordingly.
The most challenging part of the application process, however, is making contact with a potential host overseas and identifying an assignment that's the right fit. That was especially challenging for Carrig as his contacts were limited.
"Perhaps slightly atypical for the way ESEP applications were previously done, I had no established foreign contact," he said. "Instead, I interpreted the application package in such a way that I requested to be placed in several different countries. When the memo was released with selections and their corresponding countries, I was awaiting a response on my application to Japan, not Australia, the country for which I was chosen."
Craley said RDECOM offers assistance in this area.
"For the last two years our office has provided a list of open ESEP positions pre-coordinated between RDECOM Forward Elements, International Technology Centers and their respective countries," Craley said. "This provides some options to people who are interested in the program, like Steve was, but who may not have foreign contacts to assist with coordinating an assignment.
"Applicants are always encouraged to build upon their current work experience if they do have contacts through multinational programs and exchange agreements," Craley added. "However, since Steve applied, a better defined position description has become more important to have up front as opposed to after selection. The reason is that DASA DE&C wants as much information as possible before selecting applicants. And it cuts down a lot of last-minute coordination before going overseas."
Applicants are encouraged to apply for up to three countries, one primary and two alternates, in case their first assignment is not available. Applicants can choose from 17 countries that have an active ESEP memorandum of understanding with the United States. Popular countries include: the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and, of course, Australia. ITI can provide a full list on request.
Carrig said the key to the application process was finding the right people.
"Not having completed a master's degree or thesis of my own, I can only speculate, but from the conversations I had with my colleagues in the time between receiving the selection memo and when my wife and I got on the plane made me think the ESEP process is very much like post-graduate work. It's all about knowing the right person or people to ask for help when you get stuck in filling out the paperwork," Carrig said.
Once application packages are received at RDECOM they are thoroughly reviewed and scored according to several criteria, including the applicant's educational and career background. A bachelor's degree in science or engineering is required to apply, and individuals with advanced degrees score higher, according to Craley.
"Language capability for the intended assignment must also be in place," he continued. "In the past, DASA DE&C has funded language training for selected applicants, but that has been cut. An applicant's organization can fund this if needed, but expect to go into an application with a working knowledge of the language for the country you are applying.
"Thorough position descriptions and demonstrating an alignment to Army S&T objectives is important," Craley added. "We also look at how long an individual has been with the government since this program is geared toward mid-career level engineers and scientists in the GS 12-to-14 range. The intent is to have someone come back from an assignment and be of benefit to the Army for many years to come with experience and insight gained abroad."
Once Carrig learned he had been selected to go to Australia, he began the process of transporting his entire life to the other side of the world.
"There were times when I didn't think we'd actually make it out of the country," he said. "In fact, I had to request a two-week delay due to some missed milestones. But the movers came and packed up our stuff. We lived with my parents for a week, and then got on the plane with our nine bags of luggage. Yes, nine! Four suitcases and five boxes. We were definitely a sight to see moving through airports!"
"Once an applicant has been informed of their selection, the real work begins," Craley explained. "You'll need to complete draft Temporary Change of Station or TCS orders. For all RDECOM selectees, a designated point of contact -- Terry McGahan -- at the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center International Office, assists with order preparation and answers all questions regarding financial allowances.
"Finally you need to set your departure date and ensure all passport and visa requirements are met, as well as any medical requirements," Craley added.
For participants traveling with young family members there are schooling considerations to take into account. Housing must be found and may take some time. For this reason a temporary housing allowance is provided.
"Though daunting, participants aren't alone during this process," Craley stressed. "Their IPOCs, ITI, Forward Element and ITC personnel will support them and offer advice when needed.
Once Carrig arrived and settled into his assignment in Australia, he found he wanted to stay even longer.
"We made it to Australia, and 88 days later so did the rest of our stuff," he said. "Now it's just barely a year since we landed, and with an extension applied for and granted, we've started our second of two years living in Melbourne through ESEP."
Assignments are initially for one year, and an extension request for an additional year can be submitted to DASA DE&C after getting a feel for the assignment, but no more than six months after you start, according to Craley.
"Once on the ground in your assignment, reporting requests vary depending on your home organization. And once you return home, you will submit an end of assignment report along with an evaluation from your host rating your performance and the benefit of the overall experience."
For Carrig, the assignment has been professionally, and personally, rewarding.
"My work here with DSTO has been both intimidating and challenging," he said. "My team consists of brilliant scientists, and my engineering background sticks out like a sore thumb. However, despite my rusty college-level laboratory skills, the folks down here have been patient in their approach of letting me tinker around in the lab again. Additionally, I arrived at DSTO with a level-three certification in test and evaluation, and so it's that experience I've relied on for my greatest contribution. "
"I came here at a very opportune time in that DSTO was in the process of standing up a walk-in-sized chamber to do full individual protective ensemble testing via articulated manikin," said Carrig. "It's been my challenge to verify the operation of the chamber as well as provide test results on the vapor-generation system that's been developed for the chamber."
"Right now, my daily responsibilities involve supporting a cold-weather test that's using the chamber's environmental controls," he continued. "In addition to providing support to another DSTO team, I'm using the past seven week's worth of sub-freezing temperature data as a means to verify the chamber's operational conditions."
"Next month, when I stop having to wear a coat and gloves to enter the chamber, I'll be testing the newly acquired wind generation system I helped design," he explained. "After that it'll be more verification activities, as well as developing some procedures for individual protection ensemble testing with the manikin. Before I know it, two years will have gone by and I'll be heading back to Edgewood."
"I'm not entirely sure where my career will go after ESEP," Carrig continued. "I hope to use some of the things I've learned in the realm of individual protection to my advantage when I return to ECBC. I also like to think that by keeping up with some of my test and evaluation experience I'll be able to continue my work in that field.
"Most importantly, though, I've made a set of great contacts in Australia's chemical-biological knowledge base," he said. "While I may be a fairly low man on the totem pole, I feel confident that the bridge building done via my time here with DSTO can only help big-picture workings like The Technical Cooperation Program."
"If I'm honest, my wife, Erin, and I have had our moments of being homesick," Carrig said. "But we made the choice to stay in Melbourne another year, and so far it's been the right one. I'm definitely grateful for the opportunity that ESEP has provided. I would do it all again if I had the chance."
"But next time I would pack for two years (even if we only stayed one) and have the movers ship more than just a few sparse things. My wife misses her copper pots, and I miss my couch."
(NOTE: For more information on the ESEP program or for application assistance contact Jason Craley, (410) 278-8591, email: firstname.lastname@example.org)