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Engineering students, Army, exchange admiration

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COMMENTARY

By The Staff

By STAFF SGT. LEONARD TALLEY

Fort Knox

I think too many of us take for granted the level of knowledge and expertise that it takes to build the military equipment that we have.

As a combat Soldier I can recall many Soldiers on many occasions ranting about how horrible the vehicles and equipment are, all the while never giving a real thought into what it took just to get that so-called “piece of crap” that they currently have. Usually the only compliment they do have is to say that it’s little better than what they had before.

I was placed on an early Saturday morning tasking recently that was to last all day. I began the task with the usual issued amount of 6:45 a.m. enthusiasm. We drew a Stryker Mobile Gun System from the motor pool, parked it on a trailer, and were on our way to the University of Louisville Engineering Expo at the J.B. Speed School of Engineering on the main Belknap campus.

The MGS generated a lot of interest and excitement, not only from students but also from those just passing by. The first group of students seemed apprehensive, as did their parents. I began with basic information such as the vehicle’s purpose and capabilities. Martin Plummer, an Army civilian combat developer, presented real tangible questions for the group to consider as if they were actual engineers working on the MGS. The group really took to this line of questioning and presentation. In less than five minutes we had sparked not just an interest in the military as a whole but also engineering ideas to improve the vehicle they had only first seen five minutes ago.

Afterward, the group had time to walk around and explore the MGS. This was a great opportunity to engage the students and parents individually and really see what aspects of engineering interested them the most.

Being an engineer himself, Ted Maciuba, the chief of combat development at the Armor Center, excelled at tailoring these personal Q&A’s to the individuals by highlighting the many complex systems and how they are all integrated.

Between groups there were so many stragglers and passersby it seemed like a continuous flow of people and questions. Most of the groups were high school seniors looking into college and career choices, but a few of the groups were junior high school students. These students had many interesting things to say. Their energy level was infectious, making the questions seem like volley fire. Despite their young age some of their questions and remarks were beyond their years. They truly tested my knowledge.

Ultimately it was the thermal vision technology that really got them thinking. Many didn’t understand that the same thermal vision technology they see in video games is a real capability. I believe this idea really opened their minds to the many things engineering encompasses.

The best part of the day was my interaction with some of the engineering students who would walk up and be full of interesting questions and ideas. I spoke with many electrical, mechanical, and chemical engineering students who possessed such a wealth of knowledge I wasn’t able to answer some of their questions.

One young man really stood out in mind as the kind of individual that our organization would benefit from having on our team. After a short conversation he told me he was part of an effort that had built and installed solar panels on a building adjacent to J.B. Speed. So I explained to him the issue with the mass amount of cabling throughout the MGS. Looking through the side hatch at the massive bundle of wiring harnesses, I went over the problems it presented. He got excited at the idea of such a huge undertaking of redesigning the electrical system. Finishing our tour around the vehicle he explained how this type of work was right up his alley and how he’d love a job working on something like the MGS.

By the end of this event there was no doubt in my mind that we had represented the Armor Center well. We made a positive impact by presenting students and other visitors with new questions and ideas. Fostering a new eagerness to learn more about engineering either by building the public’s confidence in the equipment and vehicles in our military or by showing them that there are other challenging aspects of the military that a young person can pursue that doesn’t require them to actually put on the uniform.

I recommend that the Armor Center continue to get involved in more events like this. Generating interest and excitement in our equipment now is the only way to get the futures’ best and brightest to build and design our future equipment.

It was a young student, Kara Zoeller, who asked that the armor center participate in this event. If one student can recognize the engineering value in our equipment, then perhaps we should, too.

Staff Sgt. Talley is a Combat Development NCO in Combat Developments Division at the Armor Center as well as the Mounted Requirements Division of the Maneuver Center of Excellence. He most recently served in combat as an MGS vehicle commander in 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry (Stryker Brigade Combat Team).