ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (July 31, 2014) – A partnership between the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command has led to the establishment of the Officer Scientist and Engineer Program pilot.
The OSEP pilot places qualified and willing Army officers with a science, technology, engineering or mathematics doctorate into Army research and development centers or laboratories to team with civilian scientists and engineers.
The Army Science Board conducted a study in 2012 that showed the military presence in Army science and technology was notably low. The study said the Army needs to recruit, retain and develop its top science and engineering talent.
“West Point will send officers off at some point to get Ph.D.s in [science, technology, engineering and math] degrees to come back and teach in the school,” RDECOM Director Dale Ormond said.
“I found out that some of these officers don’t get picked up as permanent professors, so they go back to their branches. I said, well, we’ve made a huge investment in these guys and gals in terms of their education and they have tremendous talent. Let’s bring them into the laboratories.”
Ormond discussed his ideas for OSEP with the Army G1, and the pilot program was approved within RDECOM for a period of three years.
“Once [the officers] get a Ph.D., and they come in to our labs to do research, they bring their operational experience and expertise and then help us shape where we’re going with our [science and technology] work to make sure it’s getting at what Soldiers need when its appropriate,” Ormond said. “Having those officers talk to our scientists and engineers enables them to better understand the officers’ experiences. The officers ability to engage with these scientists and engineers and understand their ideas is tremendous synergy. I think it’s a tremendous opportunity to help us to be more relevant and support the warfighter more effectively.”
Lt. Col. William Fischer was the first officer scientist in the program. Fischer is a 24-year veteran Army officer with a bachelor’s degree in physics from the College of William and Mary, and a doctorate in computer science from the Naval Postgraduate School. After his four-year stint teaching computer sciences at West Point, he heard about the pilot program and volunteered to participate. He now works with RDECOM’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center.
“My department head [at West Point], Col. [Eugene] Ressler, approached me one day,” Fischer said. “He’d heard about this initiative and asked me if I’d be interested in doing it. [When] I found out more about it, it sounded very exciting, it struck a chord with me.”
He signed up the same day.
“The Army invested a lot in me, in my advanced degree,” Fischer said. “I think I can contribute more to the Army in an assignment where I can continue to use that degree. It takes a long time to grow a field-grade officer; it takes a long time to grow a Ph.D. I think OSEP is a great initiative to look at the convergence of those two.
“[Organizations] like the Army labs have a lot of great civilians, but there are very few military in-between,” Fischer continued. “There’s nobody that’s both a military officer and [who] has a technical degree, who can get in the middle there and bring that synergy of being able to speak warfighter and being able to speak scientist or engineer. I really think it’s a great initiative and hope to see it grow.”
In addition to teaming up military and civilian scientists and engineers, Ormond said the program also helps West Point cadets as they work on their senior projects during their summer sessions at RDECOM.
“So now we’re getting cadets involved with research, getting them excited about math, science and engineering, which is important,” Ormond said. “I think as we continue to increase the complexity of the kit we give to Soldiers, whether it’s aircraft or tanks or trucks or the radar systems and their command-and-control systems, they need to have a better understanding of the principles by which this stuff works, so they can be more effective as officers in leading the fight.”
The OSEP pilot began in 2013 and will run until July 2016. RDECOM will then compile the data and results of the pilot and will present the Army leadership with a recommendation on the feasibility of extending the program Army-wide.