Thursday, June 21, 2012

ECBC Scientist Juggles Work at ECBC with serving in the National Guard

ECBC's Stephen Harper discusses how he balances his job as a scientist at ECBC, with his National Guard duties as an active Black Hawk Pilot.

How did you get your start in your current ECBC position and in the National Guard?

Stephen Harper (SH ): I started at ECBC as a contractor in the early 2000s working in the Lab Building Research Systems. As a contractor I did work with the different teams. I started to really like my work and my co-workers at ECBC, so I became an official ECBC employee with the Applied Detection Technology Branch in 2005.

I joined the National Guard prior to working for ECBC. While at ECBC, I took a leave of absence to attend the U.S Army Helicopter Flight School in Fort Rucker, Alabama during the late 1990s. My first deployment happened while I was with ECBC in 2003 when I went to Mosul, Iraq. Between my first deployment and when I got back, I took another break from ECBC to become a U.S. Marshall in Washington, D.C. Then I came back to ECBC in 2008 and had my second deployment to Basrah, Iraq in 2009.

Although I am back at ECBC, I am still active with the National Guard, and deployments can still happen. When they do, I take leave from my work at ECBC, go where I need to go, then come back and pick up where I left off. It might get hectic, but in addition to just loving the feeling of flying a helicopter, I know I am getting a unique experience through my deployments. Not many teams have people who can say they have seen a piece of equipment working downrange in theater. I see what works, I see what does not, and more than that, it allows me to take the work we do here at ECBC very seriously. Lives depend on what we do. That is huge, and that is important.

What are your favorite duties as a scientist and in the Service?

SH : I do a lot of testing that allows me to come up with creative solutions. For example, it might seem like I am doing standard testing with chemical agent, but my challenge might be to find a quick and inexpensive way to keep a chemical at a low temperature. From there, I see what I can do with an off-the-shelf cooler, or with any other solution I can think of. It’s a mix of ingenuity and science. I also love the people I work with. There are some great characters around here that make the job such a joy every day.

As for my job as a pilot, I love the excitement of flying. Sometimes friends ask why I never got into computer or video games and my response is always because I do the real thing. I can receive a phone call from a senior officer that needs to test Night Vision Goggles (NVG), and I get to go to my second job to fly a helicopter with NVGs. To me, nothing could be better. Not only am I having fun, but I am honing my skills so that if they are needed for a real mission I am ready and proficient in my skill.

What project are you currently working on, or have you worked on in the past that you learned the most from or that you found particularly exciting?

SH : I really do find all my projects exciting. Right now we are testing several chemicals for different customers, and that is exciting. In the military, I am slotted to attend an instructor pilot course, and that job keeps evolving and stays interesting. There is much to learn still in all of my areas and that keeps me motivated about the work I do.

What skill do you use in your job that you initially did not think you would need?

SH : The skill that I most need is paying attention to detail and having the ability to put things into larger context. This skill is applicable to being a scientist and a pilot. A lot of people ask me, “what is the link between science and flying helicopters?” To me, the answer is simple: the results are dire if you do not pay attention to detail. It is not just one test, or one flight. It is realizing that if I do not conduct this one test to the best of my ability, or fly this one mission with alertness and precision, the results could be fatal not just to myself, but to others as well.

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