Monday, September 30, 2013

Q&A with Uday Mehta

Uday Mehta, mechanical engineer for CBARR, is retiring after 30+ years of federal service. We had a chance to sit down with Uday as he reflects back on his years of service and looks forward to a new chapter.

Q. Where are you from and how did you end up working at ECBC?
A. I was born in Mumbai (Bombay), India and studied metallurgical engineering before moving to the U.S. in 1973 as a student. In 1974, I worked for the City of Baltimore for Veterans Affairs at Loch Raven VA Hospital before the Baltimore District office of the FDA hired me.

Q. How long have you been working at CBARR?
A. Since February 1990, I worked as chemist for the Monitoring Branch, which was looking for a chemist who could operate the brand new gas chromatographs in its laboratory. I developed analytical procedures for the detection of HD, GB, GD and Lewisite. By then, ECBC’s role had significantly increased beyond Edgewood and our expertise was called upon at various military installations and home and abroad. As program manager, I wrote specifications for mobile laboratories and explosive containment structures called Interim Holding Facilities (IHF). I was also a “traveling salesman” for CBARR, attending various trade shows and workshops where I talked with representatives from industry and government. Additionally, I managed an Inter Agency Agreement (IAA) with the Environmental Protection Agency, under which ECBC provided analytical and technical support during various decontamination incidents.

Q. How has the CBARR organization evolved throughout the years?
A. In 1990, we were supporting only the local tenants on Aberdeen Proving Ground. Since then, our boundaries have expanded exponentially by looking for opportunities beyond Edgewood and Formerly Used Defense sites. Now we are supporting an international community.

Q. What has been your favorite part about working for CBARR?
A. The Chemical Biological Defense COM Commanding General MG John Doesburg invited my family for a group photo as he presented me with a 20 year service certificate and pin, and gave a commendation letter for my father who had served on the Supreme War Council in Burma during World War II.

Q. What will you miss most about working at ECBC? What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
A. I will miss the group of highly talented scientists and engineers from various backgrounds, and I’ve learned that team effort has brought us to the forefront of CB science.

Q. Use one word to describe your 30+ year career in the federal service.
A. Collaborative.

Q. What are your retirement plans?
A. I want to be near my granddaughters. The second one is arriving in the middle of September, my retirement gift. I am traveling to South America in October with my college friends, and Florida in November. This winter, I am going to Turkey and India to be with my mother.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Fresh Perspective: a Guest Column by Jerome Vauthrin, ACWA intern

Jerome Vauthrin is a program and management analyst intern at the Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (ACWA). As part of his internship with ACWA's Chief of Staff Office, Vauthrin learned the basics of management at the New Leader Program at Graduate School USA. One of the assignments was to perform a 30-day detail with Tom Rosso, program manager at ECBC's Chemical Biological Application and Risk Reduction (CBARR) Business Unit.

I was not familiar with ECBC beyond what I read on the website, and all I knew of CBARR was that a number of government vehicles had their logo stickered on them. Thankfully, Tom Rosso, program manager, had been most receptive and willing to help me learn more about the Center and CBARR operations. Tom and his team have been very welcoming, and CBARR is a colorful place where everyone has their own contributions to the CBARR culture.

Vauthrin works on the fabrication of the new Field
Deployable Hydrolysis System, an elimination
technology with a 99.9 percent efficiency rate.
During my 30-day detail, Tom had set me up with some neat things. I was able to see ECBC senior leadership in action discussing a range of topics from employee concerns and safety topics to the impact of furloughs on day-to-day business and upcoming visits. I was also able to attend meetings and demonstrations of the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, where Department of Defense personnel from different agencies and military commands were in attendance. This gave me an idea of what a site visit is like, including the diversity of people who attend, the types of questions asked and the amount of preparation that needs to be coordinated to ensure a smooth presentation.

Additionally, Tom provided a tour (in CBARR’s very own economically-friendly Chevy Volt) of a variety of ECBC facilities and laboratories, including the Mask Issue facility, the Environmental Monitoring Laboratory and the testing site of the Rapid Detect-Identify-Decontaminate Kit, which uses the C-130 military aircrafts. Needless to say, my days at CBARR have been a mix of interesting things.
Tom Ross, middle, talks to Department of Defense stakeholders
during an FDHS demonstration in June. Vauthrin shadowed
Rosso during a 30-day detail this summer.
It has been great entertainment and a great experience learning from the CBARR crew. I have had the opportunity to see what the chemical demilitarization world is all about as well as learn about some of the other projects occurring onsite at ECBC. So, what’s been the best part? To be able to see that much in the short time I have been here has really opened my eyes to the type of support the Center provides. If you were to ask me how to describe ECBC as a whole, I would have to say it is a very dynamic environment. And it has to be, given the number of missions it supports and the variety of facilities and personnel required to support those missions.

Do I sound like an ECBC fan? I must admit that my time here has turned me from an indifferent recipient who was vaguely aware of ECBC’s role in supporting ACWA, to someone who has gained a great appreciation for the CBARR work that supports a variety of missions across the world. I can say I have enjoyed my experience at CBARR and appreciate the novelty of a fresh perspective.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What's in a degree? Lindsey Lyman talks biology, decision analysis and cross-training certifications

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The single-serving college degree is a thing of the past. No longer does a degree concentration have to pigeonhole your career path; it can serve as the cornerstone that helps you jump tracks in multi-disciplinary fashion. Just ask Lindsey Lyman, a biologist for the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC), who has spanned the scientific infrastructure of work at the Center while exploring the depths of her knowledge with a curiosity for real-world applicability.

“I was never one of those kids who was super focused on what they wanted to be when they grew up or anything like that,” said Lyman, who currently works with the Center’s CBARR Business Unit. “I liked biology in high school and it was kind of a default selection for my major in college. I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up, but I’ve always enjoyed the bio classes and think it’s really fascinating subject matter.”
Lyman began working at ECBC in 2004 after graduating from the University of Delaware with a general biological sciences degree. But her position on the Decision Analysis Team (DAT) curbed the need to directly apply her scientific background and instead promoted a secondary capability: risk and impact studies. For seven years, Lyman analyzed everything from simulation modeling and cost/benefit analysis to equipment selections and business case analysis. The customer-funded team examined a variety of projects, including selecting equipment for a mobile laboratory based on customer needs as well as the size, weight and power of the equipment. Still, Lyman was curious to learn more. After three years of part-time study at Johns Hopkins University, she received her Master’s degree in Biotechnology with a concentration in Biodefense.

“The more education you have the better. I don’t think it’s a requirement, but I do think it helps to have a better understanding, especially from a biodefense perspective, of the organisms that we’re looking at and the technologies that we’re using on a daily basis to execute the mission,” she said.
Lyman returned to her hard science roots two years ago when she took a detail working for the Environmental BioMonitoring Laboratory (EBML) using the same equipment she once evaluated and recommended to customers as part of DAT. This time, as a CBARR biologist working in the laboratory, she’s testing samples for different clients. “I can see first-hand how we’re directing their processes and how we’re impacting what they’re doing,” she said.

Lyman currently works onsite at a client’s laboratory and operational facility, which utilizes both chemical and biological technologies for sample analysis. As part of the deployed EBML team, she tests client samples for specific targets of interest and provides a daily report of her findings. How does this compare to work done in the ECBC labs? According to Lyman, the Center has more flexibility to investigate new test methodologies and technological equipment, but overall the capability remains constant. In a way, this mirrors her ability to effectively maneuver within the ECBC framework, driven to learn more and discover new avenues worth pursuing.
"I think her career has been a nice story so far. Lindsey has a biology degree working for ECBC, but started off her career mainly doing deskwork for DAT. Now, she’s getting the chance to work both in the laboratory at ECBC as well as in the field and on client sites,” said Isaac Fruchey, branch chief for the EBML.

Lyman’s full-circle career also has a neat twist. She has completed cross-training in both chemical and biological laboratory analysis techniques, a capability that enables her to conduct a variety of work for clients. According to Lyman, there is a distinct difference between chemical and biological procedures, none of which translate directly to corresponding technologies. Without the technical background to initially complete this kind of work, she proactively sought a cross-training solution that resulted in GC/MS (gas chromatography-mass spectrometry) and LC/MS (liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry) Trip Quadruple certifications.
“Since she came over on detail, she has become one of my primary field analysts, as well as a project lead for on-boarding some of the new assays. She’s also taken the time to become cross-trained in chemical testing capabilities, including certification in GC/MS and LC/MS Triple Quadruple methodologies,” Fruchey said.

The opportunities ECBC has provided her, coupled with the foresight and fearlessness to pursue them, have been strong factors in advancing her career across spectrums and further down the scientific path of the unknown. Not to mention, the people she works with at ECBC have embodied a spirit of collaboration that she says, inspires.
"I came in with no lab experience and not really sure where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do,” Lyman said. “It’s been great to be able to learn so many different things and be a part of so many different projects. It’s empowering to feel like I’m being useful with my abilities by helping people and serving clients. And to have the opportunity to continue to learn so many different technologies and methods is exciting as much as it is invaluable.”

Monday, September 23, 2013

Employee Spotlight: CURTIS HOLLISTER

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Curtis Hollister is not the kind of person who would use “fabulous” or “blessed” to describe a given experience. He is not the kind of guy who talks openly about the numerous countries--Guam, England, Belgium, Australia, Sweden and Jordan—that working at the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) on international missions has afforded him. And he definitely is not the kind of guy who goes by his first name: Worthy.

But he is the kind of person who embodies what the CBARR is known for at the Center: working hard until the mission is complete. As branch chief of Process Technology, Hollister    supervises seven employees and prefers to lead by example, a style that is personified by the mantra, “If you’re doing it, I’m doing it.” It’s what he says to CBARR Director of Operations Tim Blades when asked if he’s willing to deploy overseas, work with chemicals or manage a new task. It’s also what the employees under Hollister say when he asks them the same.
“I wouldn’t ask anybody to do something that I wouldn’t do. I’ve been very lucky to have a good group of people in my branch and within CBARR who share this belief,” said Hollister, who has been a supervisor for 11 years and with ECBC since 1999. At any given time on a project site, he works with leadership across several CBARR branches including, Chemical Equipment Maintenance, Field Maintenance and Field Technology, sharing responsibility with supervisors to ensure onsite safety and to manage as many as 15 highly trained specialized personnel onsite at any given time.

“There’s more to the mission than just doing your job. Being in the middle between employees I supervise and CBARR leadership, I want to take care of the folks I have responsibility for,” Hollister said. “When you have customers to satisfy, you get a clearer picture of what you need to take care of. At the same time, understanding the details is incredibly important to the foundation of your work. It’s a balanced perspective.”

Hollister has a unique one, at that. A Maryland native, in 1990 he graduated from Washington College in Chestertown with a degree in business management before taking a marketing and sales position and was “bored to death after a year-and-a-half.” Hollister needed something a little more dynamic that could also pay off his student loans, he recalled. Shortly after, he enlisted in the United States Army as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician, with hopes of seeing the world. Instead, he was stationed at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, just a drive down I-95 from where he grew up in Cecil County. The EOD experience included first responder work whenever buried munitions were found on post, and then safely destroying the rounds through proper technological channels.
“Explosives and chemicals add a little bit of excitement to the job. There’s a bit of danger, but once you’re trained you understand the chemicals you’re working with, and trust the safety policies and personnel protective equipment,” said Hollister, who recalled the two weeks of chemical training in EOD School as his least favorite. “I never thought I’d end up doing this stuff and get to a place where I really enjoy it.”

It wasn’t until after his service that Hollister got to travel for 6-8 weeks at a time with the Technical Escort Unit of the CBRNE Analytical and Remediation Activity (CARA), touching nearly every state in the country and even traveled to Kuwait. As part of the Army’s 20th Support Command, Tech Escort is responsible for the safe transport of surety materials to secure federal locations. When he took the job with ECBC in 1999, he started out in the Center’s Chemical Transfer Facility (CTF). He also spent time working as a DAAMS (Depot Area Air Monitoring Systems) technician and MINICAMS (Miniature Continuous Air Monitors) operator for the monitoring branch of CBARR.

“When I first started at the CTF, I had no idea destruction systems would be evolving. The Explosive Destruction System (EDS), the Donovan Chamber and the Munitions  Assessment and Processing System (MAPS) facility weren’t even around yet,” Hollister said. “So I think my role has evolved from a more chemical monitoring side to an explosive and destruction side. Overall, the variety of work CBARR does has expanded to reflect this, and resulted in some of the projects we’ve done to provide sample analysis for the eventual demolition of former agent laboratories and facilities.”
As the elimination technologies advanced, so too, has Hollister’s career. Utilizing his EOD background, Hollister traveled to numerous countries where the latest advancements of these destruction systems were being tested and monitored, including England, where he got to visit the town his grandfather was from. Albeit, the name of the small village escapes his memory. From discovering family history in England to enjoying the tropical climate of Guam, Hollister said the most surprising experience was a two-week site visit to Jordan in the Middle East where he participated as a team member to conduct an assessment of the country’s chemical analysis capabilities, including PPE and detection equipment.

“I was a little apprehensive just being in that part of the world. I had never been there and you hear every day about the turmoil that exists. But once I was there, the people were incredibly nice and I felt comfortable. I’ve seen a lot of neat things being a part of ECBC, but I kick myself because I’ve hardly taken any photos of anywhere I’ve traveled to,” Hollister said.
That hasn’t stopped him from writing, however. On Feb. 8, 2013, the Cecil Whig newspaper ( published an op-ed piece written by Hollister. No, it wasn’t about his experience as an EOD serviceman in the Army or his world-traveling missions for ECBC. Curtis Hollister isn’t the kind of guy who would do that. Instead, he wrote “One More Week,” an article that spoke to the heart of many Marylanders: crabs and football, and spending time with friends and family.