This month’s Engineering Edge Employee Spotlight is on Stephen Harper, Branch Chief of the Environmental & Field Testing Branch in the Engineering Test Division. He is also a Black Hawk Helicopter Instructor Pilot and Safety Officer with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
What is your current job in the Engineering Directorate?
The Environmental & Field Testing Branch is responsible for environmental testing, including pressure testing, vibration testing, temperature testing, fog testing, etc., to determine how various equipment, filters and materials will perform under extreme conditions. Our test chambers can simulate various environmental scenarios and conditions encountered by the Warfighter in the field. As Branch Chief, I consider myself a “working facilitator” for our team’s operation. Although I serve in a supervisory capacity, I enjoy being hands-on and assisting the team with projects. I also serve as a liaison assisting Division Chief Eugene Vickers and Associate Director Ron Pojunas in helping the branch to acquire new customers.
Tell us about your service in the Army National Guard.
Growing up, I always enjoyed military movies and TV shows and dreamed of flying helicopters. Initially I joined the Air National Guard working as a sheet metal mechanic on A-10s. The National Guard was a means of supporting myself through college, and it has been a huge part of my life ever since. I have served in the National Guard for 24 years; most of those years have been in the Army National Guard. My tenure in the Army National Guard has been in aviation as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot, except for the one-year waiting period prior to flight school. I am currently stationed with the Alpha Company 2/104th General Support Aviation Battalion (GSAB) in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard located in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. What some folks may not know about me is that I also served as a Deputy U.S. Marshall for two years in Washington, D.C. ECBC has supported me as a Soldier and civilian employee through the course of two deployments to Iraq (in 2003 and 2009), a recent deployment to Afghanistan (in 2013), and multiple military training schools and other missions and commitments. With a background in chem-bio, I was able to serve as an assistant to the Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC) officer during my deployment to Iraq in 2003.
What kind of perspectives do you bring to your work at ECBC by also being a Soldier?
From the perspective of being both a scientist and a Soldier, I am able to harmonize the research and end user sides. This perspective is unique and advantageous simply by being able to explain the Army’s needs to the scientists and by answering any technical questions about protective equipment for the Soldier. It is essential that Soldiers have confidence in their equipment. ECBC’s capability of the rapid-fielding of chem-bio defense equipment and technologies is impressive to Soldiers; they trust the quality and safety of the equipment provided by the Center. Also beneficial is my experience of working with certain equipment used in theater. If there is a piece of equipment that didn’t work well, I can explain what occurred to scientists and researchers so that improvements can be made.
What are your other hobbies outside of work and the Guard?
Besides work and the National Guard, I also spend a lot of time in school. I am grateful to both ECBC and the National Guard for supporting my education, including my Master’s degree in Environmental Policy & Management and my current pursuit of a Ph.D. in Engineering Management. Perhaps when I am finished with school I will finally have a chance to renew one of my favorite hobbies of all time – riding motorcycles!