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Changing technologies

Defending the homeland

Throughout the country and abroad, diverse engineers join in protecting the nation and the nation's troops

From the frozen Antarctic to desert-sited labs, ships at sea, nuclear facilities and even the halls of Congress, techies are doing interesting work in the national interest


CIA branch chief Allison Bowden oversees other managers and determines programs.

CIA branch chief Allison Bowden oversees other managers and determines programs.

ME Herbert Massie of the DNFSB.

ME Herbert Massie of the DNFSB.

Working for the military or government agencies, today's engineers have an expanded role in homeland security. Sometimes they're hired as much for their analytical and problem-solving skills as for their specific training. Sometimes they find themselves pushing the perimeters of where government agencies go.

Allison Bowden is a CIA branch chief
Allison Bowden, who is now a branch chief at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), began her career as a co-op for the CIA while attending the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa. She completed three tours with the CIA as a student. First she was an analyst, looking into foreign space systems. The next two tours involved work on technical telecom development.

When she completed her BSEE in the early 1990s Bowden went to work as an EE for the CIA's directorate of science and technology (Washington, DC). She continued the telecom work she had started as a co-op. "We were solving challenging, high-priority issues," she says, interacting with a contractor base and doing state of the art technology development.

Her charter was to develop systems to be deployed overseas. The technology needed to be relatively simple to install and operate, so in addition to design and test work, she was coordinating with field engineers and preparing manuals.

After seven years she was promoted to program manager within the same business area, working with cutting-edge technology. She managed large systems made up of smaller subsystems, oversaw the work of contractors and liased between them and the agency.

Last year she became branch chief, so now she oversees other program managers as well as deciding what projects can be done based on technology and budget. In 2001, she completed an MS in systems engineering at George Washington University (Washington, DC).

"Even when I worked here as a co-op I felt I was doing something really meaningful," she says.

Alvin Dalmida, Jr

Alvin Dalmida, Jr

Alvin Dalmida, Jr is a project engineer with the Coast Guard
Alvin Dalmida, Jr works for the very high frequency communications radio systems division of the U.S. Coast Guard telecommunications and information systems command. As a project engineer, he supports VHF systems, digital selective calling and work on narrow banding and secure communications.

A native of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dalmida started at the Philadelphia School of Arts (Philadelphia, PA) in 1981. But after a year he decided to join the military for the training and employment opportunities he could get there.

He joined the Coast Guard and completed basic and electronics training. Then he was posted to Europe as a technician, maintaining transmitters and timing equipment in Italy, Spain and England.

He excelled at the work. In 1990 the Coast Guard sent him to a program at the University of San Diego (San Diego, CA) to take advanced training for top technicians. "It was a very exceptional school," he says.

Next Dalmida transferred to Key West, FL to join the Mobile Aerostat Program (MAP) as the lead technical specialist. Then he worked on navigation and communication systems used on the Coast Guard cutter Thetis for drug interdiction and search & rescue missions. He also supervised techies servicing, testing and maintaining electronics, instruments and test equipment.

In 1994 he moved to the U.S. embassy in the Bahamas, where he worked in the ops center and helped the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency coordinate communications for interagency drug interdiction and search and rescue. He also provided communications support and advice to the Bahamian police, the U.S. Customs Service and the Joint Interagency Taskforce-East.

After four years Dalmida went to work in the office of the military liaison officer at the U.S. embassy in Barbados. As tech advisor to eight Eastern Caribbean maritime services, he managed budgets, logistics and expenditures, and served as the Coast Guard's link with military personnel and vessels in the regional security system.

In 2000 he was sent to the Coast Guard navigation center as a commissioned officer. He was stationed in Alexandria, VA as a project officer in nationwide differential GPS (NDGPS) planning management. The work included testing transmission accuracy and converting radio beacon sites, as well as building new sites to transmit NDGPS corrections.

The Coast Guard built many such sites, and Dalmida got involved in engineering and surveying as well as the actual construction.

In 2004 he moved to his present VHF systems job, working on DHS initiatives including narrow-banding, which "allows more users on a channel without them stepping on each other," he explains. He has almost completed a BA in business management from the University of Phoenix.

His communications work is a great field to be in, Dalmida says. Anyone interested in it, whether from the military or the civilian standpoint, should "Get on board real fast and real soon. It's going to get more competitive, and if you're not thinking competitive, you should be."

Denise Bagnall

Denise Bagnall

Denise Bagnall: project lead at NSWC
Denise Bagnall is project lead for engineering assessment of the integrated architectural behavior model at the force integration and warfare analysis division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC, Dahlgren, VA).

Bagnall earned her 1988 BS in industrial engineering and ops research at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. She was recruited by NSWC and began there as a general engineer. She completed an MS in engineering admin at Virginia Tech in 1993.

Her first assignment at NSWC was a two-year rotation through various departments, focusing on hardware configuration management. In 1990 she changed to software, doing testing and configuration for the Navy airborne reconnaissance program.

She understood software from college, but "It was a challenge for me to understand the fleet!" she says. She spent a week on a Navy ship to help with the transition.

In 1992 Bagnall began working with cooperative engagement capability (CEC) for the NSWC and moved to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (Bethesda, MD) as a test engineer. The program links sensors from different ship platforms, allowing Navy vessels to share images, she explains. In 1994 she was promoted to certification lead, and two years later the CEC system was approved for use on Navy vessels.

In 1997 Bagnall was promoted to software baseline manager. She began working more directly with the NSWC program office (Washington, DC) as well as with prime contractor Raytheon.

A year later she transitioned to Dahlgren CEC program manager. Now she was overseeing all aspects of the system, responsible for financing, budgets, scheduling, risk management and more.

In 2003 she took a position as battleforce staff systems engineer, working with force level systems and distributed engineering plant operation.

About a year ago she moved to her current position as project lead in support of the single integrated air picture (SIAP), a system that provides shared graphics for all military services. She coordinates the efforts of her organization and the joint services.

"I'm glad I got the degree I did" Bagnall says. "IE gave me a broad background."

Dexter Simmons

Dexter Simmons

Dexter Simmons is a nuclear engineer for the DTRA
Dexter Simmons is a nuclear engineer for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA, Washington, DC). He's working on technologies for survivability of defense systems in the presence of nuclear weapons, including development of fault-tolerant technologies for radiation-hardened microelectronics.

The job is the latest in a series of technical positions Simmons has held in both military and civilian life.

He joined the Navy in 1982, a year after high school. When his two-year commitment was up he began liberal arts coursework at the University of Florida. But, "I hadn't decided where I was going," Simmons says.

He returned to the Navy where he worked in the deck division. The environment in the open ocean, he points out, "is not friendly to metal," and ship structures need constant attention.

A civilian again, he returned to the University of Florida and earned a degree in nuclear engineering in 1994. While in school he did two years of internships at Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant (Wading River, NY).

Shoreham was the nuclear plant that never made it into service. After years of construction amid strong community opposition the project was terminated. Simmons participated in the site shutdown.

When he graduated from college he moved to a data technician job at Brookhaven National Lab (Upton, NY). He worked in the environmental safety department, creating a database to inventory hazardous chemicals on the site.

In 1996 Simmons took a job as an intern in program management at the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (Washington, DC). The job involved assisting an interceptor missile program manager in reviewing small business research proposals. "I learned how the government works," he says.

In 1997 Simmons became a refueling engineer for the Navy nuclear program at Newport News Shipbuilding (Newport News, VA). He was responsible for the installation and removal of motor tube and control rod assemblies, and monitored mockups for refuelings.

Two years later he moved to the engineering design department where he worked with next-generation carriers to succeed the Nimitz class. Now he was responsible for reactor plant climate control, maintenance and test systems.

In 2000 he joined DTRA to take advantage of the agency's program management opportunities. When he started there he worked on programs to develop detectors for nuclear weapon treaty inspections. Three years later he reached his current engineering position in nuclear weapons effects.

The key to his varied career, he believes, was finding plenty of interesting challenges in related fields. "Learning how to influence people to consider your perspectives" is prime, Simmons says.

Susan Hauser

Susan Hauser

CE Susan Hauser works for NAVFAC
Susan Hauser is a general engineer for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command at Naval Station Norfolk (Norfolk, VA). Her communication as well as engineering skills are essential as she interacts with governmental agencies and contractors. Her BSCE is from Virginia Tech.

When Hauser graduated in 1984 she took a job as a structural engineer with Paul J. Ford & Co (Columbus, OH). She got to design buildings and even some broadcast towers.

Two years later she became a structural engineer with CEGG Associates (Virginia Beach, VA). She began some construction projects for the Navy, getting into specialized disciplines like landfill design, wave protection and coastal structures.

In 1990 Hauser joined FBY Associates in Norfolk, VA where she worked on large pier structures for the Navy. When things got slow and she was laid off she went directly to the Navy, where she found a job as an environmental engineer. She was responsible for EPA-mandated cleanup of waste sites at three Virginia bases.

As project manager, it was up to her to decide where soil needed to be excavated, communicate with the EPA and allocate funding for projects. "We were pretty much the sole representatives for the Navy," she says. "It was imperative to reach an agreement."

In 1996 she became supervisory general engineer, overseeing civil, structural and environmental engineers and following projects through to completion.

In 2003 she joined the capital improvement business line office of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command. She oversees $1.2 billion that comes through the office, allocating money where it's needed for building. She's also responsible for watching future budgets move through Congress and preparing work plans as much as two years ahead.

Since she began her career, Hauser says, she's "seen jobs in straight engineering flowing away." The military is hiring outside contractors for many engineering projects, although "in most cases we have retained the specialist engineers."

Herbert Massie

Herbert Massie

Herbert Massie works for the DNFSB
Herbert Massie is a technical specialist with the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB, Washington, DC), which oversees nuclear sites of the Department of Energy (DOE).

Massie graduated from Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) in 1970 and went to work as an engineer for Westinghouse Electric Co (Pittsburgh, PA). He finished an MSME in 1972.

He started in safety analysis, moved to project management and later became manager of the nuclear plant life extension program. That involved helping companies around the world get longer service from their nuclear facilities.

In 1991 Massie moved to the DNFSB as a member of tech staff. His first job was at the K reactor Savannah River site in South Carolina, where plutonium and tritium were produced for nuclear weapons. He helped oversee nuclear safety issues associated with power limits for reactor startup and shutdown.

In 1993 he began to work on non-reactor facilities like the Replacement Trituim Facility, along with continuing oversight at other nuclear facilities. He also began work on an MS in nuclear engineering at the University of Maryland-College Park, which he completed in 1999.

In 1997 he took on responsibility for board recommendations for the safe storage of uranium-233, working with the DOE and its contractors. He also took part in DNFSB-sponsored public meetings.

From 2002 to 2005 he oversaw dismantling of the Rocky Flats nuclear plant near Boulder, CO, which is now finished. So he's back with the Savannah River site as the DNFSB cognizant engineer for safety oversight.

"It's my favorite site. I've come full circle," he says. And he'll be able to enjoy the work for quite a while, as he anticipates there's at least twenty years of waste cleanup ahead at Savannah River.

Dr Sujata Millick

Dr Sujata Millick

Dr Sujata Millick is an ONR program director
Sujata Millick, PhD, is a program director at the Office of Naval Research (ONR, Arlington, VA). She manages the naval research advisory committee, a group of deeply knowledgeable experts who assess the science and technology needs of the Navy and Marine Corps.

Millick earned her BS in ocean engineering at the University of California-Berkeley in 1987 and went to work for ship design firm M. Rosenblatt & Son (San Francisco, CA). A year later her work took her to another Rosenblatt office in Arlington, VA.

In 1989 she became an ocean engineer for the Navy, responsible for submarine design work. In 1993 she joined the Department of Commerce (Silver Springs, MD). She worked for the department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), developing equipment and platform designs for ships and submersibles to be used for oceanographic research.

In 1994 Millick moved to Capitol Hill to work for the Senate Appropriations Committee on defense appropriations. The next year she went on to ONR as a program officer for oceanographic platforms, working with undersea equipment like Alvin, the submersible that explored the Titanic.

She completed an MS in systems engineering at Virginia Tech in 1997, followed by a PhD in public policy specializing in technology from the University of Southern California in 2001. That same year she returned to Commerce, overseeing technology policy and looking at economic policy issues.

Last May she came back to ONR. The committee that she manages is a group of about thirty strategists who offer technology policy recommendations to the Navy and Marine Corps.

The committee includes execs of technology companies, university profs and retired high-ranking military officers. "They assess the science and technology needs of the Navy and Marine Corps," Millick says, and she takes their recommendations to the assistant secretary of the Navy for approval. "We do three to five studies a year," she notes.

"I've learned that I fit best as a translator between scientists and politicians," she says. "That's what I find most interesting. I like to look at where policy decisions are made and help scientists make their point to policymakers."

Carmella Varoz sees the big picture at Sandia
EE Carmella Varoz works in security technology at Sandia National Laboratories (Albuquerque, NM). She completed a BS in electronic engineering technology in 1991 and a BSEE in 1992 at New Mexico Highlands University.

In school she did several internships at Sandia, and after graduation she went there as an EE working on pattern recognition. Soon she was admitted to Sandia's one year on campus program, and went to New Mexico State University for her 1994 MS in electrical computer engineering.

Back at Sandia she worked as an EE in the security technology department, doing simulation modeling and digital design.

At the end of 1998 she moved to the intrusion detection technology department. "I like outdoor, hands-on electronic stuff," she says, and the job let her take her work into the field. She was doing alarm data analyses for the DOD and the DOE, working with exterior and interior sensors.

She and her team would run through performance tests on sensors being considered for use by the departments. "We verified that they would work the way the vendor said they would," she says.

When she became pregnant she temporarily gave up the rigors of field engineering. Indoors, she moved farther into project management, working on cost analyses, scheduling and follow-up reports.

Following 9/11, Varoz' projects expanded to the DHS as well as the DOD and DOE. Last year she returned to her favorite, outdoor testing.

Today she focuses on projects involving port, border and cargo ship security. Besides fieldwork, she does resource planning, technical writing and presentations. She is beginning to work with RF communications and wireless networks. "We're coming into a new dimension, a new era of technology," she says. She likes the challenge of that.

Randy Yuen

Randy Yuen

ME Randy Yuen: to the South Pole and back
ME Randy Yuen notes that the science and facility projects he's involved with in Antarctica are not directly related to homeland defense. He does work for the Navy, however. His work, and that of the scientists he's supporting, is clearly in the public interest, and certainly pushing the perimeters of where government agencies go.

For the past five years Yuen has been more or less commuting to Antarctica, working as a project design engineer on a research station at the South Pole. The station's work involves research projects in areas like aeronomy, astrophysics, seismology and climate systems.

Yuen has been a civilian engineer with the U.S. Navy for two decades. Today he's supervisory ME for the capital improvement department in the mechanical branch of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Pacific.

He earned his BSME at the University of Hawaii in 1983 and went to work for the NAVFAC professional development center program. This two-year stint introduces new employees to various departments of NAVFAC Pacific. "I was anxious to learn everything," Yuen says.

His indoctrination began with in-house design of small construction projects for the Navy public works center, many of them renovations at the Pearl Harbor naval base. By 1992 he was working directly for NAVFAC Pacific, handling jobs costed in the millions.

"It was a whole new world," he says. "It was a wakeup call that there were bigger projects out there." He was project engineer for several warehouses in Guam, then on to a job for the Navy Seals in Hawaii and other large construction projects in Japan, Guam and Okinawa.

In 1994 Yuen began his work in Antarctica, where NAVFAC Pacific is acting as technical consultant for the National Science Foundation on a $135 million aboveground/underground research station at the South Pole. Yuen has served as liaison with the NSF and helped coordinate and schedule the work, liaising with Raytheon, the polar services provider, and the science community.

The station includes all the facilities scientists need to live and work in the frigid Antarctic, and underground tanks for fuel to power buildings and vehicles. Just getting materials and tools to the site was a major endeavor, Yuen says. Most shipments leave the West Coast, and are shipped or barged to McMurdo, on the southern coast of Antarctica, to wait until so-called spring comes to the region.

"You have to think outside the box," Yuen says. Every year the underground fuel storage tanks are buried deeper in ice until they are no longer accessible. And with the station built on a glacier, differential settlement requires jacking columns inserted in the ice to level the surface station.

As technology advances, new solutions become available. "In thirty years they'll start planning a new station," Yuen says.

This has been a great learning experience for him. "Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought I'd be doing this," he says.

Commander Jay Spencer

Commander Jay Spencer

The Navy recruiting command aggressively seeks diversity
Commander Jay Spencer of the U.S. Navy recruiting command directs recruiting for the nuclear fields and submarine programs division. He's aggressive in his drive to increase diversity in the Navy at the engineering level.

Spencer is looking for recent engineering grads and engineers up to the age of thirty-five to recruit into the Navy. Many of his recruits work on submarines; some go on to chief engineer of a nuclear sub. Others work on surface ships or become nuclear power school instructors or naval reactor engineers.

The Navy, Spencer says, "has been very interested in improving the diversity of our officer corps. When you go on a submarine you see America from the enlisted side, and it's culturally, ethnically and racially diverse."

The officer side is not as diverse, and Spencer is trying to break that mold. "I want enlisted sailors to see someone in command and say, 'There's someone I can relate to.'"

Spencer and his staff attend career fairs and minority association meetings. "There are plenty of people of diverse background who are qualified," he says.

The pay is OK, he notes. "You're not going to make a million dollars, but plenty of people use the management experience to launch later careers with civilian companies."

Every likely applicant goes through a screening process that includes a personal interview with Admiral Kirkland Donald, director of naval reactors.

The FBI looks for critical skills
FBI special agent Jim Knights recruits engineers as both future special agents and support staff at his office in Pittsburgh, PA. The FBI has been reaching out to engineers more than ever since 9/11, he says.

"We only hire those with critical skills," he explains. That includes computer science, physical science, engineering and fluency in critical foreign languages. Jobs at the FBI include special agent, with law enforcement and intelligence responsibilities, and professional support staff. Engineers are essential in both areas, Knights says.

Engineers and scientists can help with investigations and can be assets in the courtroom. Even more so, he says, the FBI likes techies for their analytical thinking. Engineers, with training in solving complex problems, fill useful slots at the FBI.

NSA extends the net
At the National Security Agency (NSA) recruiting office, technical recruiter Nadine Wheeler is reaching out to include engineers with a wide variety of diverse backgrounds.

The NSA attends many career fairs, most frequently hiring EEs and computer engineers. Diversity, Wheeler says, is always a high priority.

Janette McAnallen, chief of the NSA office of diversity and disability affairs, adds that "NSA views diversity as a business imperative. Through building a strong, diverse workforce with the right skills mix, NSA can create a decisive strategic and tactical advantage for our leaders and policymakers."


Claire Swedberg is a freelance writer who lives in La Conner, WA.

Check the latest openings at these diversity-minded organizations.

Company and location Business area
Air Force Reserve
(Warner Robbins, GA)
Air Force missions, including hurricane hunting, aerial firefighting, pararescue and aeromedical missions
Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA, Washington, DC)
Government intelligence
Defense Intelligence Agency
(Washington, DC)
Intelligence for the defense community
Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board
(Washington DC)
Nuclear safety for DOE
Defense Threat Reduction Agency
(DTRA, Fort Belvoir, VA)
Safeguards America and its interests from weapons of mass destruction
Federal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI, Washington, DC)
Federal intelligence
National Security Agency
(Ft Meade, MD)
Federal intelligence
Naval Surface Warfare Center
(Dahlgren, VA)
Analysis, systems engineering, research, test, evaluation and integration of naval and joint warfare systems
NAVFAC, Pacific Division
(Pearl Harbor, HI)
Engineering, public works and acquisition services in Hawaii for Navy, Marine Corps, DOD and other federal agency clients
Office of Naval Research
(Arlington, VA)
Military research
Sandia National Laboratories
(Albuquerque, NM)
Research and development programs for national interests
U.S. Department of Defense
(DOD, Rosslyn, VA)
Military forces for U.S. security
U.S. Department of State
(Washington, DC)
Government agency
U.S. Coast Guard
(Arlington, VA)
www.gocoastguard.com, www.uscg.mil/civilianjobs.htm
Military service
U.S. Navy
(Millington, TN)
Military service
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
(Washington, DC)
Regulates commercial use of nuclear energy

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