ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md., March 8, 2011 — Not everyone at Fort Monmouth, N.J., was happy in 2005 when the announcement came down that the post would close and that most of its mission would move here as part of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission plan.
But fast-forward six years, and the new arrivals at Aberdeen Proving Ground say they’re already seeing the wisdom of the plan and its benefit to warfighters on the battlefield.
BRAC is bringing major changes to this historic post, with the exodus of the Army Ordnance Center and School and the influx of thousands of high-tech organizations that are making it a technological hub.
The largest group of new tenants hails from Fort Monmouth, former home of Army Communications and Electronics Command and Communications-Electronic Research, Development and Engineering Center. It’s made up largely of senior-level scientists, engineers, researchers, acquisition professionals and logisticians focused on developing, testing and fielding cutting-edge communications and electronics systems and equipment for the fighting force.
Before BRAC, they had been shoe-horned into more than 90 buildings scattered across Fort Monmouth. Often, they were miles away from their colleagues and relegated to substandard workspaces made available to support the expanding mission.
“There was a lot of retrofitting,” said Joe Cocco, deputy principal engineer for the project. “You squeezed into a building and made that building fit the mission, or maybe you spread the mission over three or four different buildings. Each organization was in their own building or own area of a building.”
BRAC promised to change all that, bringing together these functions at Aberdeen Proving Ground and organizing them in a way that threw traditional organizational charts out the window.
In addition to the Fort Monmouth activities, the state-of-the-art campus built to support their activities also would bring together other key partners in their mission that previously had been based at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., Fort Huachuca, Ariz., and Fort Belvoir, Va.
Collectively, they would be called the “C4ISR Materiel Enterprise” — for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance. And as they began moving into their new “C4ISR Center of Excellence” here, they were organized more like a private-sector corporation than a military organization.
Team C4ISR is built around “business domains,” each focused on a different project or program, Cocco said. “Within each of those domains are several of the organizations, all mixed in each of the buildings and working together as an enterprise.”
“A domain is built around a single product development line,” such as a new radar system, explained Army Col. Andrew Nelson, deputy garrison commander for transformation.
“Components of all those elements that support the mission are in there, all now clustered around their common laboratory.
“They work for three different bosses, but they are all working on the same domain – the same product – with the same objective to produce the next version of that radar or radio system,” he added.
That’s a whole different way of doing business than what the staff had at their previous posts. “In the old scenario, they were all separated,” said Army Col. Bill Montgomery, CECOM’s chief of staff. “The engineers were in one building. The safety people were in another. The project managers were in another building. That worked OK. But imagine if you got those entities together in a room. Think of the difference that could make.”
Nelson agreed. “That’s the beauty of what’s happening here using the domain concept,” he said. “You get the synergy of various team members, all working together with a common objective. It’s a big improvement over how they did business before.”
It also speeds up the process that gets new systems and equipment to the field, Montgomery said. “When you bring the different people involved [in a program] around the table, with all of them contributing their own experiences and expertise, it helps us get things done quicker, because you are not going through four or five different offices in different buildings,” he said.
With more than half of the C4ISR team’s 7,200 employees already settled into their new campus here and the rest to follow before the congressionally mandated Sept. 15 deadline, Montgomery said he’s already seeing clear indications the new organization is working.
Employees are enjoying the bright, open spaces of the new C4ISR campus that rivals the most modern corporate technology parks, he said. The environmentally friendly buildings are built around courtyards and green space that even includes a grass-covered auditorium.
And no longer are C4ISR staffers relegated to cramped workspaces. When the second phase of the project is completed in the next month or so, the full complex will include 2.5 million square feet of new space spread across 13 buildings.
But selling the new facility — and the move to Aberdeen — wasn’t necessarily an easy task. Shortly after the BRAC decision, Cocco traveled to Aberdeen to walk the grounds that would become the new C4ISR campus. He was part of a team that worked tirelessly with planners at both Fort Monmouth and Aberdeen Proving Ground to sort through the thousands of tiny details involved in building a first-class new facility, and moving an entire operation without disrupting its immediate wartime support role.
As construction continued on the new complex, Cocco hosted numerous bus trips so Fort Monmouth employees could see Aberdeen Proving Ground and its surrounding communities. Most of all, Cocco said, he wanted them to see the buildings being readied for them and entice them to make the move to Aberdeen.
Ultimately, about half of the Fort Monmouth work force opted to do so – far more than the 20 percent typical of previous BRAC moves, Nelson said.
While many of the C4ISR employees have relocated to Maryland, some have retained their New Jersey residences and commute between the two states. Among them is Richard Wittstruck in the office for intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors, who commutes four and a half hours, roundtrip, between his home and Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Living through his second BRAC – the first took him from Maryland to Fort Monmouth — Wittstruck said he’s worked hard to ensure his people understand that closing Fort Monmouth was strictly a business decision.
“BRAC is a very personal thing,” he said. “The first thing you have to do is convince the work force that it’s not a reflection of their performance. It’s not as if they failed at their mission and were closed.”
Wittstruck credited the efforts planners made to retain employees, recruit new ones to replace those who opted not to move to Aberdeen, and provide the infrastructure to support them at their new post.
Already, he said he sees the payoff in being able to coordinate activities across functions, with people able to step outside their offices rather than running across an installation to collaborate with their colleagues.
“There is going to be an intangible difference in the type of synergy and interaction that you are going to see,” he said. “But to be practical, it is going to take time. It is going to take time to synthesize and synergize that.”
As that evolution takes place, with C4ISR employees sharing spaces at their new desks and laboratory facilities, or gathering at food courts expected to open in the coming months, Montgomery said, they’ll help to transform the way the Army does business.
“This is huge,” he said. “We’re getting back to the way things used to be done, which is just talk to each other” rather than relying on telephones and e‑mail.
“This new facility and organization really gives us the capability to get together and talk around the table and discuss the work we’re doing,” he said. “And ultimately, that’s going to have a huge impact on how we support the warfighter.”
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