Story by Amy Forsythe
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. —
This summer, interns and developmental employees made direct contributions to Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity while learning about the Marine Corps’ mission, Marines and the equipment they use.
MCTSSA hosted 21 students as part of the Developmental Science and Technology and Research Scholars program. These students, often referred to by the program’s acronym, DEVSTARS, augmented MCTSSA’s workforce and received hands-on experience in preparation to be the next generation of engineers.
While at MCTSSA, the interns made strides in many areas such as augmenting cyber resilience, supporting long-range communications and reducing electromagnetic spectrum signatures.
“There’s a pressing need to develop the next generation of engineers to fill the civilian ranks within MCTSSA workforce,” said Lt. Col. Michael Liguori, commanding officer at MCTSSA. “It’s become a top priority in the past couple of years to recruit and retain civilian engineers in a highly competitive job market.”
Upon receiving assignments to MCTSSA, the students quickly coalesced into a self-named “Intern Platoon.” This allowed them to better share technical and learning resources and to help one another with various assignments.
The DEVSTARS program aimed to help students improve their engineering skills and provide them with opportunities to apply relevant academic studies to emerging Marine Corps challenges. Each scholar was selected for their ability to contribute to current and future efforts and received a contribution plan for their internship.
There are several programs that facilitate and funnel qualified and potential engineers within the Department of Defense:
DoD Science, Math and Research for Transformation (SMART) program
DoD College Acquisition Internship Program (DCAIP)
Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program (NREIP)
Naval Acquisition Development Program (NADP)
The DEVSTAR participants were mentored by multiple engineers while working with a team that included current NADP or SMART employees, as well as Naval Postgraduate School alumni serving on active duty.
DoD and Department of Navy organizations planned and coordinated selection and hiring activities; sponsored and funded travel, stipends or pay; and provided noncompetitive opportunities for hiring. Most of the internships began in June and ended in late August.
The Office of Naval Research provided additional stipends, enabling some extensions into September.
Preparing for the summer surge
Preparing for the surge of temporary help began last year when MCTSSA’s engineering leaders identified areas of skills and capabilities needed in the near-, mid- and long-term. As a result, the command developed 2021 work and study plans for the students.
MCTSSA teams reviewed more than 3,000 applications to find the best mix of academic, technical and extracurricular experiences among the applicants. After selecting the most qualified applicants, mentors hosted virtual and physical visits to MCTSSA’s Camp Pendleton, California, location to ensure expectations were set accurately before making the final selections to work at MCTSSA.
Joy Champion, Marine Corps Systems Command’s engineering competency manager, assisted with the selection and placement processes. Champion also met with interns and developmental employees during a visit to MCTSSA.
Developmental employees, in some cases, are part of the MCTSSA workforce at the beginning, middle or end of their own experiences in SMART or NADP developmental assignments. They were essential to successful preparations, said Liguori.
Learning the mission of the Marines Corps
In July, interns and developmental employees received orientation classes from Marine leaders about the constructs of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force in Warfighter Support Division.
Then they headed to the School of Infantry – Camp Pendleton to observe new infantry Marines advance through their weapons qualifications. They also watched Marines operate in a training environment, which included moving with body armor, carrying heavy loads, setting up communication equipment, and embarking and disembarking on Marine Corps ground vehicles.
“Events like this allow entry-level employees to have a perspective on the Marines they support and to see their operations in action,” said Bernard Traphan, MCTSSA’s director of Program Engineering Support Division. “I think they were surprised how difficult certain aspects of the job were for the Marines, which gives them motivation to come up with bright ideas to make things easier for the Marine out in the field.”
MCTSSA interns observed Marines as they called-for-fires and launched artillery on a designated range aboard Camp Pendleton. Understanding how Marines operate in the field or in a combat zone, MCTSSA developmental employees and interns gained a better understanding of the environment where their systems and Marines must operate.
“I feel it was important to conduct this event because it built a sense of camaraderie and fostered a sense of community within the developmental employees,” said Spencer Holloway, a cybersecurity test engineer who entered into federal service through the NADP. “I would have loved to experience something like this my first summer so I’m happy they were able to.”
Interns were assigned to specialty cyber teams where they learned about emerging tools and how to employ them in a variety of environments. They also gained an understanding of penetration testing and participated in cyber testing of the M777 Lightweight 155mm howitzer.
Multiple interns entered into the Advanced Concepts Cell, where they complemented electromagnetic spectrum efforts by developing artificial intelligence tools for signal processing to help Marines fight and win in spectrum-denied/contested environments.
Interns also worked with test tool developers to create and improve tools to automate MCTSSA testing. The tools reduce errors and time required to run tests by over 50%. They simultaneously increase accuracy and repeatability while also raising confidence in the results of testing, accurately predicting usability by Marines. Electrical engineering interns assisted the MCTSSA Electromagnetic Spectrum team, conducting radio experiments to enhance very long-range communications in Expeditionary Advance Base Operations.
An intern named Jared Fox, a Marine veteran currently attending University of California at Los Angeles, received a MCTSSA Bar-Raiser award for assisting units with field spectrum monitoring and measurements and in the development of radio software.
MCTSSA, an elite, full-scale laboratory facility operated by the Marine Corps, is a subordinate command of Marine Corps Systems Command. MCTSSA, based at Camp Pendleton, provides test and evaluation, engineering, and deployed technical support for Marine Corps and joint service command, control, computer, communications and intelligence systems throughout all acquisition lifecycle phases.