DAHLGREN, Va. – U.S. Navy warships patrol the globe regardless of challenges and Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) Hispanic leaders – some of whom were once Sailors – share this resolve. Delivery of new and emerging technologies is their ongoing, urgent mission in spite of COVID- 19 because they know it bolsters the effectiveness, morale, and readiness of warfighters to fight, win and return safely.
John Colon – leader of NSWCDD’s new Surface Combatant Test, Evaluation, and Analysis Branch – was one such Sailor. At sea, he witnessed fleet issues resolved when Dahlgren software updated the Aegis Combat System. He joined fellow NSWCDD Hispanic leaders during this year’s National Hispanic Heritage Month to share experiences, offer career advice and to convey an important message to the fleet.
That message from Colon along with Camille Ward, Lory Santiago-Mendez, Felix Lopez, Jessica Delgado, Moises Iglesias-Colon, Javier Villanueva, Leyla Hernandez and Dr. Luis Rodriguez is a promise: “We will meet your needs as warfighters in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“As a former Sailor, I have seen the impacts of providing a deliverable to meet the needs of the fleet, and I want to continue in that tradition,” said Colon, who supported numerous exercises as an operations specialist while testing the Aegis Combat System aboard USS Ticonderoga (CG 47) during the 1980s. “With the pandemic situation, we continue leveraging existing and new tools such as Agile, DevSecOps, and automation to enable our engineers to get the job done. Our collaboration with all stakeholders ensures that we stay on track in meeting deliverables to the fleet on time.”
Camille Ward – Future Combat Systems Division Head
As the Future Combat Systems Division Head, Camille Ward will continue to lead the expansion of new combat systems capabilities through defining future combat systems, rapid prototyping, developing software and pursuing related research and development.
“Our job is bigger than us,” said Ward. “We are here to do our part for our military and our nation.” She emphasized that developing technologies for the fleet requires true leadership with passion, drive, integrity and competence along with management skills that ensure success for NSWCDD teams.
“I believe my organization’s ability to perform relies heavily on the culture and attitude of the leadership team, including supervisors, program directors, project leads, and chief engineers,” said Ward. “We must continuously drive towards success, always be willing to build new skills to align with our mission, be at the technical forefront, seek challenges, and enjoy our work. Expectations for myself and the organization are to always do what’s right, not what’s easy, never compromise technical integrity and focus on why we are here – we are here for the warfighter.”
Lory Santiago-Mendez – Electromagnetic Environmental Effects Mission Assurance Branch Head
NSWCDD’s Electromagnetic Environmental Effects (E3) Mission Assurance Branch Head, Lory Santiago- Mendez, and her team are also hard at work for the warfighter during the pandemic. The division’s mission is to lead E3 lifecycle systems engineering and assessment for Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense and surface maritime sensors, including Link 16 and Tactical Exploitation Antennas, and to provide technical expertise and facilities for evaluating antenna performance parameters and radar cross section test, evaluation and analysis.
“The pandemic has definitely been a challenge,” said Santiago-Mendez. “We were all forced to stop, leave our comfort zones and adapt to a new situation. The pandemic has shown us the amazing ability of the human being to adapt. It has created opportunities to improve our communication skills, to be more open and to practice empathy. It has also made us evaluate our current ways and processes.”
The new branch head described her team’s transition during the pandemic, pointing out that scientists and engineers learned to be more flexible and understanding of one another, which gave her confidence that, despite circumstances, the branch will tenaciously support warfighters and the fleet.
“Even as the pandemic brought many challenges as I stepped into the branch head role, it also served as a unique learning experience,” she said. “I figured out new ways to address situations such as the lack of face-to-face interaction, rigid communication processes, varied work environments and accommodation requests from sponsors.”
Felix López – Maritime Weapons and Launcher Systems Integration Branch Head
As branch head, Felix López welcomes new hires like family at the NSWCDD Maritime Weapons and Launcher Systems Integration Branch where he began his Navy civilian career 20 years ago.
“They welcomed me like family and to this day, we are like family,” said Lopez, recounting his first day at Dahlgren after graduating from the University of Puerto Rico with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. “That atmosphere makes a big difference when coming from another place and adjusting to a new language and different weather.”
Lopez’s branch mostly supports the MK 41/MK 57 Vertical Launching System (VLS). The Mk 41 VLS is a canister launching system that provides a rapid-fire launch capability against hostile threats. It can launch Sea Sparrow missiles against hostile aircraft, missiles and surface units. The Mk 57 VLS is an evolution of MK 41 system.
“Leading this branch has been one of my career highlights as it is full of bright and committed engineers striving to make a difference and provide reliable support to the warfighter, making sure deployed combat systems meet the needs of the United States Navy,” said Lopez.
Jessica Delgado – Integrated Topside Engineering Branch Head
Jessica Delgado – who heads NSWCDD’s Integrated Topside Engineering Branch – manages a team that leads the Navy in integrated topside design (ITD) engineering to optimize the operational performance of ship topside systems. As the engineering agent for ITD, the branch guides new ship design and construction as well as the integration of systems on in-service ships. The team also leads the Navy in 3D scanning and modeling of ship topsides as well as computational analysis in support of ITD.
“My advice for folks that would like to pursue leadership opportunities is to follow what I like to call the PR2 formula,” said Delgado. She listed the formula’s three points. “Perspective – always seek to understand the big picture and learn how your work fits into the overarching Department of Defense and Department of the Navy missions. Reputation – work hard, follow up on your commitments and be accountable. Relationships – build a network, seek mentorship and find advocates. I believe that no matter your background, gender, or career stage, following this formula provides the necessary building blocks to be a leader in the Department of the Navy.”
Moises Iglesias-Colon – Ship Self Defense Command and Control Integration Branch Head
Moises Iglesias-Colon leads the NSWCDD Ship Self-Defense Command and Control Integration Branch with a mission to enhance warfighter capabilities by advancing command and control solutions.
“Leadership has been forced to trust their teams more than ever while creatively engaging the workforce during the maximum telework and travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 Pandemic,” said Iglesias-Colon, who worked to onboard a new hire remotely from Puerto Rico. “I communicated via phone and mail to determine where to ship NMCI equipment, Jet Pack and office supplies, where the employee could obtain a CAC card, and then connect his computer into the NMCI network so he could upload his profile and be able to telework from home. The remote onboarding was successful. I documented lessons learned and shared them with other branch heads and Human Resources. Going the extra mile is part of leadership, and the team will see we care and work for them.”
Javier Villanueva – Missile and Launcher Safety Branch Head
“My experience as a Hispanic government employee has been great,” said Javier Villanueva, NSWCDD Missile and Launcher Safety Branch head. “The command has always welcomed me with open arms. I have received nothing but great support and encouragement from my leaders and mentors. For Hispanic engineers looking to get into leadership roles, I would say that there are plenty of opportunities available. I recommend taking the lead on challenging and engaging projects. Nobody gets recognized for taking on easy work. Build your professional reputation, find a good mentor and work harder than anyone else.”
Currently, Villanueva provides leadership and oversight over a portfolio of 11 missile and launcher projects. “Fiscal year 2020 was particularly challenging due to the new COVID-19 restrictions, which limited face-to-face meetings and interactions,” he said. “Fortunately, I have been blessed with an outstanding workforce and leadership team that has always been willing to go the extra mile.”
Villanueva and his team’s accomplishments during the pandemic included the Weapon System Explosives Safety Review Board’s concurrence with the Over-The-Horizon Missile Launching System Block 1 limited deployment with Missile Power Application Non-Launch (MPAN) capability in addition to the board’s concurrence with Standard Missile 3 Block IIA MPAN.
Leyla Hernandez – Weapon Control Hardware Engineering and Test Branch Head
Leyla Hernandez began guiding the NSWCDD Weapon Control Hardware Engineering and Test Branch through the pandemic in April as its new branch head. Her leadership enabled the branch to continue developing mission planning and multi-weapon control systems hardware for the safe and effective employment of precision guided weapons from manned and unmanned platforms.
The branch supports Battle Management System capabilities affecting a wide range of platforms for the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Special Operations. Prior to this position and since 2016, she led the Platform Integration Branch.
“If your career goal is to have a lead role, you should not be afraid to apply to positions outside of your area of expertise,” said Hernandez. “You may be uneasy at first but the opportunity for growth is great.”
Dr. Luis Rodriguez – Technical Workforce Strategy Lead, DASN for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation
Dr. Luis Rodriguez – former NSWCDD Combat Systems Engineering and Integration Division head – is currently on a one-year detail to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation as the Technical Workforce Strategy Lead.
“I recognize the challenges the global pandemic brought to the way we do business in Dahlgren and across the naval warfare centers and laboratory, but we are fortunate to have a skillful and committed workforce,” said Rodriguez.
As division head at Dahlgren, Rodriguez led a team whose mission is to engineer integrated combat systems to deliver threat-negating warfighting capability to the fleet. “The team quickly learned to successfully meet our mission while maximizing telework and utilizing new tools. Line management also adapted leadership and supervisory skills to continue supporting our workforce and the warfighter.”