Science and Technology News

Monday, September 3, 2012

Army Engineers Helping To Protect Against Chemical & Biological Warfare

A U.S. Army engineer is bringing the expertise of America’s military scientific community to ensure America’s allies are safe from chemical and biological agents.

Jorge Christian, with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, uses his 27 years of experience in chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear protection to provide the best equipment for American soldiers as well as international partners.

Christian serves as chief of RDECOM’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center’s Protection Engineering Division within the Engineering Directorate. He supports individual and collective protection through his expertise in engineering life cycle acquisition and technical support.

After graduating from the University of Puerto Rico in 1984 with a bachelor of science in industrial engineering, he began as an Army intern in the School of Engineering and Logistics in Texarkana, Texas.

“When I was in school, I geared myself to use science and math perhaps in industry,” he said. “It never occurred to me that the Army would allow me the opportunity to use science and math. To my surprise, once I got here to the Army, I began to see how there were practical ways in which science and math were being used.”

Science and math are inherent in everything that a soldier wears or uses, including protective masks and suits, respirators and agent detectors, he said.

“All [the equipment] has elements of science and math, from the material, to engineering, to how we will sustain the equipment in order to ensure it meets the requirements,” he said.

Christian earned a master of business administration from Texas A&M University-Texarkana in 1985 and then worked as a test director for Aberdeen Test Center, formerly known as Combat Systems Test Activity, at APG. In 1988, he transferred to ECBC’s Detection Directorate as a producibility engineer before transitioning to the Physical Protection Directorate in 1992.

Christian emphasizes the importance of international collaboration and cooperation in countering the threat of CBRN attacks. He serves as head of the U.S. delegation to the NATO Joint CBRN Defense Capabilities Development Group, Physical Protection Sub-group, which is responsible for developing and maintaining operational and technical standards for individual and collective protection materiel for NATO nations.

“My role is to ensure that the position of the United States, especially that of the Army and ECBC, transitions into the working aspects of the group,” he said. “One of the key roles that I play is the lead for many of the technical engineering publications that are pertinent to the area of individual and collective protection.”

The expertise of U.S. military scientists and engineers in CBRN matters is essential for the international community’s preparation against threats, Christian said.

“It is important for the United States to collaborate with other nations, allied nations as well as those within NATO, to counter the threat of the use of chemical warfare agents because the U.S. is at the forefront of providing capabilities, knowledge and expertise,” he said. “The threat of chemical and biological agents is one that is now global.

“We have seen a number of countries that that not only have the capability but also have the interest of harming others, including Americans. It is very important that we, together with other nations, leverage resources to ensure all the best capabilities [are] available to Warfighters and civilians to protect themselves in the event they face a chemical attack.”

The Protection Engineering Division, which Christian leads, supports the mission of the Joint Project Manager for Protection and TACOM-Life Cycle Management Command, Chemical Biological Product Support Integration Directorate. The division provides life cycle acquisition, engineering and sustainment support to these customers.

Key examples of the work include the generation of acquisition documentation, development of technical data and the review of equipment performance by analyzing technical data packages, product acceptance data and performance specifications.

“We ensure the equipment performs the way it is expected in the area of individual and collective protection [by] reviewing technical data, corrections to the equipment as we see it is appropriate, and also working hand-in-hand with the manufacturers to ensure that the corrections are made and equipment continues to be producible, sustainable, and survivable,” he said.

Christian described the advancements made by ECBC scientists and engineers for soldier protection against CBRN hazards. His division is responsible for individual protection, including respirators and respirator filters, and collective protection, including filtration; barrier material; contamination control areas; and fixed-site, mobile, and transportable shelters.

“We’re looking at lighter weight, low-burden types of materials on suits,” he said. “As we go forward looking at the transition of better respirators, the ones we have fielded, like those in the Joint Service General Purpose Masks, provide technologies that allow for better eyesight, less resistance, more [comfort], more efficient drinking and communication systems, as well as an excellent platform that is suitable for the transition to advance technologies as they mature.

“In the area of collective protection [for soft-walled shelters and tents], we are looking at lighter material that can serve as a barrier by itself or also having a capability of [being] self-detoxifying. That type of material will provide the added capability that will not require a separate liner-barrier material [added to the standard shelter or tent] to protect the Warfighter in that toxic-free area. In the area of filtration, we are looking at new absorbents that are going to be more flexible than the standard carbon that we [now] use and [that] also can be tailored to the specific toxic industrial chemical.”

Christian, a native of Puerto Rico, said he is appreciative of the chance to contribute to the missions of ECBC and the Army. He also praised the opportunities for advancement within the Army.

“As a minority in ECBC, I truly believe that this organization has given me all the opportunities that I could imagine,” he said. “Along the way, I received the support of many mentors who cared about me and allowed me to grow.”

“I never felt any kind of barriers. Instead, a number of doors opened that allowed me to become the person I am today. I consider ECBC my home. I truly believe I have more to offer and the road doesn’t end for me here. We have a mission to accomplish, and I believe that I can be one of the key players to get it done.

By Mr. Dan Lafontaine (RDECOM)
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