Helping the Air Force Plan for the FutureJune 2009
From his office at MITRE's Fort Walton Beach site, communications engineer Eugene Turnbaugh uses his expertise in airborne networking to support his customer, the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), at its headquarters in the Florida panhandle.
"AFSOC is one of the Air Force's major commands," explains Turnbaugh. "It delivers special operations combat power anytime, anywhere."
Though he had previous Air Force experience, when he first came to AFSOC Turnbaugh didn't truly appreciate the challenges of technology integration within the constraints of a military aircraft. "I'd recommend every engineer find a way to tour an AFSOC aircraft to better understand the complexities of simple, physical integration—there is simply no space for something new," he says. "It's an eye-opening experience. Each aircraft is different in both its mission and equipment, and every piece of equipment is there for a specific reason. Any added capability must be light and small, otherwise it's a non-starter for the warfighter. The greatest challenge, though, is not just aircraft integration but the integration of capability—both hardware and software—across ground, air, and space."
In one of his projects, Turnbaugh used his communications engineering experience to support the research and development of a high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft.
"My role continues as AFSOC's technical advisor on this program, which is currently a joint capability technology demonstration," Turnbaugh says. "It's my responsibility to ensure the technical capabilities of the aircraft are aligned with the missions for which it's intended."
The Right Fit for the Job
Turnbaugh's knowledge of airborne networking is critical to his job. "I've been working on a mission networking enabling concept for AFSOC. This is a formal document that lays out a plan of how we migrate from where we are now—in terms of technical capabilities—to where we want to be in the future. It attempts to take on the challenges of global employment of special operations, while remaining flexible enough to respond to everything from acquisition delays to evolving enemy threats."
"Eugene brings a unique set of technical skills and domain experience to both the site and MITRE," says JC Dominick, MITRE's site leader at Fort Walton Beach. "His 20-plus years of computer, communications, and network experience—along with real world application expertise—makes him a real asset to both AFSOC and MITRE."
Turnbaugh notes that having his office at AFSOC headquarters is advantageous for both him and his sponsor. "I can't emphasize enough how much I appreciate sitting next to the warfighter. I can tap firsthand into a wealth of experience and knowledge about how systems are used in the field. If folks outside of AFSOC have questions, I can get answers quickly. Similarly, I can continue to reach out to experts throughout the company, in addition to those at our own site. I've used MITRE expertise many times and have been extremely impressed with our company's knowledge base."
Eager to Try Someplace New
Before Turnbaugh joined MITRE in 2007 he lived in Rome, N.Y., working for the Air Force Research Lab's Information Directorate. He had worked with MITRE staff during this phase of his career and was impressed by the company's commitment to working in the public interest. "I interviewed at two MITRE sites, Fort Walton Beach and Langley in Virginia. Florida offered and optimal climate and a challenging work environment, so it was a good fit for me.
"The family-friendly nature of the company was another factor. My wife and I have five children, so having the flexibility to take care of my family obligations while also having very interesting project work was a significant incentive for me.
"Plus, my family was eager to try someplace new. I'm from northeastern Montana originally and have spent my career in a variety of places across the country but had never worked in this area. The climate is great and the beaches on the panhandle of Florida are the best in the country. My children are between the ages of three and twelve so it doesn't get any better than being 15 minutes from the pure white sand of the coast."
—by Kay M. Upham