Why We Test

The Point Position Staff


SFC Jerry R. Szymczyk

“What are the values of a Good Soldier? Freedom and courage. Freedom is what makes us fight, and courage is what keeps us from running away.” --Roger H. Nye, The Challenge of Command

“We were in Ghazni Province, which is Regional Command East in Afghanistan, and we were doing night operations. We were in...one of the newest models of the MaxxPro truck. That one did not have a crow system on it, it just had a normal gunner system. We were going out to do the mission; we were about a click away from our base, so it was really close. We were on the major highway, and…they struck my truck. I think...they said [it] was about four hundred pounds of homemade explosives... I got medevacked pretty much right after. They said it happened about eight o’clock at night, and they medevacked us right away to Bagram Air Base, and then to Germany, [where] I had a couple surgeries, and I was sent to Walter Reed.” This had been SFC Jerry R. Szymczyk’s third and final deployment. The experience changed his life and altered his course, setting him on a path that would lead to ATC. “When I was at Walter Reed, I got the opportunity to do an internship. They told me I could come up and work at Aberdeen Test Center.” He saw that ATC performed extensive testing that was in his military career field, so he accepted.

Visiting ATC for the first time was an eye-opening experience for Szymczyk, and one that spoke to him personally. “As a young Soldier...a squad leader, and just a leader in general, basically I knew that our weapons and our equipment got tested because once something goes wrong, we have to fill out a report and that equipment gets sent away. [I] didn’t know where that was, and I had no idea the extent of everything that our weapons went through until I got here. Now I know exactly what all of our equipment goes through... It...opened my eyes, making me feel a lot more comfortable, knowing the work we do ultimately saved my life and is saving Soldiers’ lives every day.” After his nine-month internship, Szymczyk became the ATC noncommissioned officer in charge (NCOIC), from July 2014 to May 2016. As the “eyes and ears for the ATC commander,” Szymczyk led the Soldiers stationed at ATC, observed testing and safety protocols and reported back to the commander.

Becoming NCOIC at ATC provided the opportunity for Szymczyk to speak for his fellow Soldiers. “Being able to see what people put into the testing—the engineering behind it and what our equipment actually goes through—is a big peace of mind for me. I say my opinion a lot more, because...I know that [the] engineer [who’s] working on that equipment...might not understand exactly what it feels like to be in that vehicle late at night when you’re tired and you’re hungry. I’ve been through those experiences. I can [provide] that input...and let them know, ‘Hey, look, this is practical,’ or ‘This is not practical.’ I like to go out and see everything I can, because I know that, ultimately, that equipment is going to save somebody’s life.”

Fourteen years of Army service and his experiences at ATC have given Szymczyk a unique vantage point. His message to ATC test officers and test personnel: “I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for the work that everyone’s doing, so I think people—test officers especially—[should not] take that for granted, because you are saving somebody’s life with the work that you’re doing. I think that it’s too easy to get complacent, [thinking] you’re just doing engineer work, but this is a lot different... You’re bringing people home because of the work you’re doing.”