In this monthly column, Defense Daily highlights individuals from across the government, industry and academia whose efforts contribute daily to national defense, from the program managers to the human resource leaders, to the engineers and logistics officers.

Damian Gonzalez is a reliability engineer at Lockheed Martin Corporation, leading the specialty engineering group in new product development. His role is to ensure the reliability, maintainability, testability and system safety/human factors aspects of Lockheed Martin’s products fall in line with customers’ requirements.

How did you get involved in the defense industry or community?

I was in the U.S. Marines from 1995-2003 and worked on several rotor-winged aircraft, such as the Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion, the Boeing-Vertol CH-46 Sea Knight, the Bell UH-1 Huey, the Bell AH-1 Cobra and the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey. After my service commitment was satisfied, I transitioned to Lockheed Martin.

What are some challenges you faced working through your career?

The first challenge was acclimating to a civilian work environment. As a soldier, you take orders and execute; on the civilian side, the execution of work tends to slow down with necessary organizational processes.

The second challenge was self-induced. I decided to finish my master’s degree a little quicker than expected and doubled up my last two semesters during my deployment in Afghanistan. This effort baselined my threshold for voluntary pain and has since made me think twice about overfilling my plate.

Shifting gears in communications style (military lingo vs. PC) was another challenge I faced during my transition into the civilian workforce. For example: communicating in a traditional military style to colleagues that haven’t experienced “direct and unfiltered” military comms can come across a little too strong, or even offensive. I’ve learned to soften my communications style to support strong working relationships.

Did you feel like you always had sufficient mentors and leaders to help guide you? Why/why not? 

I’ve been fortunate to have strong mentors and leadership to guide me throughout my career. In fact, I’ve had mentors that expressively relayed the mind set of, “I want you to have more opportunities than me.”

Looking back, my mentors really pushed me to excel in my career and I appreciate the guidance they offered me. I’ve always had a strong drive to do better, so I asked for unfiltered feedback – the kind that would put me in my place, refine my work ethic and re-focus my drive in a positive direction.

My mentors offered feedback and guidance on areas of opportunity for professional development, often blind spots I hadn’t noticed. I was able to learn from and leverage their shared experiences, allowing me to make better decisions.

How do you work to be a mentor yourself to younger counterparts?

I approach mentorship by first building relationships with co-workers that fosters trust and synergy. To me, being a mentor is more than just providing advice to someone that aspires to reach a similar level, professionally. It’s about creating an environment that fosters trust and accountability, while sharing similar experiences that correlate to work challenges.

I believe a successful mentorship ensures decision-making is exercised by the mentee; not the mentor. A mentorship should not create professional dependency, rather educate the mentee on how to apply critical thinking skills to solution problems and make decisions

What does it mean to be successful in your career field?

Having served in the military, I believe the best way to measure success in my field of work is to ensure there’s a strong relationship with the customer by anticipating and understanding their expectations, and consistently exceeding their needs.

I still reference an acronym used to represent the leadership traits every Marine is trained to demonstrate through their actions and thought process: JJDIDTIEBUCKLE. This stands for justice, judgement, dependability, initiative, decisiveness, tact, integrity, endurance, bearing, unselfishness, courage, knowledge, loyalty and enthusiasm.

Weaving these traits in with Lockheed Martin’s full spectrum leadership principles of delivering results, shaping the future, building effective relationships, energizing the team, and modeling personal excellence with integrity has certainly helped me navigate career success in my field.

What are some of the under-appreciated positions in the defense field, the unsung heroes or essential cogs in the machine that help the job get done with less recognition?

Some of the most under-appreciated jobs in the defense field are in logistics/supply. In defense, you might hear a derogatory term like “stock boy,” until a piece of critical hardware needs to be packaged, shipped, and delivered.

Flight line maintainers, such as armament personnel and mechanics, are another group of unsung heroes in defense and play a significant role in day-to-day operations. Often called “spark chasers” or “wrench slingers,” the maintainers ensure the aircraft is in top operational readiness condition for the day’s mission.

Specifically, for the Apache Attack Helicopter, the criticality of the maintainer’s role is often overlooked. These soldiers keep the Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight and Pilot Night Vision Sensor (M-TADS/PNVS) system dialed in for the 30MM gun, rockets, missiles and night navigation. Their role is fundamental to the Apache aircrew’s ability to suppress and terminate threats in very close proximity of our soldiers.

How can the industry improve in promoting these individuals and building them up?

By seizing every opportunity to foster cross-training, the national defense community will empower individuals in the logistics/supply and mechanics roles to develop experience in other job functions they work with daily. This could be extremely beneficial from either perspective because it would allow for different viewpoints in varying situations and collaborative problem-solving across the field.

How has the culture changed around diversity within your career?

In the service, everyone is truly equal; you get a taste of that in bootcamp and transitioning into the fleet. When you do a good job, you’ll all get rewarded and those that stand out will get a little extra recognition.

The defense industry seems to recognize this mode of operating and has made significant strides to mirror it. Leadership has a great level of focus on empowering teams to come together and perform, and also on holding them accountable for results. There are more women and diversity in leadership which not only brings new perspective but also fosters equality and inclusivity.

Industry has also incorporated more opportunities to advance one’s career through mentorship, coaching and numerous training programs. Paving the way for the future is an industry rooted in diversity, inclusion and collaboration.

What is your advice for new entrants to the defense/military community?

  • You must love what you do, so listen to that internal voice guiding you to pursue what truly makes you happy.
  • When navigating your career, look at the challenges you face as great opportunities to show your creative solutions.
  • Understand your customers and their expectations.
  • There will always be issues and challenges; so when you come to the table with one, bring a multitude of solutions to overcome it.
  • Demonstrate flexibility: be a leader when one is needed and a top contributor when a team member is needed.
  • Refuse to accept bureaucratic obstacles: it’s one thing to explain why you did something a certain way, but an entirely other thing to explain why it didn’t get done.

What do you see as the future of your sector in national defense?

While these initiatives are still in their infancy, I see the future sector in national defense moving toward Condition Based Maintenance (CBM) and Prognostic Health Management (PHM). We’re rapidly approaching a point in aviation maintenance when the aircraft will tell you its symptoms in-flight, auto-inform the unit’s supply chain of a part needed, auto order, text the issue to the designated maintainer – along with a list of exact tools needed to perform the job – and pre-fill the maintenance log book with the applicable data. I know this seems like a stretch, but we’re already putting the hooks in place to achieve this future in flight maintenance.

Who are the Force Multipliers in your community? Let us know at [email protected].