Sacrifices during deployment bring rewarding experiences

March 26, 2014

By Joyce M. Conant, ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • Engineering support to MRAP vehicles during fielding, upgrades, sustainment and field installation of technology and equipment
  • Deployments help inform future decisions in influencing vehicle design
  • Teams in OCONUS and CONUS came together and were able to complete the mission

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Human Research and Engineering Directorate employs staff throughout the U.S. David Hullinger, a human factors engineer with the Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command field element, in Warren, Mich., is one of those employees. Hullinger, who has been with ARL for a little more than three years, recently returned from a six-month deployment to Afghanistan.

While in Afghanistan, Hullinger was the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) engineer forward in Bagram.

"My mission was to provide engineering support to the family of MRAP vehicles during fielding, upgrades, sustainment and field installation of technology and equipment," said Hullinger. "Starting out, my main focus was on the MaxxPro survivability upgrade. When I arrived they had already completed around half of the vehicles. A lot of the engineering issues had already been ironed out by my predecessor; however, new issues seemed to arise daily. We ended up completing 1119 vehicles.

"A couple of months into my deployment the Capability Set 13 mission started up. It was a networking and communications systems upgrade. We had to install kits on 134 MaxxPro MSU and 134 M-ATV vehicles. During the initial builds we identified a lot of engineering issues. As we corrected those we started having a lot of issues with vehicle shortages, kit delivery delays, missing parts and damaged parts.

"During the second phase of CS-13, on top of my engineering role, I became the production lead for CS-13. So now, all of the issues, even the nonengineering ones were on me. However, the teams in OCONUS and CONUS came together and we were able to complete the mission."

Hullinger, who is married and a father of two young children, made a commitment to his family that he would do what it takes to make life better for them. He said money was originally what prompted him to go.

"It might not be the noble answer, or the answer you are supposed to give, but yes, money was the main reason I wanted to go," said Hullinger. "Yes, there were many other reasons such as the experience, the professional growth and wanting to make a difference. However, none of the other reasons were enough for me to leave my wife, kids and the comforts of home to go to a war zone and work 12 plus hours a day/seven days a week. I guess the idea of still making payments on my student loans when my kids go to college scared me more than Afghanistan."

Families can either be supportive or not so supportive.

"My wife had similar feelings to the situation as I did. She didn't really want me to go, it was going to be tough, but overall it was a good opportunity and the pros outweighed the cons," said Hullinger. "My kids didn't want me to go, but we explained it to them and bribed them with a real vacation when I got home. So at least that way they had something to look forward to.

"I found the best way for me to stay in touch with my family was with my iPhone. I had my phone unlocked before I left home and I bought a sim card and a two gigabyte data plan. For less than $20 a month, I could text back and forth with my wife, facetime (Skype) with my kids and play social games with my wife (words with friends, etc)."

Hullinger felt as though he was making a difference and found the entire experience to be worthwhile.

"I found the work to be very rewarding. It was fast paced and there were always new problems to be solved. I really felt like what I was doing was making a difference and I could see the results right away," said Hullinger. "I had the opportunity to see some of the upgraded trucks after they had been hit by IEDs. Soldiers were able to walk away from a lot of those blasts – where prior to the upgrades that wouldn't have been the case."

Some of Hullinger's least favorite parts of his deployment led to some of his favorite parts.

"The food got old and wasn't great, but I didn't have to cook, do dishes or grocery shop. I missed my family, but I had plenty of time to myself. I could come home from work and go straight to bed if I wanted or wake up early and go for an eight mile run. Outside of work I had no other responsibilities," said Hullinger. "I also enjoyed the people I worked with. We worked hard and it was stressful, but we also had a lot of fun."

Hullinger's supervisor, Dr. Alan Davison, from HRED's Maneuver and Mobility Branch, supports his employees' decisions to deploy and wants them to gain the experiences deployment results in.

"David is a terrific young man and engineer who is motivated to make a difference for our Soldiers," said Davison. "I am certain his experience in Afghanistan helped him appreciate the impact of his work. Additionally, I believe that experience will help inform his future decisions in influencing vehicle design."


Last Update / Reviewed: March 26, 2014