2014 Service to America Medal Finalists

2014 Finalist — National Security and International Affairs Medal

This medal recognizes a federal employee for a significant contribution to the nation in activities related to national security and international affairs (including defense, military affairs, diplomacy, foreign assistance and trade).

R. Patrick DeGroodt

Position: Deputy Product Manager

Agency: Department of the Army

Location: Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland

Achievement: Helped America’s warfighters achieve mission success and stay out of harm’s way by developing and deploying a new mobile communications network that gives Army units continuous connectivity on the battlefield

R. Patrick DeGroodtFor American soldiers on the battlefield and on the move in dangerous terrain, rapid communication with each other and command centers can be the difference between life and death.

Patrick DeGroodt, an Army engineer, played a pivotal role in the creation and deployment of a new state-of-the-art mobile tactical communications network now being used in Afghanistan that commanders refer to as their “digital guardian angel.”

“The most important capability of any military operation is the ability to communicate—without it, lives may be lost and missions can fail,” said Mary Woods, the Army’s deputy program executive officer for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T).

“Patrick’s superior program management skills directly contributed to the successful development, integration, testing and fielding of the first satellite and line-of-sight communication system that automatically tracks and maintains connectivity while combat vehicles are on the move, in all terrain and environments,” she said. “It has helped keep our soldiers safe.”

Using this new system, soldiers down to the company level can send and receive information through voice, video and data from anywhere on the battlefield despite treacherous mountains, deep valleys and other challenging terrain. The older technology largely involved use of push-to-talk analog radios, and it was hit-or-miss whether a message would be received or relayed back to a command post.

Leaders once tethered to their command posts to maintain situational awareness and exercise command and control can now employ the same mission command capabilities in their own vehicles. Missions are no longer limited by distance or by the necessity of having to stop on the side of the road to communicate.

DeGroodt said developing and deploying the system has involved many obstacles and challenges, but has been well worth the effort.

“What we’re trying to do is provide soldiers with a battlefield cellphone,” DeGroodt said. “In the civilian world, cell providers can put cell towers all over the country and you can drive down the road and hop from tower to tower and talk. When you’re in a battle zone, you don’t have access to that infrastructure. We basically take that infrastructure and put it in a combat vehicle and provide the soldier with that ability to talk while he’s driving down the road.”

Ed Swanson, a project manager for the Army’s Warfighter Information Network, described the new system as the “holy grail of communications” and a capability the Army has been seeking for a decade.

“Patrick has been the key individual to provide this on-the-move communications capability to the Army,” said Swanson.

Lamont Hall, an Army product manager and DeGroodt’s boss, said DeGroodt was “part of the development of the technology on the front end”; on the back end he has been involved in “fielding the equipment and making it work.”

He said DeGroodt has handled budgets, planning and engineering issues, interacted with generals at the Pentagon to solve satellite communications problems, played a key role in two of the largest operational tests in Army history and developed creative solutions to awarding contracts that included requirements ensuring reliability and top performance.

Other colleagues said DeGroodt’s technical savvy combined with his managerial expertise and hands-on involvement with all parties involved have been essential components to the success of the multibillion-dollar communication system. In addition, they said DeGroodt instituted various efficiencies resulting in tens of millions of dollars in cost avoidance and cost savings for the Army.

“The program that Pat is managing is probably the most complex for the Army,” said Doug Tamilio, the chief of staff for PEO C3T. “Pat is really the glue that holds the organization together. The job that Pat and his crew have done in the past few years is nothing short of phenomenal.”

The Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals are presented annually by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service to celebrate excellence in our federal civil service.

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2014 SAMMIES FINALISTS

Finalist photos by Sam Kittner / kittner.com