ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — After 40 years on the installation, a Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center civilian says he can’t imagine what his life would have been like without Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Franklin “Frank” E. Vest works in CERDEC’s Prototype Integration Facility, or PIF, which provides all-inclusive engineering solutions for initial-production prototypes of emerging technologies in response to warfighter needs.
He was born in Virginia as his parents, who were from Covington Virginia, moved to Churchville, Maryland when he was very young. After high school he joined the Air Force; it was during Vietnam, but he never deployed overseas. He said he enjoyed the Air Force, and he recalled a small hurricane that hit the former Homestead Air Force Base in Florida nearly 20 years before Hurricane Andrew destroyed the installation.
“This one was much smaller, but it was still pretty scary,” he said.
An apprenticeship at APG
Always good with his hands, Vest worked on aircraft weapons systems while in the Air Force and that experience helped him obtain an apprentice position at APG when he left the service four years later. It was 1977.
“They only had a few apprentice openings but it was a government position,” he said. He started out with the Directorate of Public Works, in the sheet metal shop in Bldg. 347.
“Right up the street from where I work today,” Vest chuckled.
“Back then, everything was done by hand and with sheet metal, there was a lot of geometry involved,” Vest said. “Today all the equipment, like laser cutters for example, are computerized.”
As a Vietnam-era veteran he was able to sign on for a job-training program that included course work at Harford Community College.
After four years, he applied for a position at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center on APG South (Edgewood). He stayed there 25 years.
“I liked it; it was different,” he said. “At DPW we did maintenance and repair; at ECBC– though it wasn’t called ECBC then –we would experiment with projects. It was totally different.”
During his years there he was converted from wage grade to civilian and he was promoted to foreman.
A transfer to the Prototype Integration Facility
He transferred to his current position in 2012 after he learned the then-new prototyping facility was in need of personnel. It was in need of more than that, he said.
“They wanted to develop a premier prototype shop, but they had a lot of older equipment,” he said. “They asked me what I thought and I told them I would be glad to help them create a state-of-the-art operation.”
While he’s not certain how much was spent, he said several equipment upgrades were made.
“We do have state-of-the-art facility and everything that was purchased is being put to use,” he said. “Nothing has been wasted.”
Longevity & changes at APG
Fabrication Team Leader John Glover said Vest’s longevity has worked in his favor.
“His knowledge and experience is what makes him so valuable,” he said. “Frank was around when everything was manual and he adapted to the computer age. The best part is he’s able to continue working if something goes wrong technically because of his understanding the manual methods of fabrication.”
Vest said the biggest changes at APG are “all the improvements.”
“BRAC was one of the best things to happen to APG,” he said. “APG was in need of some rebuilding”. “There were 75-year-old buildings with failing infrastructure.” While unfortunate for the personnel at Fort Monmouth, it was a blessing for APG.
The other big change was going from manual operations to CNC controlled fabrication machines.
“It’s how they do everything now. And it’s amazing because I remember when they were bringing in computers. I was just getting out of the military and not really looking at the future. My dad convinced me to look for work at APG and it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.
“I’ve had a good career with benefits and a chance to progress in my field. APG has been good to me.”