Final Five

with Doug Wilke, industrial engineer, U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center

As part of an Army research team, Doug Wilke helped develop a protective mask to shield soldiers from riot control agents such as 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile, also known as CS or tear gas. The mask has one-way stretch and can be pulled around the user’s headphone ear cups as well as the back of a protective helmet for full protection.Final Five Wilke Photo 

What is the mission of the U.S. Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center?

We are the nation’s principal research and development resource for nonmedical chem-bio defense. We couple basic science with engineering and field support to put new tools in the field faster. We do all of this to keep the warfighter, the nation and the world safe from chem-bio threats now and in the future.

We would guess that new Army technology is a constant need. How quickly do you usually complete a project, from start to finish?

My specific job is to do respiratory protection research. My team is generally tasked to take an idea or need and find the technology and design to make a tangible solution. Typically these types of projects last one or two years. We transition these concepts to the government acquisition process, or outside companies. Acquisition could use our research to help define attainable requirements or as a starting point for a new program of record. Programs of record generally are multiyear efforts.

What can you describe about the wrap-styled respiratory protective mask that you recently worked on?

The Integrated Respiratory and Eye Protective Scarf is our conceptual answer to the desire of warfighters to have the ability to protect themselves quickly from a riot control agent without the need to use their traditional CB respirator. It’s a hook and loop style wrap that places a suitable level of filtration in front of the user’s breathing zone for roughly two hours of wear. It is wearable overtop of existing protective equipment such as a helmet or a communication headset.

What other kinds of Army technology have you helped develop in the past?

I started my career at ECBC working on the Joint Service Aircrew Mask for Rotary Wing. I focused on testing and design changes to increase comfort, simplify communications equipment and reduce cost while increasing reliability. I have done a host of research efforts; dual-cavity mask design, new positive pressure air supply systems, future systems designs and mask-helmet integration solutions. I have also had a few odd jobs, such as a study on personal weapons storage inside military vehicles, and setting up assembly workstations for manual assembly of safety kits and an explosive screening kit.

What advice would you give to industrial engineering students who are considering civilian military service?

Being a civilian engineer can be quite rewarding, as it gives you the opportunity to make a difference for the individual warfighter. My advice for students who would want a civilian engineering job is to get resumés out early, look for internships, network and look often at USAJOBS.

The greatest challenge will be getting your foot in the door. Once you are a government civilian you have additional freedom to relocate within the government system. The military can use an IE just about anywhere. So you have flexibility to utilize your IE skills across many disciplines and can then market yourself to a job position. After that, you can work as hard as you want to accomplish your goals.