Being a member of the military often requires personnel to be able to adjust to the needs of a new mission on short notice. To some degree, the same is required of its civilian employees, such as Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division’s Milton Perez-Cruz, who went to Spain for one job and ended up doing another.
Perez-Cruz normally works as a mechanical engineer in Carderock’s Ship Structures Branch. As part of an internal rotation with the Additive Manufacturing Branch, he took an assignment supporting the Forward Deployed Regional Maintenance Center (FDRMC) Detachment Rota in Spain to assist them in completing the set-up of the newly installed advanced manufacturing shop and to support its future Additive Manufacturing (AM) efforts. In fact, upon his arrival in December, he was doing those things.
Much like the rest of the world, the threat of COVID-19 has shifted the focus of the detachment and, in turn, Perez-Cruz’s mission. On one hand, he is still supporting the Spanish AM efforts. Originally, those tasks included identifying parts, tools and fixtures to support the mission of FDRMC Rota, continuing the training and best practices for the advanced manufacturing equipment, and collaborating with the Spanish Armada. The last task is still happening, but for a different purpose; utilizing AM tools to provide personal protective equipment alternatives to healthcare workers in that part of the country.
“The efforts started with the engineers of the Spanish Armada, with whom we share our AM facility,” said Perez-Cruz, whose rotation is being funded by Naval Systems Engineering Directorate Technology Office (SEA 05T) under Naval Sea Systems Command. “Everything started to take place rapidly.”
Perez-Cruz and his counterparts are not shying away from the challenge. With his knowledge in the AM realm, he has played a key role in preparing their lab into a production facility by creating an efficient system of production, troubleshooting machines and sharing updates on their progress with the local command. It is a far cry from the shipbuilding process he originally signed up for and working through the problem sets presented by the Coronavirus outbreak has pushed the envelope on what Perez-Cruz knows about the AM process.
Day-to-day operations are heavily dependent on Perez-Cruz fostering a positive and productive relationship with his Spanish counterparts, one that he said is flourishing. That mutual understanding helped all parties involved make the necessary shift from vehicle-focused operations to PPE production. The culture of the workplace has shifted to ensure that while he and the others are making equipment to keep the medical professionals safe, they too are remaining safe.
“I would say our biggest challenge has been to adapt ourselves mentally to come in an abnormal environment where we need to be mindful of our health and strictly follow all safety measures and recommendations,” he said. “The local community knows about our efforts and has been more than grateful and amazed with our contribution.”
Navigating a global pandemic was not the conditions under which Perez-Cruz expected to be spending his time overseas. There is no predicting when Coronavirus will begin to go away, which subsequently impacts when Perez-Cruz could return to Carderock. He regularly talks with his family and friends who are stateside to help keep a high level of motivation.
“Them being far away and not being able to be with them at this moment of crisis really keeps me going,” he said. “I know that there are people back home fighting to take care of them, and I realized that with my contribution, I can help other people’s families and loved ones, as well.”