DAHLGREN, Va. – Every year across the United States, high school seniors must decide their futures. For some, they head straight to college. Others forego more schooling entirely and join the workforce. For Ronald ‘Flats’ Flatley, he chose to join the Navy.
Flatley spent 21 years in the Navy, eventually becoming a Naval Flight Officer. He deployed overseas three times, and eventually landed a job at the Joint Warfare Analysis Center (JWAC) before joining Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) as a government employee.
“I had planned to go back to flying after my time at JWAC. After my wife and I gave it a long thought, we realized the only thing we couldn’t get back in this life was time,” said Flatley. “I wanted to participate in the growth and maturity of my kids, so I retired. Because it wasn’t planned, I was pulling resumes together at the last minute and attending job fairs.”
It was at one of these job fairs that Flatley ran into former NSWCDD employee Dr. William Barr. According to Flatley, Barr gave his resume to Dr. Frank Peterkin, who was in charge of the Directed Energy and Pulsed Power Division at the time.
“I got a call to come over for an interview,” Flatley recounted. “I was still at work in my flight suit, but they wanted me to come by during my lunch break anyway. They asked me a whole bunch of questions, and I wasn’t seeing the link to directed energy, so I thought it wouldn’t happen.”
Much to his surprise, he got the job leading a military utility assessment for the NSWCDD Directed Energy Program. The assessment was a success, due in part to Flatley’s experience bridging the communication gap between the engineers and warfighters.
Over the next 14 years, Flatley rose in the ranks to where he is now: the Directed Energy Weapons System Division Head. Additionally from 2015 to 2020, he was the program officer for the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Solid State Laser Technology Maturation program and ONR’s Layered Laser Defense program. The weapons development project is designed to help the Navy learn about emerging rapid prototyping capabilities and technologies. His effectiveness both as a division head and as a program officer rests on two schools of thought: agility and rigor.
“The two are important, and they must be balanced. In some areas, you need to focus less on rigor in order to get the agility you need. To ignore the rigor and agility means you become bounded by a schedule that you can’t execute,” Flatley explained. “We want the agility to maneuver into exploration and experimentation, but the rigor for the traceability of what worked and what didn’t.”
Flatley’s leadership and attentiveness to these two principles did not go unnoticed. He was recognized with the Department of the Navy’s Superior Civilian Service Award at the command’s virtual honorary awards ceremony in 2020.
“I’m humbled that someone put me in for an award. I’m honored to be considered in this category, and I hope to measure up to that in the future,” he said.
According to the award citation, Flatley’s “leadership in the development of the Solid State Laser-Technology Maturation Laser Weapon System Demonstrator has set a standard for others to follow for years to come.”
“The entire program was a team effort to bring new capabilities forward for faster learning,” said Flatley. “I thank God for the opportunity and success, and my wife, Denise. There were a lot of people that encouraged and supported me. I appreciate the opportunity.”