Dr. Stephen O’Regan, engineer, Lake Pend Oreille Test and Engineering Branch, received the Cross of Merit medal on June 30 from the Czech Republic Minister of Defence, Lubomir Metnar, during an Armed Forces Day ceremony in Prague, Czech Republic.
O’Regan, who has been a Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division employee for more than 18 years, has been working in Czech Republic as the Science Director for Central and Eastern Europe at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Global, based in the Embassy of the United States, Prague, Czech Republic, for the last five years. The award was given for O’Regan’s efforts in strengthening the U.S.-Czech Republic defense relationship by promoting bilateral scientific research cooperation over the past half-decade.
“Every year ONR puts out these opportunities to work abroad,” O’Regan said. “Six years ago I applied and got this position. It had always been a lifetime dream of mine to work and live abroad. This opportunity occurred at good time in my career at Carderock as I had just finished design work on the Columbia Class submarine and started to enter a lull period.”
In Czech Republic with ONR Global, O’Regan primarily deals with science and technology (S&T) and determining ways it can be utilized more efficiently in the United States.
“Our primary function is to discover and connect,” he said. “What we do here is discover leading science and look for niche capabilities where foreign scientists do things better than we do at home. We build partnerships between foreign scientists and institutions and the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps scientist and engineers. We are trying to build relationships between us and the Czech Republic from a purely S&T angle.”
O’Regan’s role in this is mainly as a scout, consistently searching for people and ways to collaborate.
“My role is part matchmaker, part investor and part talent scout,” he said. “For most of my time here, I covered Central and Eastern Europe and have visited institutions and talked with people in government and embassies and discussed ways to collaborate. ONR has grant programs for funding conferences, travel and projects, which are great for collaboration. The conferences are typically aimed at subjects related to naval capabilities, which allows me to talk to folks about interesting topics, which then gives me the opportunity to introduce them to our grant programs.”
Through this opportunity, O’Regan has been able to make substantial contacts in the S&T community not only in Czech Republic, but all over Central and Eastern Europe, a region still developing market economies and democratic governance thirty years after the fall of European communism.
“Most of these countries were formerly members of the Warsaw Pact – our military adversary,” he said. “Now they are our NATO allies. The S&T communities here are the most pro-Western, pro-US segments of their societies and they have a big influence on the direction their countries go. Part of my mission is to encourage foreign scientists to focus westward.”
“As part of my job, I report to the Ambassador and handle the S&T portfolio for the Embassy,” he said. “I visit and manage projects throughout Europe. I have projects currently in the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Poland and Ukraine. As a rule, I always travel to them — they never come to me in Czech Republic. It is really important to them as a sign of respect that I see their facilities, meet their graduate students and see their history and culture. Ultimately, science is a human endeavor.”
Throughout his five years in Czech Republic, O’Regan has had his work become more frequently recognized, eventually leading to this award.
“The contacts I have made in the S&T community has provided me more opportunities to meet and collaborate as over time my presence has become more and more recognized,” he said. “I was fortunate to meet one-on-one with Prime Minister Andrej Babiš in June 2019, and told him about our mission. He subsequently wrote about me and the mission on his blog, which is widely read. This ultimately led to the Minister of Defence, Lubomir Metnar, deciding to recognize my contributions by giving me the award.”
O’Regan was not initially aware he was to receive the award, but he was tipped off a week before when he was told he should attend the ceremony.
“On Armed Forces Day, June 30, the Czech Minister of Defence, Lubomir Metnar, awarded the Cross of Merit medal to two dozen Czech soldiers returning from service in Afghanistan and one foreigner … I was that foreigner,” he said. “The ceremony was very nice, on a bluff overlooking Prague’s historic center. It is kind of like their Fourth of July, Veterans Day and Memorial Day all in one. They had several pairs of fighter jets fly overhead, followed by three army helicopters streaming blue, white and red smoke behind — the colors of the Czech flag. It was quite wonderful to witness and experience and was a very nice honor.”
O’Regan, who will be returning to the U.S. at the end of July, is thankful for the opportunity he has been given, and is appreciative of support he has received.
“I have gotten great support from my management at Carderock,” he said. “I have gotten great support from my Division Head, Marylou McNamara, Acoustic Signature Technology Division, my Branch Head, Vickie Pfeifer, Lake Pend Oreille Test and Engineering Branch, and most of all from my Department Head, Dr. Paul Shang. When I first told Dr. Shang I was interested in applying for the position, he said he would be pleased to have me go to distant parts of the world.”