Picatinny Commanding General retires as pandemic constraints recede
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. – Behind the quarters of the Commanding General at Picatinny Arsenal, sits a small peculiar structure cropping out of the ground, once an object of curiosity for Brig. Gen. Vincent F. Malone II and his wife, Carol.
From the Picatinny Arsenal Historical Society, they later learned that it is a very old produce cellar that stood alongside a once-thriving apple orchard on the U.S. Army installation. When taken inside on a tour, Malone spotted an old apple press.
At the time Malone, the installation was still under tighter constraints related to the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a grim outlook due to its uncertain duration and direction. Malone was inspired to use the slice of Picatinny’s history to host a festive event for the Picatinny community, providing a respite from the general gloom of the pandemic.
“We've got to make something of this because it doesn't need to just be down here in the cellar,” Malone recalls thinking. “This needs to be out where others can see it and enjoy it.”
In due time, a flyer appeared in the stream of installation email, promoting a mask-required “Cider Saturday with the C.G.” on Oct. 17, 2020. The flyer read in part, “Come learn about this piece of local history from the Picatinny Arsenal Historical Society, press apples yourself, enjoy some apple treats & cider, and check out the 111-year-old cellar when apples from Picatinny’s own apple orchard were once stored.” As intended, the Cider Saturday attracted members of the Picatinny community eager to participate.
Reflecting on the Cider Saturday as he approaches his upcoming retirement, Malone said the event helped to underscore what he believes is an important aspect of being Senior Commander of the installation. “Take advantage of those opportunities and always understand and respect the culture and the history of where you're at because that is something that unites people and it brings them together,” said Malone.
In addition to his role as Senior Commander, Malone also served as the head of the Joint Program Executive Office for Armaments and Ammunition, an organization with a key role in the Army modernization. Its broad scope of responsibilities and systems delivers lethal armaments and ammunition to warfighters.
The joint program office reports to the Assistant Secretary of the Army, Acquisition Logistics and Technology. Although Soldiers will typically see ammunition and armaments in their finished form, supplying the warfighter with its portfolio of products requires intricate, elaborate and interwoven activities within the JPEO. Its employees are responsible for the development, production, fielding, sustainment and improvement of more than 400 products.
When Malone assumed his responsibilities at Picatinny in May 2020, the pandemic restraints added another layer of difficulty on top of duties that were already challenging.
“Coming in during a pandemic, the health, the safety and the well-being of the workforce was my number one priority,” Malone recalled. “And I believe it was clear, concise guidance from the installation level that allowed the flexibility of our leadership to do what they needed to do. But I felt it was essential that there be some centralized planning, but decentralized execution. … Everybody was aware of the floor or the ceiling we had--whatever it might be--so that we could keep our workforce safe while accomplishing the mission.
“Leaders have to be involved and leaders have to be communicating with their people because people are looking for guidance,” Malone continued. “They're looking for some type of direction. Where are we going? What's going on? How are we going to stay safe? Open feedback channels, because we don't have all the answers.”
Among the early challenges were ensuring a safe way to continue critical testing. The travel clamp-down was another problem.
“There are tests that needed to continue,” Malone explained. “And the test community, once they had their safety measures in place and felt comfortable that they could bring in their testers and continue the testing, they were willing to do that.
“But in many cases, it took some of our subject matter expertise, our engineering, to be present during these demonstrations or tests or whatever they might be. And sometimes you just couldn't do it. Sometimes there were restrictions on too many people in the area. “
Over time, use of technology could help compensate for the travel ban. “And so people got together and realized, ‘Hey, we've got the technology to do this. We've got high speed cameras, we've got great video capability across the Army, especially at our test centers.’ And we found a way to utilize that and to participate remotely, so that engineers could be witnessing what was going on with their tests.”
In one instance, one country involved in foreign military sales showed signs of unease with using video technology for interactions. “And so that's where I think it took some convincing that, “Hey, this is not just a novel idea that we're trying to sell to you. We're using it and we're using it effectively here in the United States.’"
Although pandemic restrictions have gradually fallen away with time, Malone believes that mission impetus must continue. “Probably our biggest challenge is maintaining the momentum and the support for our Army modernization priorities in the work that's being done here,” Malone said.
“Our team is accomplishing the mission. We did not let anything fail as a result of the pandemic. However, inability to come together as a team to travel, to collaborate, it did affect some of our efficiencies and effectiveness during that time. So we need to maintain the momentum of our modernization priorities. And it's a different way of thinking.
“Going forward, we have to continue to do what Picatinny has done throughout its history,” Malone added. “The legacy here was a powder depot that evolved into an energetics arsenal, that then evolved into primarily a research and development organization, but all based on the needs of the nation and the needs of the Army. And those needs constantly evolve. So continue to evolve with it. Don't get stuck in your ways and how you've always done things. And you see examples of that every day. That's the mentality here at Picatinny.”
As the head of the JPEO, Malone witnessed the continued efforts to modernize ammunition plants. The general said the importance of that goal has gained traction with Army leaders and members of Congress who fund such improvements.
“They all see the need and support our desire to modernize those 1940s-era plants with new production equipment that will help separate our workforce from that energetic material and make them safer, and make these facilities more efficient and effective,” Malone said.
Leading the JPEO office, with its wide-ranging portfolio of products, altered Malone’s view of the organization over time as he absorbed more details about its mission.
“I would have to say that few in the Army understand exactly what is done at Picatinny and the expertise of the workforce that is here,” he said of his JPEO subordinates. “But that workforce plays a critical role in supporting the needs of our warfighters. I didn't understand that coming here. I knew that Picatinny was the home of armaments and ammunition, but I had no idea how complex and difficult that was. And it's probably the same mentality of most out there: ‘You just buy ammo, how hard can that be?’
“It's much more complicated than the most people think,” Malone added. “So I would say (to the JPEO workforce), keep doing what you do each and every day, because every time we get leaders to visit here … they leave highly impressed. And you almost always hear them say, ‘I had no idea that you did this here at Picatinny.’"
What advice would Malone give to his successor if asked?
“Being the JPEO and the Senior Commander here is a very complex job,” he said. “There's a lot of responsibilities. So the advice that I would give is balance your time to support both responsibilities. Because they're both critically important. As the Senior Commander here, you are the Army's representative to the local community. And that's so important to maintaining that relationship with the local community.”
Only days remain until Malone’s tenure at Picatinny comes to a close. He will relinquish his duties to Brig. Gen. William Boruff during a July 23 Change of Command ceremony, followed by a retirement ceremony for Malone. The previous day, on July 22, a retirement luncheon will be held for the outgoing general.
What was Malone’s proudest moment during his time at Picatinny?
“Unquestionably, it's the opportunity to lead at this level,” Malone said. “I wouldn't ask to do this again in this (pandemic) environment. I wouldn't ask this or wish this upon anybody. But the opportunity to lead in an extremely challenging times, when there was no script, it’s very rewarding.
“It's been a great privilege to lead an extremely educated and technically proficient workforce, skilled in the field of armaments and ammunition. And having them teach me the craft, if you will, of what they do. I was always challenged to support the mission and support Army modernization priorities. Also, leading a workforce that was thankful to have been given the opportunity to have the safety of the sanctuary of their homes during a pandemic, but also desiring to return to some form of normalcy.”
Malone has no specific plans after retirement. “The responsibilities of this job have kept me too busy to really think much about what I'm going to do after I leave,” he said. “But I do plan to take some time and relax a little bit, and we'll figure it out then.”
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