AEDC is a family affair for Garrards

  • Published
  • By Jill Pickett

Nearly 60 years ago, Jim Garrard made a decision to work at then-Arnold Engineering Development Center, now Arnold Engineering Development Complex, that has had a ripple effect for both his family and AEDC.

He is the first of three generations that have worked for AEDC. His son, Doug; daughter-in-law, Angelia; grandson, Justin; and granddaughter, Rachel, all still work for AEDC at Arnold Air Force Base.

In late 1961, Jim was faced with a decision when the company he was working for in Chattanooga decided to move its operation to Connecticut – move the family or find a new job.

“My wife and I, with two small children, didn’t want to move away from family,” Jim said. “Fortunately, ARO [Arnold Research Organization] brought a bus down and picked up around 15 of us and took us up to AEDC for interviews. I believe all of us got jobs.”

ARO was the contractor that operated AEDC. At the time, it was only located at Arnold AFB but now is a wing-equivalent organization of the Air Force with multiple geographically separated units.

Jim worked at Arnold for a little more than 32 years before retiring, helping AEDC make significant contributions to well-known aerospace programs. He was working in Reliability and Maintainability when he retired.

“While I was working in VKF [von Kármán Gas Dynamics Facility] in Tunnel B and C, I was involved in several re-entry test programs for the manned space flight programs, including Apollo,” Jim said. “I also supported a lot of testing for the Space Shuttle. Those programs were in the news on a daily basis, so I felt like I was actually contributing to something that was important to the nation and the world.”

He went on to help get the Aeropropulsion Systems Test Facility up and running before finishing his career in energy management.

Doug, a senior staff engineer and subject matter expert for Test Facilities with the Test Operations and Sustainment contractor, was the next member of the family to join Team AEDC and has surpassed his father in number of years worked at Arnold with more than 37 years to his credit.

Just as family was an important factor to Jim when choosing to stay in the area, it was the same for Doug.

“Having grown up in Manchester and with my dad working here, it was an easy choice,” Doug said. “And, since Angelia and I were getting married two weeks before I was to report to work, and she and her family were and still are very close, it just didn’t make sense to either one of us to go somewhere else. She and I have never regretted that decision.”

Family wasn’t the only consideration, though. The impact of the AEDC workforce on the surrounding community helped Doug form his opinion of AEDC from a young age and influenced his decision to join Team AEDC when he had a chance.

“It was more than just my dad working here,” he said. “I was around AEDC families at church, in youth sports and in the Boy Scouts. Pretty much everything I did as a kid happened because an adult that worked at AEDC gave up their time to make it happen.”

That sense of community is one of the reasons Doug has stayed at Arnold so long, in addition to the work and opportunities.

“Angelia and I have made lifetime friends here,” he said. “And you’d be surprised at the number of people we went to school with growing up that work out here too – we’re not the only local folks that know a good thing when they see it!”

When it comes to the work, Doug has provided analysis and modeling support to nearly every facility on base. His current job, working at the Aerodynamic and Propulsion Test Unit (APTU), is his favorite, so much so he says his children refer to it as his third and favorite child.

“Working at APTU, I get to fire up an air-isobutane-liquid oxygen rocket motor every time we run,” he said. “I think I’ve got the best job on base!”

His work has also afforded him educational opportunities to pursue master and doctoral degrees and travel opportunities across the United States and world.

Doug’s wife, Angelia, was the third family member to find a job with AEDC. She is currently the Government Special Access Program Security officer for AEDC.

Angelia began her career at Arnold with a tip from her husband about an opening for a temporary employee. She had worked as an X-ray technician for more than a decade before a stint as a stay-at-home mom, but when she was ready to return to work outside the home there were few local job openings in her field.

“With an interesting job close to home, I decided this was the work opportunity for me,” she said. “I became a temporary employee for Sverdrup. I enjoyed the work and jumped at the chance to be a full-time employee when an opening became available in the Sverdrup security office.”

Sverdrup was the company contracted to operate AEDC by the Air Force at that time.

The work ended up being a good fit, and Angelia has worked at Arnold for more than 25 years.

“I love my job and knowing that what we do at AEDC supports the warfighter,” she said. “I work with great people at AEDC, in every mission area.”

Justin joined his parents at Arnold AFB in 2011, working at the base until 2018 when he briefly left for another work opportunity. He didn’t stay away long, returning after about a year-and-a-half. He currently is the manager of the Reliability Engineering Section in the Asset Health Assurance Branch of the Test Operations and Sustainment contractor.

Familiar with AEDC through his grandfather and parents, a summer internship with the operations contractor at the time was Justin’s first experience working at the base.

“Working that summer, I met a lot of great people and really enjoyed the type and variety of work that AEDC had to offer,” he said.

Like his father, Justin enjoys the work and the sense of community he’s found at Arnold.

“AEDC is an engineer’s playground,” he said. “Every area is different. You can become a master of controls or data acquisition, or become an expert in hypersonics testing and propulsion. You should never get bored because there are so many opportunities to learn new things and work in different areas.”

When he’s taken those opportunities to learn, someone has always been available to help.

“I’ve been blessed that every group I’ve worked with has felt like family,” Justin said. “Everyone is always so helpful and it’s a great working environment.”

The fifth member of the Garrard family to join the ranks of AEDC was Rachel, a test manager in the Propulsion Test Branch. She began her career at Arnold in 2013 through the Air Force Palace Acquire Program, a three-year, full-time paid training program.

“That program let me get my master’s degree and paid off my undergraduate student loan debt, and it set me up to succeed in my career field,” Rachel said.

An opportunity too good to pass up brought her through the gate, but the continual opportunities have kept Rachel at AEDC.

“I love being able to learn new things,” she said. “AEDC lets me do that on a daily basis. The teams I am on and that I have been on are filled with people who are passionate about what they do; and they are always willing to help teach me and help me grow. Beyond the teams I’ve been on, I’ve been given great opportunities to travel and see new things and meet new people.”

All the Garrards have valued having family working at the same place, even if for different employers and in different job types.

Jim has seen the ripple effect and taken joy in the accomplishments of his family.

“It was great to know that Doug had gotten a good job straight out of college,” he said.  “I’m really proud of the life he and Angelia have made for themselves and Justin and Rachel. And now Justin and Rachel are doing the same thing for themselves.”

Doug has had the opportunity to make memories of seeing his father, wife and children at work.

“When I started working out here, it was great to spend time with my dad to see the type of work he was doing and how all of his co-workers really enjoyed him being there,” he said.  “Now, Angelia and I are really proud that our kids both worked hard in school so they too could get great, well-paying jobs out here. And, since none of us work in the same area on base, it’s fun to get caught up during family gatherings on all of the activities going on at the base.”

At a workplace with a jargon all its own, Angelia has found having family that knows the lingo a bonus.

“When I talk about AEDC and use the acronyms we are so fond of on base, my family understands what I am saying,” she said. “They do not look at me like I’m speaking a foreign language. Also, I do like knowing if I am in the area and time permits, I can pop in for a short visit.”

Rachel knows with family around, there is always someone to turn to for help.

“Even though sometimes it feels like Cheers working with my parents and brother –

if you don’t know my name, you probably know someone with my last name,” she said. “It’s helpful for many reasons. We’re pretty spread out in the different mission areas we work with, so if I need to get some information or to find someone, I usually have an inside source to contact. Or, at least I have someone to point me in the right direction. It’s also nice to know there’s always someone there if I have car trouble, need help with anything or just someone who understands what happens on base on a daily basis.”

Justin echoed his mother’s and sister’s feelings about working with family at Arnold concerning being understood and having reliable sources of information and assistance. He also added an appreciation for the opportunities AEDC has afforded his family.

“I’m proud to be the third generation of my family working at AEDC,” he said. “Each of us has had very different careers and we’ve all been able to find our niche here. I think that speaks to what a great place to work AEDC is, where you can follow your own career path and find interesting work no matter where your interests lie. Also, interviewing my grandfather for this article taught me a lot more about his career here and let me know that I had worked in some of the same places!”