Sep 28, 2012
NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md. -- Each year, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, the United States celebrates the culture, heritage and contributions of Hispanic-American citizens.
Juan Ortiz, chief engineer for the Precision Strike Weapons Program Office (PMA 201) here at Patuxent River, has made professional contributions to this country for more than 20 years, while investing in the next generation of engineers.
A graduate of the University of Puerto Rico, Ortiz often travels back to his alma mater to recruit graduating engineers to ensure they are well informed as they weigh career choices in the private and public sectors.
“I’m excited to share the opportunities my career has afforded me,” he said. “I tell them it is technically challenging and stimulating, since you’re working at the edge of technology, and in many cases, developing brand-new technology to meet the increasing requirements that military efforts demand.”
Ortiz said one of his greatest accomplishments is mentoring and shaping upcoming engineers by teaching them how to find solutions to different systems and technical challenges, while helping them navigate their way through career progression.
"As an enthusiastic leader with an uncanny ability to recognize up-and-coming talent, Juan's contribution to the warfighter goes beyond his role as the chief engineer here," said Capt. Carl Chebi, PMA-201’s program manager. "His personal investment in his people and his passion for delivering capability to the warfighter make him a great asset to the Navy."
The son of two educators, Ortiz’s knack for teaching seems almost genetic. He currently mentors 12 engineers throughout NAVAIR and has been a role model for more than 20 throughout his career.
“Juan’s been a great mentor and has taught me about upholding technical discipline while at the same time tailoring the engineering requirements for every situation,” said Greg Hein, International Programs class desk for PMA-201. “He is uncompromising in his requirement for quality, but is always available to provide guidance and help you get to where you need to go.”
At PMA-201, Ortiz directs the efforts of more than 500 engineering work-hours across 25 geographically diverse government support activities and 26 industry partners. He also provides engineering oversight and guidance to an engineering staff supporting more than $7 billion across the fiscal year defense plan.
“The weapon systems and components under my direction include critical safety items installed on every Navy, Army, Coast Guard and Air Force aircraft in use,” he said.
A native of Puerto Rico, he grew up like many children, wanting to be a police officer or teacher, however, he decided to study engineering after a high school adviser identified his excellent math and science skills along with a grade-point average worthy of the career field.
“In high school, I was really good in math and science, so I naturally gravitated toward engineering,” he said. “Around that same time, a cousin of mine was in school studying computer engineering and was very excited about it, so I decided to pursue it as well.”
While attending the University of Puerto Rico, Ortiz was interviewed by several companies in the private sector as well as the Naval Air Test Center. Ortiz said it was the state-of-the-art technology and cutting-edge engineering processes being developed and used by the U.S. military that was the deciding factor to pursue a government job.
“This really piqued my interest,” he said. “The Navy offered an ever-growing technology to work with in a varied environment, including working with aircraft, and that appealed immensely to me.”
Early in his career, Ortiz got the chance to experience what he’d been promised. During an assist mission to a U.S. Coast Guard unit in Kodiak, Alaska, Ortiz, traveling with a senior engineer, found himself without the harness required to test the GPS on a MH-60J/T Jayhawk helicopter. He was not to be deterred by that inconvenience.
With the window to align the GPS with the approaching satellite narrowing down to 25 minutes, Ortiz set his mind to building the harness from scratch and then testing it out to make sure it worked. Had he not taken immediate action, it would have been 24 hours before they had another chance.
It’s not just the out-of-the-ordinary situations that keep Ortiz’s job fresh and exciting, but also the many opportunities NAVAIR has offered him over the years. Ortiz’s career has spanned from supporting rotary-wing aircraft to test pilot school to fixed-winged aircraft to unmanned aircraft to weapons. His support and expertise has reached well over 70 weapon systems and platforms combined.
“When I’ve changed programs, I’ll tell my father, ‘I’m changing jobs from here to there,’ and my dad will ask me, ‘So, where are you moving to?’ And I’ll tell him, ‘Staying right here,’” Ortiz said. “That’s the advantage of working at NAVAIR, you have the opportunity to make a 180-degree switch [in systems] and stay in one place.”
Ortiz acknowledged that he could have gone into the private sector where he would probably have been successful, but said “the opportunity to work first-hand on an aircraft, to see and feel your work, to know you make a difference to the warfighter, that makes a huge difference.”
PEO(U&W) Public Affairs