Civil engineering alumnus performs design review for NAVAIR operational trainers complex

... Completes NAVAIR Journey Leadership Development Program

Hely Saul Gonzalez

Hely Saul Gonzalez

When Hely Saul Gonzalez (BSCE 98) traveled to the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan, in September to perform a design review for the MC158-T Operational Trainers Complex, he was ready for the challenge.

“The engineering and business principles I learned while attending Ole Miss have enabled me to achieve my career goals by allowing me to network with current students as well as Ole Miss alumni,” said Gonzalez, a training systems facility engineer at the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division Facility Support Branch in Orlando, Fla. “In addition to sustained superior performance on the job, I needed to only let my peers know that I graduated from Ole Miss, and I immediately gained a higher level of respect and recognition amongst my peers and supervisors.”

The complex in Japan will support training and readiness requirements for various aircraft and include office space, classrooms, briefing rooms and support space for Marine Aircraft Group 12, Carrier Air Wing 5 and Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152.Gonzalez worked hand in hand with Navy and Army teams to ensure the facility’s design and construction accurately reflects training system requirements. He also helped serve as a direct engineering link to the agency designing and building the facility that will house the training system.

The ultimate goal, Gonzalez said, is to ensure that when the training systems arrive in theater in 2014-15, they are complete and usable and that service members are trained to use them — all to serve as “a global force for good.”

“This particular project was a challenge because of cross-cultural differences, conflicting design and construction criteria, dissimilar platforms, unknowns with the training systems and the like,” he said. “The challenges were real and had to be overcome to achieve results. Leadership was not an option; it was required.”

The path to leadership for Gonzalez includes his graduation from NAVAIR’s Journey Leadership Development Program last October. He and 223 other participants were the first to graduate from the program since it was established in 2010.

The JLDP helps develop future civilian and military NAVAIR leaders through training and exposure to NAVAIR leadership responsibilities. Participants also enhance their interpersonal communication and productivity skills, gain a stronger working knowledge of command operations and develop a more robust personal network, according to Stephanie Peppler, program manager for NAVAIR leadership.

While at Ole Miss, Gonzalez participated in the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps Enlisted Commissioning Program and was attached to the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps unit on campus.

“I learned a lot from all my instructors at Ole Miss,” he said. “I have remained in daily contact with Professor Waheed Uddin, who was and will always be a dear friend and mentor to me.”

One of Gonzalez’s more memorable experiences was when Uddin conducted his surveying class in the Grove.

“We spent several class periods surveying the Grove, which provided much-needed elevation data for topographical research,” Gonzalez said.

He also fondly remembered when his class performed a site survey at Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi in Oxford.

“Our class project was to perform earthquake analysis for high-value assets (hospitals, schools, airports, etc.) as part of a senior design class,” Gonzalez said. “We performed analysis and considered seismic retrofit (or rehabilitation) strategies for high-value assets to include the hospital.”

In addition, Gonzalez and his peers adopted and cleaned up Highway 7.

“Fun times indeed,” he said.

Uddin had similar memories of Gonzalez.

“Saul was one of the most active students in all my classes, besides his demanding Navy schedule,” Uddin said. “He was on the forefront of all group activities inside and outside the classroom, such as group projects in surveying and materials, the ASCE student chapter’s ‘Adopt A Highway’ cleanup section on Highway 7 and canoe construction.”

Gonzalez’s exceptional leadership ability was evident when he successfully completed a $250 million Naval Sea Systems Command relocation and reconstruction project in Washington, D.C. The project had 600 workers on-site with a monthly billing of more than $10 million.

“Upon my invitation, Saul returned to Ole Miss and lectured my construction management class about the NAVSEA project and his other assignments abroad,” Uddin said. “Later, he led post-Katrina cleanup and reconstruction of naval facilities in Gulfport.”

Gonzalez and his wife, Angela, have five children: Amanda, Amber, Laura, Aaron and Christina.