Frank H. Akers, Jr., a retired brigadier general from the U.S. Army, is the associate laboratory director for National Security at ORNL. He manages a focused research and development portfolio that includes nonproliferation and threat reduction, arms and export control, homeland security, and counterterrorism technologies for several federal agencies. A native of South Carolina, he holds a B.S. degree from the United States Naval Academy, two master's degrees, and a Ph.D. degree from Duke University. During his military career, General Akers held a variety of command positions at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and bases in South Korea and Vietnam. He also served in the Persian Gulf War. He has received numerous military decorations and awards, including the Distinguished Service Medal.
Q. How did a general officer in the U.S. Army end up at ORNL?
It was due mostly to the efforts of Carl Stiner, a retired general who lives on his family farm in LaFollette, Tennessee. Carl is very familiar with business and government leaders in the state. He had heard about a need for someone with a military and leadership background for an opening at the Y-12 National Security Complex and contacted me when I told him I was going to retire from active duty. My wife and I visited Oak Ridge and really liked what we saw. Since our youngest child was about to enter middle school at the time, we checked out the Oak Ridge school system and found that it was extraordinary, so we decided to move here. Eventually I moved from Y-12 to ORNL.
Q. Are there any similarities between the military units you've been in and ORNL?
More than you'd think. The best military units I've been associated with take a lot of pride in what they do, are motivated, and want to succeed at every task they're given, no matter how big or how small. They may not always succeed at first, but they never stop trying. I see much the same thing at ORNL. The scientists, engineers, support staff, and crafts workers have that same sense of pride in what they do.
Q. With its own labs and research organizations, why would the Department of Defense come to ORNL?
Indeed, the military has some exceptional people and facilities. But no one organization has all the assets required to address all of the needs of the military services. We should look at the challenges that face us in a holistic manner and find the resourcesthat best meet those needs. With regard to ORNL specifically, based on the tremendous investments in facilities and staff over the last six years, there is literally no place else in the country, or in the world for that matter, where the military services can get access to the one-of-a kind tools we have. Whether it's the Spallation Neutron Source, the Center for Nanoscale Materials Sciences, the Advanced Microscopy Laboratory, or our computational capabilities, ORNL has unique capabilities to help the military solve its technology challenges.
Q. How do you interest other departments of the federal government and industry in ORNL?
There is no single way to meet and interact with potential customers. The NSD staff have become very good at identifying those organizations that might benefit from what our researchers can do—even if these potential sponsors have never heard of ORNL or do not know that national laboratories are resources that are available to them. NSD staff go to both military and industrial conferences, review Broad Agency Announcements that appear on the Federal Business Opportunities website, conduct research using the Internet, read newspapers and periodicals, and ask for referrals from people in organizations they already know. Success mostly depends on ingenuity and tenacity. We try to establish relationships with key personnel in federal agencies and industry, learn about their challenges, and then determine if ORNL has the technology, expertise, or capability that will meet their needs. If we can persuade them to visit ORNL, they generally like what they see. As the saying goes, "Seeing is believing."
Q. What is ORNL's role in the war on terrorism?
Winning this war will require patience and a long-term approach. The U.S. will have to exert pressure on our adversaries in a variety of ways by using all of our assets—military, political, economic, and yes, technical. ORNL's role is to provide the technology and expertise that our side needs, and that doesn't mean exclusively for the military organizations in the Department of Defense. The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy's Nuclear Nonproliferation Program, and other customers we work with will also need access to our scientific assets. It's a war with a lot of dimensions. None of them is simple and we may be at this a long time, but I'm convinced that technology will enable America to defeat terrorists faster.
Q. You have several active duty military officers on your staff. Why are they here?
One of our goals is to develop relationships with the military services. What better way to show the capabilities of ORNL than by having people live with us, talk to our research staff, and see on a daily basis how our equipment and facilities are used? When they complete their 10-month tours, they will be able to explain convincingly that ORNL has the equipment and people to help them with many of their technical challenges. This year three officers from the United States Air Force are with us. Two of them are here under a Technical Fellowship Program with the Department of the Air Force's Strategic Security Directorate. The third officer is being sponsored by the Air Force Institute of Technology under the Education with Industry Program. We've also had a program over the past three years with the U.S. Army called Training with Industry. These relationships are proving valuable to both sides.
Q. What is your new program for "Thought Leadership?"
Since the days of the Manhattan Project in World War II, ORNL has enjoyed a reputation as a leader in the field of science and technology. However, in this interconnected world, the challenges we face as a nation don't lend themselves to easy solutions and thus require an interdisciplinary approach. That's why it's important to find leaders in other fields with whom we can collaborate in trying to understand the complex challenges of the 21st century, America's role in the world, and the impact of technology on society. Thought Leadership involves bringing together the talents of people from the world we know well at ORNL—scientists and engineers—with individuals from different backgrounds, such as the military and industry, who have extensive experience in areas where we do not. To help us in this effort, ORNL will engage the talents and capabilities of the Oak Ridge Center for Advanced Studies and the University of Tennessee's Howard Baker Center for Public Policy. We anticipate that the programs and workshops that ORCAS and the Howard Baker Center will develop will enable the Lab to make a unique contribution to issues of major importance to the country.
Q. The military is famous for acronyms. What's a YAGWAM?
The acronym means "Yet Another General Without Any Money." As part of our strategy, we have brought a number of high-ranking officers through ORNL so they could see what the Laboratory has to offer. We do this because we want them to know that other organizations can provide technology alternatives to either their own labs or industry—often for less money. We also believe that knowledge can be transferred throughout the military services from the top down. The results of these visits sometimes are not apparent for two or three years. We know the process can be frustrating to the scientific staff so we took the acronym and decided to have some fun by turning it into a certificate and an event. Once a year we have a YAGWAM Awards ceremony and present to selected scientists and engineers a YAGWAM certificate in recognition of all they do to help us. You've got to keep a sense of humor.
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