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CHIPS Articles: A Mindset of Excellence: USS Secure Program Director Connects Success to NSWC Dahlgren Division Cyber Scientists and Engineers Team

A Mindset of Excellence: USS Secure Program Director Connects Success to NSWC Dahlgren Division Cyber Scientists and Engineers Team
By Rachel O’Donnell, Corporate Communications, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division - October-December 2020
DAHLGREN, Va. – Aristotle once said, “Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”

Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) is well-known for excellence across the Navy, Department of Defense, Air Force, and Coast Guard. In this same way, USS Secure Program Director Jay Blalock typifies NSWCDD excellence.

Blalock joined the U.S. Navy right out of high school, spending nearly half his time as a fire controlman in Japan. After seven years of active duty, Blalock transitioned into an instructor role at the Aegis Training and Readiness Center as a defense contractor. He spent six years teaching and another five years working with simulation and distributed testing before joining the USS Secure project two years ago.

The USS Secure team works with projects and programs at all levels to meet cyber mission requirements. The team helps identify precise mission requirements to include systems that need testing for project fielding and certification and then works with teams across the Defense Department and Coast Guard to meet those needs.

Although he was honored with two individual awards, the Copernicus Award in 2020, presented by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) and the U.S. Naval Institute (USNI), and NSWCDD’s Award of Excellence for Test and Evaluation. Blalock credits his success to the accomplishments of his team.

“It’s not lost on me knowing how awesome it is to lead a group like this. To me, winning this award is a better representation of the program, team, and all the hard work we’ve done together,” said Blalock. “When you truly care about what you’re doing, you’re going to do everything you can for it to succeed.”

While nominating Blalock for the Navy’s submission for the Copernicus Award, NSWCDD Commanding Officer Capt. Stephen “Casey” Plew praised Blalock’s impact on the entire U.S. Navy. “He is making a real difference in the cybersecurity of our Navy today.”

According to an award citation, under Blalock’s leadership, “USS Secure capabilities blossomed … and promoted his deserved reputation as a technical expert, ethical leader and unsurpassed collaborator.”

Typically, Blalock’s responsibilities as USS Secure program director take him across the country to multiple project sites.

“Having the labs spread out is helpful; it produces a diverse group of people from multiple backgrounds. There’s a broad spectrum for input, which makes a better product,” Blalock said. “Our project is very different from a lot of other testing that’s done, especially for cyber, because you get a true representation of what’s out there in the fleet.”

As part of the testing process, the team uses a virtual cyber testbed to test the system’s durability against hackers. After vulnerabilities are discovered, the team provides recommendations to the programs on how to mitigate those vulnerabilities by fielding cyber resilient systems. The ultimate goal is to protect the warfighter.

“I’m very grateful to be in a job that I love, surrounded by a great group of people with the same mentality as it comes to how important our work is. This is a team sport,” said Blalock. “I’d like to give special thanks to my wife and kids for their daily support. I’d also like to thank Dave Emerson and Ed Hudson for helping me get hired into the government; Brian Kuiper, my branch head; Shellie Clift, my department head; and of course, my entire team, especially my predecessor, John Jims...”

“When Jay came onboard the project, he had great ideas and strategic thoughts about where to take the program,” said Jims, USS Secure Naval Sea Systems Command Red Team deputy director. “He’s grown the capabilities of USS Secure and is taking us to the next level.”

A step onto that next level includes a push to begin supporting cyber testing with the Air Force and Coast Guard. Additionally, USS Secure will begin the operational testing of systems in the next few months utilizing the Navy’s land-based test sites. The testing will save both time and funding by minimizing the amount of ship-board testing required.

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USS Secure Program Director Jay Blalock has been selected for two individual awards –the Navy’s Copernicus Award and NSWCDD’s Award of Excellence for Test and Evaluation. Blalock, however, credits his team with the program’s success. “To me, winning this award is a better representation of the program, team, and all the hard work we’ve done together,” he said. “It’s not lost on me knowing how awesome it is to lead a group like this.”
Jay Blalock’s team works with projects and programs at all levels to meet cyber mission requirements. “I’m very grateful to be in a job that I love, surrounded by a great group of people with the same mentality as it comes to how important our work is. This is a team sport,” said Blalock. BACK ROW (Left to right): Jason White, Ed Baker, Ty Beal, Jennifer Vogel, John Bard, David Hubbell, and David Uittenbogard. FRONT ROW (Left to right): Champaign Pierce, Shannon Janes, Janna Roland, Ann Shows, Mike Tolbert, and Jay Blalock.
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