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Posted 7/15/2015

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By Megan Holland, ERDC Public Affairs

VICKSBURG, Miss. – Commissioned in May upon his graduation from the U.S. Army Military Academy at West Point, 2nd Lt. Matthew Shoenberger is having quite the year. Not only was he on the winning team in the 2015 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) West Point Soldier Design Competition, he also earned the highest cadet score on the 2015 national Fundamentals of Engineering exam. Shoenberger, who was assigned to the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas, has strong U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) ties.

“ERDC has helped me so much over the years,” said Shoenberger. “Both of my parents moved to get jobs there, and met while working at ERDC – so in a way, ERDC has been there since before the beginning. I worked at ERDC as a student, coming back as a cadet as part of my Advanced Individual Academic Development (AIAD) to work on implementing new defense structures. Both times, the engineers and technicians I worked with taught me more than I could learn in a classroom.”

The son of late Civil Engineer Jim Shoenberger, who worked in the Geotechnical Laboratory prior to it becoming the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory (GSL), and current Environmental Laboratory Statistician Tere DeMoss, Vicksburg has always been the place Shoenberger calls home. He graduated from Warren Central High School in 2010 and headed for West Point with no question as to what he would study – he’d always wanted to be an engineer like his dad, who passed away when he was in 7th grade. However, an unexpected turn of events caused those plans to be put on hold.

“Matthew was injured after the first two weeks of Beast training his plebe year and had to return home,” said DeMoss. “The GSL family took him under their wing, and the men that worked with my husband were so very gracious to my son and told him many stories of Jim Shoenberger. Dr. Gary Anderton (former chief of GSL’s Airfields and Pavements Branch) even had Jim’s slide rule, which Jim used in the beginning of his career here at the Waterways Experiment Station. Matt will always cherish it.”

Shoenberger spent the majority of his medical leave working as a contract student with ERDC-GSL’s Dr. Kennan Crane. He assisted in measuring and recording information on reclaimed pieces of historic bridges for use in the bridge protection program. Crane also let Shoenberger borrow textbooks from basic engineering courses to read during his free time.

“I was glad to be able to offer Matthew a job that provided him with some insight into engineering, a distraction from his medical setback and some money in his pocket,” said Crane. “His work at ERDC has been used in reports for two of our major customers, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Highway Administration, that provide insight on how we can make our nation’s bridge’s safer.”

After a successful rehabilitation, Shoenberger was able to return to school to finally begin work on that long-desired engineer degree. He quickly found himself faced with opportunities for an Advanced Individual Academic Development assignment, and in 2013, he once again made the choice to return to ERDC-GSL to work with Gary Johnston, former ERDC commander who now works as a civilian, and Micael Edwards in the area of force protection research.

“Matt was very productive during his summer tour with GSL,” said Johnston. “He worked on numerous projects on which we needed to evaluate the potential of conducting further force protection research. In all cases, he was very proactive and produced quality work with very little supervision. Basically, I gave him a concept and he took it and ran with it to provide us with very viable options for expanding our force protection alternatives.”  

“Matt was with us for six weeks and completed four different projects during that time,” added Edwards. “That was a full schedule, and a lot of work, but Matt did a great job. He had a tremendous work ethic and was very energetic about his projects.”

Shoenberger’s efforts included conducting pullout tests on a redesigned, lightweight stake to augment conventional U-shaped pickets, an alternative that is a third of the weight and volume of the picket and is being reviewed for use with triple standard concertina (TSC) protective fences. He also demonstrated the effectiveness of incorporating screens into TSC around base camps to block lines of sight; developed construction techniques to increase the versatility of the Modular Protective System; and researched the possibility of converting shipping containers into protected positions with incorporated firing ports.

Now that he’s graduated, Shoenberger feels ready to take that experience and apply it his daily work for the U.S. Army.

“I am very excited to move along with my career,” said Shoenberger. “I have spent so long training and developing, I’m ready to finally get a chance to do the job that has been just beyond the horizon for four years now. I joined to become stronger and lead Soldiers, and now I am one step closer to that goal.”