At the Army Aviation Association of America (AAAA) convention a few years ago, a young soldier—maybe 18 or 19 years old—came up to Steve Hill, CEO of AEgis Technologies. He told Steve about the time he was serving in Iraq and needed to identify enemy insurgents in a town full of innocent citizens.
Using the training he learned through AEgis-developed technology, the young soldier got the idea to fly a drone really low over the crowds. In his mission to separate the good guys from the bad guys, he knew the bad guys would react by trying to shoot the drone down. Sure enough, the insurgents shot at the drone as soon as they saw it. The soldier’s plan worked as snipers identified the insurgents, taking them out before anyone else could get hurt.
“That was really, really smart,” Steve said. “A young soldier thinking about technology and how he can use it effectively to change the way that we fight.”
Steve has a handful of stories just like this one. One time he even met a soldier on an airplane who noticed the logo on his shirt and thanked him for developing the training programs that helped him prepare for combat.
That’s the goal for AEgis Technologies.
In a company where over 100 of the employees are veterans, they work to develop new ways to train soldiers that save both lives and money. What started as a small tech company founded by Steve Hill and Bill Waite grew into a business devoted to bringing soldiers home safely.
“We…developed a tremendous appreciation for veterans and the sacrifices people make,” Steve said. “Some of them, very unfortunately, make the ultimate sacrifice and give their life for our country, and many are seriously injured. All have hardships, tough tours, and lots of time away from their families.”
It’s a Personal Mission
Steve’s father is a retired Army colonel who graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Growing up, Steve was an Army brat who moved around the country with his family, surrounded by military personnel.
When Steve was getting ready to graduate from high school, he knew he had two options: Follow in his father’s footsteps and go to West Point or start an organization that helps war fighters in the field. Steve chose the second option and headed off to the University of Alabama in Huntsville to pursue a degree in electrical engineering.
Shortly after graduation, he met Bill, a modeling and simulation expert who had moved to Huntsville to work on the space program.
“Bill and I decided back in 1989 to found a company that utilizes modeling and simulation to support weapon systems development or train war fighters so they survive and come home,” Steve said.
What They Do
Over the years, AEgis Technologies worked to discover some of the biggest problems facing the military.
Think about this: An 18-year-old enlists in the Army. They ship him off to Afghanistan or Iraq. He’s never been in a fighting situation before. Sure, basic training does a lot, but there had to be a way to train soldiers to be effective before they head out to the battlefield. That’s where modeling and simulation comes in. In recent years, it has become more cost effective for the Army to fund virtual training for soldiers instead of sending them through a real-life training program.
“Our thought process from the beginning was that it would really save a lot of resources, and you could train a lot more people…more efficiently…for the same amount of money in a lot less time,” Steve said. “So all those things you care about—less time, less money, realistic training—all those things have become more and more possible as modeling and simulation as an industry has advanced and matured.”
One way AEgis helps train soldiers is by using command and control systems. When intel about an enemy’s location comes to their operations centers through various surveillance technologies—think complex Google Earth—the soldiers have to be trained how to use the technology and how to make decisions based on what information they have.
“You’re simulating an actual war or battle scenario, and our soldiers are practicing and training on all the doctrines, decisions and things they would have to do,” Steve said.
AEgis Technologies also developed VAMPIRE®, the training simulator technology used by the soldier earlier in our story who flew drones over the crowds in Iraq. If a soldier learns how to fly the drone in a virtual situation, the soldier will know how to fly it in real life.
If it sounds a lot like a video game, that’s because it is. A new wave of soldiers is coming through who have a head start on because they grew up playing Call of Duty or Battlefield 1.
We’re not talking small-scale resources here. In the past three decades, AEgis has developed products that trained hundreds of thousands of soldiers before they went into combat.
AEgis also has a philanthropic arm, AEgis Serves, that supports various organizations. Camille Gardner, head of AEgis Serves, said they give money regularly to Wounded Warrior Project and other groups that support veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We used to have a man who was the leader of a biker’s organization, and every year we would get together and have a Harley Davidson bike ride…All the money that was generated from the event was for Wounded Warriors,” Camille said. “We had probably a dozen or so AEgis employees from Huntsville that participated in the ride and others at the end of the ride making meals…for the wounded warriors. It was a really neat day because that’s not something you typically think of when you think about a defense and aerospace organization.”
The company also donated money to the Huntsville Veterans Memorial, and over time, has added 148 personalized bricks, one for each veteran the company has employed since the Memorial opened.
The Community Journal sincerely thanks AEgis Technologies for all they do to keep our soldiers safe in the field.
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