New China Lake Alliance executive director outlines goals for 2013

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

New China Lake Alliance executive director outlines goals for 2013Eileen Shibley says that her new role as executive director for the China Lake Alliance is just a continuation of a lifelong passion for the Navy’s mission at China Lake.

The alliance board of directors unanimously voted at a Jan. 5 meeting to elect Shibley to lead the organization, which focuses community interests in an effort to support the base mission.

“I am so excited to accept this new challenge,” said Shibley, who formerly served on the board. “I don’t think you will find a more dedicated, knowledgeable and capable group of volunteers. Mick Gleason, who was my predecessor, really knew how to unite people behind a worthy goal. Having that kind of foundation to build on really gives us limitless potential.”

Shibley said that her first official day on the job saw an invigorated board strategy session that brought together representatives of nearly every component of the community to discuss ways that the alliance could further its mission.

“ Fundamentally, we support the mission at China Lake. We know that in the political environment we’re in, whether Congress authorizes a BRAC or not, there will be downsizing of the Department of Defense. So our approach is to be proactive rather than reactive in looking for ways to bolster the mission, whether that means lobbying for support of the existing programs or augmenting that technological culture by bringing in complementing industry,” said Shibley.

“The board is still formalizing our overall plan, but there are several specific things I can share that we will be focusing on this year.”

The first, she said, is to foster even closer relationships and tighter bonds between the people who work at China Lake and those who work in the community. “Having spent the two and a half years since my retirement in the community after spending 35 years on base, I can now see how these two groups of people don’t always appreciate the function of the other and the impact we have on each other. I think if we strengthen those ties it will be helpful to the mission, but I also think it has a positive impact on the community.”

She said that the alliance also wants to leverage any opportunity to facilitate the existing partnership between China Lake and the educational communities and to find new ways to grow that partnership.

“We are just perfectly placed to be a model for the world in mentoring students in science, technology, engineering and math [STEM] programs.” Not only is China Lake a center of excellence for groundbreaking work in technical fields — with labs full of professionals with an altruistic zest for sharing that knowledge with the younger generation — but both Sierra Sands and Cerro Coso have the established technical curricula that coincide with the technical work on base, she said.

“I have this picture in my head that when visitors from off center go through our labs, they are going to see kids from the STEM program working alongside our technical workforce. I have a notion that we could be the catalysts for the future engineers and scientists which America so desperately needs.”

Shibley also pointed to the ongoing UAV effort as a great way to foster business that complements the local Navy mission. “The reason this stands out to me is because of the incredible potential for technology transfer — which has been a pillar of what China Lake has always been about.”

She said that had already been accomplished in a small measure by helping recruit entrepreneur Chip Yates to Inyokern Airport — where he broke a world record in his battery-powered Long EZ last summer.

“There are also several other contractors who have fallen in love with this area for testing. The autonomy, the terrain, the restricted airspace and our proximity to a premiere technology community is just unparalleled. Whether we are named an official test site in the FAA process or not, I think that the secret is out about what kind of national treasure has been hidden in the Indian Wells Valley all these decades.”

Shibley noted that her passion for promoting China Lake is partly motivated by having an inside look at the valuable contributions the base has made to national defense. “But I think another important reason is that China Lake and this town have been very good to me.”

She was born and raised in a small farming community in South Dakota. “I always wanted to go to college. Maybe because no one in my family ever had.” She was accepted to South Dakota State University, which she attended for one year while working to pay her own way.

While she was in her freshman year of college her brother, John Parlet, was opening a restaurant called “John’s Pizza” in a small rural town in California. (Yes, THIS rural town.)

“I called him and said, ‘If I can figure out a way to get to California, can I wait tables this summer to earn money for college?’” He said yes, and she found a way. She had already signed up for classes and started purchasing books when, just before the fall term began, she found out that the federal program that subsidized student loans for low-income students had been canceled.

So she went to work as a GS-2 clerk typist at China Lake. “We were like the Kelly Girls on base. And what I did was I filled in for anyone who was on vacation or maternity leave, and I ended up working in almost every department. But that was a wonderful opportunity for me to learn about the mission here.”

After nine years of working and going to school, she earned her degree. She was hired for an administrative person. “My first big break came from Arlo Mickelsen — one of the best bosses I ever had.” A branch-head position had opened up in the simulation lab. Shibley briefed him on the what qualifications were needed by the replacement. A new head was hired, but didn’t stay long. Shibley came back with some new suggestions for finding a good fit. “He just said, ‘if you have all these opinions about it, why don’t you just do it?’”

So she did. And in the process she ended up brainstorming with the technical people on her team to turn a small sim lab into the first integrated battlespace arena — now known as IBAR, a renowned as a jewel at China Lake.

“This was a first time, the only time that I know of, anyone had brought together in one space everything from target detection to battle damage assessment. And this is just one more example of China Lake’s ability to look into the future and bring something new to the game,” said Shibley.

Bill Porter, a founding member of the alliance board whose China Lake roots stretch back 60 years, said that he believes Shibley is perfect for carrying on the role of China Lake ambassador — one that has been filled by himself, Gleason and many others.

“Eileen is excellent in building relationships with people, which is one of the keys. She is a remarkable lady, and I think she will do very well in this job.”

Kathy Vejtasa, a local realtor who also serves on the board, said that she would also like to see the alliance working in concert with other community organizations. “We are not a very large community, so I think we need to work together.”

She said she also wants to see the alliance increase efforts in fundraising, so that leadership can continue to carry the China Lake message to Washington, D.C.

“I think Eileen will be great. She has a lot of energy and I think she is an incredible force for getting things done.”

Vejtasa also noted that with players like Porter, Shibley and Board President Jack Connell, “We have people who have experience working the BRAC issue from the base perspective, from the community perspective and from the D.C. perspective. We have such a strong leadership team right now. And since we don’t want to rest on our past laurels, that is exactly what we need.”

“If you look at the value of the mission that we are defending, and the caliber of the people behind that cause, I believe there is no limit to the heights we can scale,” said Shibley.

Story First Published: 2013-01-16