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Lead engineer takes unconventional path to get Marines better body armor

Marine body armor
Flora “Mackie” Jordan, body armor engineer at Marine Corps Systems Command, recently developed a modular body armor system that is just as effective as, but 45 percent lighter than, the body armor system Marines currently use. Jordan recently received the “Promising Innovations Medal” at the Partnership for Public Service‘s annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Awards, which recognizes federal employees who are responsible for noteworthy and inspiring accomplishments in the federal workforce. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Jennifer Sevier)

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va.—Flora “Mackie” Jordan’s path to becoming an award-winning body armor engineer for the Infantry Combat Equipment team at Marine Corps Systems Command happened by chance.

“It was kind of accidental, but serendipitous,” said Jordan of her introduction to MCSC. “After graduating from college, I applied to the Naval Acquisition Development Program, and they can place you at any one of over 100 locations. I think it was just pure luck that [MCSC] happened to be looking for a body armor engineer.”

After graduating from McGill University in 2011 with a degree in civil engineering and minor in environmental engineering, Jordan had to choose between various job prospects. Ultimately, Jordan—a young woman whose first brush with the military was as a nuclear engineering intern with the Navy—chose to go with the Marines.

“I was torn between my technical passion—environmental engineering—and patriotism and wanting to give back to those who give so much to this country,” Jordan said. “This job just sounded so cool and unlike anything I’ve ever done or thought I could ever do. It sounded like a challenge and was something I just couldn’t turn down.”

In her relatively short tenure at MCSC—Jordan recently celebrated her five-year work anniversary at the command—the 28-year-old has led the team that introduced a lightweight body armor system that is just as effective as, but 45 percent lighter than, the body armor Marines currently use.

The research, data collection and testing period leading up to the system’s final iteration was a lengthy one, and Jordan sometimes collected data in unconventional—albeit effective—ways. In order to help fine-tune the requirements, Jordan found herself—dressed in full gear—marching alongside Marines during a field exercise in the southern Californian desert.

“I was in body armor the whole time, I was eating MREs, we were sleeping in tents,” Jordan said of the week-long exercise. “It was a very miserable experience, but it really gave me an understanding of how Marines use the gear, what the issues are, and helped me gather the data we really needed.”

Data collection sessions like these helped Jordan and her team identify specific issues Marines face while wearing body armor. It also helped to put themselves in a Marine’s frame of mind when coming up with solutions to their feedback.

After several iterations, Jordan and her team developed a modular body armor system that was lightweight and more comfortable, gave Marines better mobility, and could be customized to fit Marines of every size and body type. Jordan and her team also made sure the new body armor was compatible with other fielded equipment, like the USMC pack system.

“Marines are at the center of everything we do,” said Jordan. “From a design standpoint, we took into account a lot of human factors and how Marines wear it and move with it on. We looked at its compatibility with packs when Marines are hiking, or how well it holds up to different environmental conditions—from flames to extreme cold to maritime.”

Jordan and her team’s hard work did not go unnoticed. Jordan was recently awarded the prestigious Samuel J. Heyman Service to America “Promising Innovations Medal” from the Partnership for Public Service for her work on lightweight body armor. Also known as “the Sammies,” the annual awards recognize federal employees who are responsible for noteworthy and inspiring accomplishments, highlighting excellence in the federal workforce.

“When the request for Sammies nominations came out, one person jumped out in my mind, and that was Mackie,” said Nick Pierce, team lead for the individual armor team at MCSC who nominated Jordan for the award. “Mackie’s impressive with the speed at which she moves—she stays focused on making positive changes that would impact Marines the most. Mackie really values the direct feedback she gets from Marines. She’s also a big player within the team and will help with anything.”

In addition to being this year’s youngest honoree, Jordan is also the first civilian Marine to ever win a Sammie in the award’s 16-year history.

In her off time, Jordan is currently pursuing her Masters in Engineering Management at George Washington University. She also regularly volunteers at Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics events to “let kids know what opportunities are out there and help them understand their capabilities better.” Jordan relishes in the idea of “changing the world for good, or making an impact in the world.”

At MCSC, Jordan says the most rewarding thing about her job is knowing how her work impacts Marines in a positive way.

“Honestly, working with Marines, getting a chance to hear what they have to say and trying to make a difference that makes their lives a little easier—whether it’s by making their body armor lighter, or making it slightly more comfortable so it’s not causing them pain, or even just giving them something that they’re looking for in a system—that’s the biggest reward,” she said.

Story by Ashley Calingo

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