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My favorite fictional character is Star Wars’ Han Solo: He was a fighter pilot renegade, he challenged authority, and he fought the battle of good and evil.
That could describe my career. I’m a former Air Force fighter pilot and NASA space shuttle engineer, and now an expert on using high-energy lasers for defense.
I flew F-4E Phantoms during my 35-year Air Force career, and now I work with Directed Energy clients across the Department of Defense and intelligence communities. Much of the work is the stuff of science fiction, from high-energy lasers that travel at the speed of light to detect and destroy threats to high-capacity laser communications that could revolutionize our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
It’s vital but still relatively new work in an increasingly dangerous world.
Trey Obering leads our Directed Energy innovation team working with clients across the Department of Defense (DoD) and intelligence communities. An expert in acquisition and program management, Trey also works with clients in the Air Force Materiel Command, Air Force Space Command, and Missile Defense markets.
He leads the acquisition program management and logistics functional community at Booz Allen, developing and improving the skills of our hundreds of acquisition and logistics professionals.
Trey has led two National Academy of Sciences committees sponsored by the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition) to help the Air Force improve program management. Before he joined Booz Allen, Trey led a comprehensive review of the National Reconnaissance Office for the Director, National Intelligence, providing a new organizational charter.
Trey retired from the U.S. Air Force as a lieutenant general with more than 35 years of experience in space and defense systems development, integration, and operations. He served as director of the 8,500-person Missile Defense Agency (MDA), Office of the Secretary of Defense. He was the DoD acquisition executive for the nation’s $10 billion per year missile defense portfolio.
In addition, Trey served as the program manager for the Ballistic Missile Defense System. Prior to the MDA, he planned and programmed 68 Joint, Air Force, and international programs with a $28 billion budget as mission area director for information dominance on the Air Staff.
Trey entered the Air Force in 1973 after completing the University of Notre Dame's ROTC program as a distinguished graduate. He received his pilot wings in 1975 and flew operational assignments in the F-4E. Later, he was assigned to the Space Shuttle program and participated in 15 space shuttle launches as a NASA orbiter project engineer and was responsible for integrating firing room launch operations. Other assignments include tours with the Air Force inspector general, the Defense Mapping Agency, and Electronic Systems Center.
Trey has twice earned the DoD’s highest non-combat award, the Defense Distinguished Service Medal for leadership. In 2008, he received the prestigious University of Notre Dame Rev. William Corby Award recognizing alumni who have led a distinguished military career. He was honored by the National Defense Industrial Association’s Missile Defense Division with the 2011 Kadish Award for Acquisition Excellence.
He received a B.S. in aerospace engineering from Notre Dame University and an M.S. in astronautical engineering from Stanford University.
Why is Booz Allen an ideal firm for your skills and expertise? First and foremost, it’s a company that takes care of its people and in that sense reminded me very much of the military. Secondly, Booz Allen has a very broad reach and we can help our government clients across a broad spectrum. And finally there were two individuals who came to Booz Allen before me who were retired general officers like myself that I highly respected. I figured if they gave their imprimatur to Booz Allen, that was good enough for me…and that was right.
Where do you see the firm going in the next 100 years? The way that I like to describe Booz Allen is that it’s a 100-year-old entrepreneurial firm. I think that’s exactly what it’ll be in another 100 years. We will continue to adapt and change based on the environment and based on the opportunities and refresh ourselves as we have done in the nearly eight years I’ve been with the firm.
What are some of the biggest untapped opportunities in directed energy? I think we’re just beginning to scratch the surface on the flexibility that directed energy will bring to the warfighter across a broad spectrum. As I mentioned earlier, missile defense is a great opportunity for a speed of light weapon like directed energy. Right now there is no way we can destroy a missile while it’s in its boost phase which is the optimum time to shoot a missile down. I also think that in our lifetime we’ll see lasers in space to provide global protection against the missile threats. And of course there are other applications such as using high power microwave devices to shut down enemy weapon systems in densely populated environments, laser communications, directed energy propulsion and energy transfer that we are just beginning to explore their full potential.
What are your top tips for managing and motivating people? There are four attributes of leadership I think are most important. First, you’ve got to understand your job and where you want to go so that you can provide a vision for your people. Second is to have human empathy and understanding. You’ve got to get to know your people and what motivates them. The third is courage. Not just physical courage, but mental courage. You have to be able to stand up when you think something wrong is happening, even if it involves your leadership. The fourth one is the most important, and that is integrity. You’ve got to be true to yourself, true to people around you.
What did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be an astronaut, and I came close. I applied and was involved in the process, but then during the course of a qualifying physical they found a problem I had that disqualified me. But I still got involved with the space shuttle, even on the ground. It was rewarding enough.
Is there an obsolete item you can’t get rid of? Not really. Because in the military, in my 35-year career, we moved 16 times. You can’t retain stuff that’s no use. So when I’m done with something, I get rid of it.
What’s the most influential book you’ve ever read? One that stands out would be Isaac Asimov’s The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science. Another one that I really enjoyed was A Brief History of Time by the British physicist Stephen Hawking. That one really grabbed my attention because of the attempt to explain and understand the physical operation and origins of the universe.
What’s something that not many people know about you? I play guitar and one of my good friends is the lead guitarist for Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers, a guy named Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. I’ve known him for years.