Andy McLeod, CCOM Factotum

Andy McLeod calls himself CCOM director Larry Mayer’s “jack-of-all-trades, master of none,” but with multiple job responsibilities and a diverse history of professional experience, he’s obviously mastered a thing or two in his day. 

Indeed, in a previous incarnation, McLeod was a master training specialist in the U.S. Navy’s submarine force. Beginning in 1984, he spent four years at sea in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and in 1989, based out of Pearl Harbor, began a five-year stint at sea and on shore schooling shipmates on the ins and outs of acoustic analysis with respect to tactical and strategic submarine warfare.

Essentially, this involved interpreting the purely acoustic characteristics and the readouts from the sonar systems, identifying the target, and letting the control room know the estimated speed, course, and bearing to initiate target motion analysis.

“And that’s really the whole reason I became a sonar technician, I got to work one-on-one with the commanding officer and the tactical team. I was involved in all the pre-sail briefings. The job really got you on the inside of things,” he says.

Four years later, however, McLeod found himself very much on the outside of things after being diagnosed, and then treated successfully, for cancer.

“They assigned me to shore duty because once you’ve had radiation therapy they won’t let you back on a nuclear sub for five years,” McLeod says.

Not that he didn’t buck the system in an effort to get back inside and on board. “I wanted to get back to sea so badly that I petitioned it all way up to the fleet admiral. I thought admirals could do anything, but it was all for naught.”

So he soldiered on ashore as an instructor until a shifting political climate moved him to reset his sights.

“Around this same time President Clinton was slicing and dicing the nuclear Navy and I decided it was time to get out and go back to school.”

In 1994, at age 29, he enrolled in the Maine Maritime Academy Ocean Studies Program with a minor in Marine Technology. There he received a “very well-rounded” education in physical, chemical, and geological engineering, but the most impressive and meaningful thing for McLeod at Maine Maritime was spending a semester at sea as a freshman doing research and working with equipment―a rare, early-on opportunity that matched his learning style. 

“I’m a very visual guy and I process things much better when I can see and touch and hold and break―and fix―stuff,” he says.

As the CCOM jack-of-all-trades he’s had plenty of opportunities to fix stuff, but designing and building things needed for the Center’s research is perhaps what brings him the most pleasure.

Take the 21-foot tall by two-feet wide freestanding, acrylic tank with a built-in heating/cooling pump system McLeod designed for, among other things, suspended sedimentation analysis via laser beam. The ongoing project grew out of a conversation McLeod had with engineers from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency who were interested in using the Center’s big engineering tank for laser studies. Such studies would have entailed heating and cooling the 380,000 gallons of water and dumping half a ton of sediment into the tank. Think again.

“This was for a laser two millimeters across and really only requiring 18 meters of space, so our entire tank just wasn’t needed. Besides, there was no practical way to heat and cool that much water, let alone deal with all that sediment,” McLeod says.

Thus was born the idea of concentrating the experiment in a long vertical tube that could be placed inside the tank, which eventually morphed into the 21-foot freestanding unit that will eventually reside somewhere in the high bay –possibly next to the wave tank.

In addition to being used to study how a laser reacts to a water column of different colors, turbidities, temperatures, and salinities, the tank could be voided of water and used for air turbulence “brownout” studies.

Explains McLeod, “When helicopters land they can stir up so much dirt and dust that it creates a visibility impairing brownout and they can crash or people going to and from a 'copter get killed by the blades. It’s been a longstanding problem.”

If high-speed fans were installed at the bottom of the acrylic tube and dust was added, high-frequency laser analysis could be done to model in three dimensions how the dust moves, which could lead to a solution to the helicopter-induced brownout problem.

But McLeod notes that this work is in the “future directions” category and actual construction of the tank, which he will lead, will take time and additional funding. 

“The point is, projects like this help demonstrate how varied my work here can be, and that’s the beauty of the job.”

A bit of serendipity lands a twofer

McLeod landed his position at JHC/CCOM in rather unusual fashion when he traveled with his wife, Pam, from their home in North Carolina for her job interview at the Center.

At the time, McLeod was working around the world driving big (18-feet tall, 12 ton) Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) used to bury communication cable for a company called Oceaneering-Advanced Technologies. As such, he was living for long stretches away from home, and Pam was weary of her engineering job. So, McLeod notes, “It didn’t matter where we lived since the company flew me wherever I needed to be and she was ready to relocate.”

So when Pam secured a job interview for a GIS/database position at the Center, McLeod, too, made the trip north and right into a chair in Mayer’s office.

“I was sitting there with her during the interview and Larry turned to me at one point and asked, ‘What do you do?’ As luck would have it I had a resume on me,” McLeod recalls with a grin. “Larry looked at it and said, ‘That’s interesting, we’ve been looking for a lab manager kind of guy.’ So beginning in August 2001,  both Pam and I started working here.”

It was McLeod’s varied background―from his Navy sonar days and Maine Maritime training to his ROV work as well as a background in computers―that landed him the CCOM job as “lab manager kind of guy” a.k.a. shop factotum.

At the time the Center comprised only 22 people who occupied just the first floor of the Chase Ocean Engineering Lab―there was no wing. And the high bay, McLeod points out, “was wide open, there were no shelves and the engineering tank didn’t have the translating carriage, so whenever you wanted to do an acoustic test you had to use floats.” McLeod got right to work upgrading the place.

The Center has come a long way in 11 years, and McLeod stresses that a key member, and perhaps unsung hero, in that progress is mechanical engineer/machinist Paul Lavoie, who in his own right is also a jack-of-all-trades.

“Paul is a fantastic resource. He arrived here at UNH in the early 60s and designed and built satellites for NASA as a contractor. Prior to that he had built subs at Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut. So he’s designed electrical and mechanical components that have gone into space and under the water.”

McLeod adds that Lavoie’s experience as an engineer, machinist and as both a commercial and research diver gives him an extra edge in understanding how to put equipment on and under the water, make it work, and make it last.

“You can go to him with a napkin that has a bunch of chicken-scratch mechanical/engineering design on it and he’ll clean it up, develop something with you, and put it in the water.”

He adds, “Without a doubt, the experience Paul brings to the table relates directly to my successes here at CCOM. I would even go so far as to say that I rarely embark on any given project without extensive discussions with Paul, and I would add that this is a common theme with any of the people who require his services.”

As for his original, unmet desire to stay on the water while still in the Navy, McLeod has no regrets and, in fact, celebrates the fact that fate put him back on land and exposed him to a whole host of experiences and professional pursuits that have rounded out his skill set and his outlook on life.

Such as, in those waning days in the Navy as a dry-docked master training specialist, working during the week with hardcore Navy nuclear submarine engineers and on the weekend running a kayak shop.

“The weekends were a bit more laid back and I was dealing with a significantly different group of people – the Hawaiian kayak crowd,” McLeod recalls. “This really helped me make the shift from the nuclear Navy to civilian life and it loosened me up. And that taught me, as far as I’m concerned, that if you’re not having fun in what you do, you’re screwing something up.”

And, of course, the denizens of the Chase Ocean Engineering Lab know full well that McLeod has plenty of fun composing broadcast emails about physical plant issues, parking, and the like. The meat of the message is usually quite serious–the delivery often is not.

Take this snippet from a recent missive about a vehicle parked next to the high bay… “If your car is in danger of being ticketed, I will assume you were aware of your malfeasance. I will not run to tell you that you're parked illegally, I will not obfuscate with parking services, and I will not eat green eggs and ham.”

- David Sims