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Alan Canfield poses in front of the Panama City Mine Roller, designed and built by his team at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City. The equipment is credited with saving the lives of many soldiers by protecting them from improvised explosive devices - IEDs.

“I’m always looking at that next hard problem,” said Alan Canfield, a 1991 mechanical engineering graduate who works as the counter-IED program manager at the Panama City division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center.

A Navy civilian, Canfield said he originally worked on Marine Corps land mine and expeditionary warfare projects, but that he was called upon in 2005 to change gears to work on the escalating improvised explosive device (IED) threats in Iraq.

“The IEDs that troops were encountering were as varied as your imagination, more broad than what we’d ever come up against before,” he said, explaining that in addition to remote control devices, more and more IEDs relied on pressure plates and trip wires.

“I had to quickly build a multi-disciplinary team,” Canfield said.

What his team of 40 in-house personnel and 60 independent contractors in the Panama City area came up with is the Panama City Mine Roller System, a unit that is attached to the front of tactical vehicles to both detonate mines and absorb their shocks.

“After the first call, we had a prototype on the ground in 90 days. It took a hit and was destroyed in a week,” Canfield said. “But we continually design, build, test, design, build, test. We’ve done nearly 100 field upgrades, building new components, and retrofitting as we go. A rapid prototyping process is vital.”

Canfield and crew at the Panama City center are a one-stop-shop, which allows for instantaneous modifications with an efficiency that would not be possible if the Navy and Marine Corps were working solely with private contractors.

The program is fully resourced and funded by the Marine Corps and Canfield’s team has produced and fielded over 500 Mine Rollers. The team was faced with additional challenges over the past year as the Iraq system, made to navigate primarily on flat surfaces, didn’t have the same mobility in Afghanistan.

“Everyone and everything is focused on the war fighter,” said Canfield. “It can be really stressful. We worry about our effectiveness and about providing the best protection without hindering their progress. My team and I have made numerous trips to Iraq and Afghanistan to provide training and receive direct war fighter feedback.”

“It’s pretty rewarding work,” Canfield said, “and there are lots of opportunities to travel and move around in this line of work for the Navy.”

Canfield received his master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Florida. He met his wife Gina 10 years ago when she was working as an officer in an Air Force research lab, where she now works as a postdoc.

“I always wanted to be an engineer. I thought about an appointment to the Air Force Academy or Naval Academy, but I was attracted to Mizzou when I attended the Missouri Scholars Academy there my sophomore year of high school,” Canfield said. “The state scholarships didn’t hurt, either.”

“In my heart I’m an ME, “said Canfield. “I think I was meant to do this.”

Editor’s note: On April 28, 2010, Project Director Alan Canfield and the 18 Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division scientists and engineers that work for him received the Naval Sea Systems Command Technical Award for their work on the Panama City Mine Roller.