Regina Garson

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Regina Pickett Garson

Ares RIFs, HSP and life does go on
-- August 2010 --

Times are changing and my head is spinning. This is not just changing times for me; it is pretty close to changing times for life as I knew and expected it to be. Hundreds in our area and thousands of others around the country were hit with a brand new acronym -- RIF -- Reduction in Force. Of course, NASA is famous for acronyms. It took me a minute on this one though. I kept seeing RIF, but it didn't sink in at first. It means "layoff." This one was right sizeable and it got me, too.

I think people mostly don't want to admit that THEY got laid off. But face it; the economy in this country is in a mess, a big one. Layoffs have hit a whole lot of good people, bad people too if you want to know the truth. This layoff thing in the US of A is just about to the level they say of "death" and "taxes," sooner or later -- it's coming.

With that knowledge, I was somewhat prepared when the beloved Ares rocket, the project for which I was writing, Ares First Stage to be specific for my part, got hit. It got hit hard with all these budgetary cutbacks, political wrangling, project finagling, and funds rearranging.

Somehow, in the process though, we got our very last video out -- before we hit the door, or otherwise dispersed. This was the very last video of the Ares Video Outreach Group (of which I was a very proud part). My part was collecting and verifying the technical details and information for the Ares First Stage video footage. Anyway, unless things change, which they could, this was the last Ares Quarterly Update, #16 to be exact.

Now, back to the RIFs: RIF is a modern day, politically correct way to say layoffs. Hundreds of people in our area were hit and many more from around the country were as well. As if that is not bad enough, the plan was that the new Ares rockets would eventually replace the Shuttle, which only has a few more flights left, although that is being negotiated as I write. But the point is, those folks were going to transition over to Ares, so there were even more than just Ares layoffs.

I am not certain how to go into all this without being negative. It's not my intent. When you get down to it, it's the nature of the aerospace industry in this country. This time as I update, I am hanging out my "Open for Business" sign. I'm word smything on my own again. In addition, along with thousands of others, I'm also looking for a job.

If you really look though, behind every dark cloud, there really is a silver lining. In process I joined up with this new group, Huntsville Space Professionals (HSP). The first thing we did was organize a job fair to help get folks back to work. The next thing they did was have me at Fox 54 getting interviewed to help plug the job fair. Am I the one who swore, in writing no less, that I would never ever be on TV again? They got me. Everybody has worked so hard on this, and despite myself, it was my turn and I did it. I spoke with local TV channel Fox 54's Ellis Eskew to help promote the HSP Career Fair.

I am very proud of our efforts and what we accomplished. Andy Sutinen pulled the group together about the time the Ares layoffs started going down. With a couple exceptions, the HSP group started with just that, a bunch of those RIFs, local folks who got hit in the layoffs and banded together to try to do something about what these recurring NASA RIFs are doing to our city and our people. HSP is a "501-C3 non-profit organization that preserves and promotes the talented human space capital in the Tennessee Valley." Completely volunteer efforts and on a shoe string, layoff budgets and all, HSP coordinated the career fair to help get the local folks back to work after those federal budget cuts brought hundreds (and we never could get a fix on the exact number -- but at least 500-600 and it may well have hit a 1000) of RIFs (layoffs) of local Ares contract employees at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC).

As to the job fair, we coordinated with local businesses and some that actually came from across the country, like the super cool TSC, The Spaceship Company. Those folks heard about it and took the red-eye from the Mohave Desert to be there. That is good and bad news both though. They are going to build SpaceShipOne and WhiteKnightTwo and they were recruiting heavy from the Ares RIFs. They wanted to take everybody they could out to the Mojave Desert, a job is a job though and folks have to eat, but that doesn't do a whole lot for our city's slot as a number one city, when all these folks are packing their bags for greener rockets, spaceships actually.

HSP Career Fair

By all counts, the job fair was a success and the next big mission of HSP is to pull together a National Commercial Space Summit to try and get more folks from the business end of the aerospace industry into Huntsville. I think the local aerospace industry is so dependent on NASA contracts that when things like this layoff go down, it hits the town and everybody in it really hard. That's really what HSP is about, getting past that and what these RIFs do to the town and the people in it.

Life does go on and we all do what we can to get by. I'm still writing my Examiner columns. I have two of them now. One is on Exploring Huntsville and the other on Ethnic Communities. The second one is still relatively new; but with that I am back writing about race and minority issues, which was an old area of interest and focus of much of my early writing and editorial efforts. At times, oddly, all the issues mesh, so despite everything, in a lot of ways, I am very busy both writing about the things that concern and are important to me, and working with others in the city to do what we can to help others and our self as well to mitigate this period of transition.

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