December 20, 2012 --
By Carden Hedelt, MCSC Corporate Communications
Jonathan Carpenter, 31-year-old lead engineer for Expeditionary Power Systems (EPS) at Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC), can trace his path to this point through three items on his desk: a partially filled change jar, a medal from the United States Army and a red Power Rangers helmet in a glass and wood case.
The jar of change has a piece of paper taped to it that reads “Video Game Fund.” Carpenter is saving for what’s next – either a gaming system or a few games.
“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I have such a backlog of games I need to finish.”
This passion for video games started when Carpenter was young, in his hometown of Toms River, N.J.
“One day I found out that video games were more fun than karate,” he said.
That led to his first computer at the age of 9, a Packard Bell for Christmas that came out of the box broken. At the age of 12, he was building his first computer. It wouldn’t be his last.
“I joined the computer club at school and had a lot of friends who would tie up the phone lines playing games with each other on a network,” Carpenter said.
At school, his subjects were math and science. He admits he didn’t have the best study habits. They didn’t hold his interests like computers or video games, but he did get good grades. In high school, he started to engage more with advanced placement classes in physics and calculus.
“I actually enjoyed those subjects,” Carpenter said. “I enjoyed the work and liked getting better.”
An Achievement Medal for Civilian Service hangs on the wall in Carpenter’s office. It’s for an alternator upgrade that he played a big role in while working for the Army’s Power Division.
“It was the last big program I worked on with the Army,” he said. “At the very beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom there were problems with improvised explosive devices. There was a big problem with power on vehicles – how do we [fuel] the power-hungry devices that destroy IEDs? We developed a solution that was significantly cheaper than the other options on the table.”
He never would have gotten this job without sitting next to someone in a graduate-level class at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where Carpenter also got his undergraduate degree.
“I went there because it was small, especially the engineering department” Carpenter said. “I graduated as one of six mechanical engineers. There were six professors.”
It was in college that he began to take interest in thermodynamics and power systems. He would tutor fellow students in thermodynamics while at Catholic.
“It’s fascinating to be able…to take energy and to make it do what we want it to do,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter credits Catholic for stressing the importance of theory and calculation, which both helped him land that job with the Army and saved him from a much less interesting alternative: heating, venting and air conditioning design.
“I didn’t want to spend four years of school learning just so that I could size vents,” he said. “It was between designing ventilation systems or working at the Army, seeing things explode and burning massive amounts of fuel to make cool power.
“I went with the Army.”
The red Power Rangers helmet, it turns out, is an award.
“EPS has a tradition where every time we hold an all-hands meeting, someone is named the ‘Power Ranger’ for their good work,” Carpenter said.
The award started as a three-inch-tall Power Ranger figurine glued to a piece of wood. Upon the naming of a new Power Ranger, the current award holder can either give the award to the new recipient or keep it and make a better one to pass on.
That’s how Carpenter ended up with a helmet enclosed in a glass and wood case. The new trophy he passed on has solar panels that charge in the day and illuminate the award at night.
“It got a little out of hand,” he said.
Carpenter made the transition to MCSC when he was uncertain if and when his job with the Army would require a move.
One day, he got a call from Mike Gallagher, a work acquaintance and the Program Manager for EPS, to come talk.
He left with a job where he would continue to do work that he enjoys.
“There’s always a lot of ideas and solutions on how to solve a myriad of problems we have,” Carpenter said. “My ability to take all the data, decipher it down, provide a couple options and provide my support behind what I think is the best solution and be able to argue it is the most fun part of this job.”
The move has worked out for Gallagher and EPS, too.
“Very sharp, very well respected guy,” Gallagher said. “He’s becoming the face of power within the Marine Corps because of his strong and consistent engineering support.”