This hard work did not go unnoticed. On January 24, 2012 the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) and U.S. Naval Institute recognized Capt. Gregory A. Lizak, assistant communications officer, Command Element, 13th MEU, I Marine Expeditionary Force, with the 2011 Copernicus Award. The award recognizes him for his outstanding leadership, highly advanced technical expertise, and visionary approach to communications employment that significantly enhanced the combat effectiveness of the 13th MEU and Marine Corps-wide communications initiatives. “I feel surprised,” said Lizak, who hails from Belmont, Calif. “It’s a big deal in our community to win this award. There’s tough competition and a lot of important people in our field.”
He accepted the award at the San Diego Convention Center, among his peers in the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The award honors service members from those three services for accomplishments in specific and demonstrable contribution to the advancement of command and control, computing and communications, intelligence and information systems and information warfare. The contributions demonstrate exceptional initiative, leadership and insight within the nominee's area of expertise.
Maj. Noah Komnick, communications officer, 13th MEU, and prior Copernicus award recipient, submitted the nomination for Lizak.
“Probably one of the biggest reasons [I submitted his name] is the work he did with the San Antonio Class of ships,” said Komnick. “The 13th MEU did things with that class of ship that set the precedent for other San Antonio (LPD-17) Class ships that they wouldn’t normally or as easily get, in regards to new technologies being installed. We were the first ones to install [the new technology] on the USS Green Bay (LPD-20). Other MEU’s that now go out in LPD-17 Class ships can reference all the paperwork and pull up the engineering drawings and all the top site studies that’s been done. All the data and communication infrastructure installed greatly helped during our deployment.”
“Bigger picture wise, it helps other MEU’s because they’re not going to have much of a challenge to get the same things installed on their LPD ships because they’ll be able to reference the fact that Navy already approved it for the Green Bay,” concluded Komnick.
“He’s very detailed in what he does,” said Sgt. Cristobal D. Osoria, transmissions chief with the Communications Section, Command Element, 13th MEU, I MEF. “He knows how everything should be but he has a very keen understanding to the dynamics and the fluidity of how we operate on a MEU, on ship and shore. He understands the expeditionary nature of our work. He’s also very knowledgeable of the gear we use and he employs us to the best of our abilities and ensures we get the job done.”
His drive for consistent and reliable communication derives from his experiences on previous deployments. In Iraq 2006 through 2007, as a young first lieutenant, Lizak was faced with the realities of combat and the need to adapt as a leader and communications officer.
“They push you a little harder there,” he said with a serious tone. “With the infantry Marines, even if you’re not an infantry guy, you have to think like one. Because you are so intertwined with what they are doing and seeing them go on patrol in different places and having to support them. Knowing that they live or die based on communications my Marines set up, it had a profound impact on me compared to other things I have done in my career.”
The AFCEA established the award in 1997. The name for the award came from the Copernicus Architecture used as the blueprint for the future C4I structure of the Navy. Recipients are selected based on their sustained superior performance in a C4I/IT-related job. The selections are made each year by Navy judges who review applications from the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, including civilians. AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute present the awards at their annual Western Conference held in San Diego each winter.
Lizak has been selected for promotion to the rank of major and will move to a new duty station this year. Through Lizak’s work and dedication, the 13th MEU and other MEU’s throughout the Corps can better operate and communicate as they support and defend the United States as expeditionary warriors at sea.
“I’ve never had a communications officer like him,” finished Osoria. “He takes care of us and that’s not much more than we can ask of him.