Meeting Soldier needs remains focus of Picatinny commander
June 19, 2013
- Brig. Gen. John McGuiness is commanding general at Picatinny Arsenal, where he was stationed previously.
- McGuiness served as an infantry officer before being transferred to the Acquisition Corps.
- McGuiness is a West Point graduate who had not planned to attend West Point but wanted to be a lawyer with a lucrative job on Wall Street.
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PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. (June 19, 2013) -- As a young, content Army infantry officer stationed in Germany, John McGuiness was puzzled when his driver came up to him and delivered an unexpected letter from the Department of the Army.
"That's kind of weird," McGuiness recalls saying.
"I opened it up and it said, 'Welcome to the Acquisition Corps.' I said, 'What is this?'"
That night McGuiness went over to headquarters to speak with his superiors, a lieutenant colonel and a full colonel.
McGuiness remembers telling his boss, "Hey sir, look at this letter that I got."
"And they were like, 'Oh, you don't want to do that. We'll get you out, don't worry about it. We'll make some phone calls tomorrow and we'll get you out.'
"I said 'okay' and didn't really think about it," he now remembers. "But I guess they didn't work it out."
Today, Brig. Gen. John McGuiness is commanding general at Picatinny Arsenal, where he was sent on his first assignment as an acquisition officer and to work with civilians for the first time. Previously, his experience was with infantry units.
The unforeseen career trajectory for McGuiness into acquisition wasn't entirely inconsistent with his past: A West Point graduate who had not planned to attend West Point, his goal during high school in nearby Newburg, N.Y., was to be a lawyer and land a lucrative job on Wall Street.
Even after graduating from the military academy, McGuiness did not envision a future as a career officer, intending to serve out his five-year commitment and proceed to hang up his Army uniform.
"Then I went to my first assignment and I loved being with Soldiers," the general remembers.
"At the end of each tour, I would sit down with the family and ask, 'Well, what do you think?' So long as my family was still in, I said, 'Okay let's try another tour, let's try another tour' and before you know it was 20 years. Now, I just went over 30 years in May."
A DIFFERENT PICATINNY
McGuiness' return to Picatinny coincides with a shifting political climate that has fostered greater scrutiny of government spending, setting in motion proposed cuts to the military budget that in turn has triggered planned civilian furloughs and other cutbacks involving contracts and contractors.
However, McGuiness believes that the need to support the Warfighter is paramount and generally acknowledged amid the budget uncertainty.
"Although we might see budgets going down in the top-line numbers, there is a realization that we cannot cut the immediate, and then give up the future. We have to be able to invest, and to provide our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and special operators the best equipment possible," the general added.
"The portfolio here, when we're talking guns and ammo, really aligns with a way that the Army can do predictive investments on the portfolio, so that we will see continual increases in capability. It will mean programs and products that will still be generated and worked out of Picatinny, so I think it gives us an opportunity."
McGuiness added that streamlined acquisition, which sprang from the need to quickly provide Soldiers with equipment and solutions during time of war, must be maintained and become standard procedure.
"I think the temptation is going to be, as the drawdown occurs, that we go back to how we used to do things," he said. "We can't go back. We have to look into the future and incorporate more accelerated acquisition. We can't go back to this long, laborious acquisition process."
CONFIDENCE IN PICATINNY
While the challenges facing the Army and Picatinny are real, McGuiness also expressed confidence in the Picatinny workforce and the depth of knowledge and experience that it brings.
"There is no better workforce in the world than what we have here at Picatinny," the commander said. "I was very fortunate coming here as my first assignment.
"Luckily, I had fantastic role models. In the acquisition side, I had to learn from civilians and I knew nothing.
"I had civilians who showed me what 'right' looked like. That changed my mind set about working with civilians, and my expectations when I went into follow-on roles as a product manager, program manager, as a program executive officer, or as a commanding general of now my second installation."
McGuiness said previous assignments that planted him knee-deep in acquisition, including multiple combat tours, have been of great value.
"From my assignments in the acquisition world, I think I've been very fortunate that all of my assignments--outside of the Pentagon--have been providing equipment to Soldiers."
McGuiness said his style of leadership in a civilian environment isn't fundamentally different from when he is interacting with active-duty Soldiers.
"It's the same kind of leadership because, even in the military, there are very few Pattons of the world that just kind of go out there and beat people over the head. That can only go so far. And you can probably get away with it once. But there has to be that give-and-take. I think people have to respect you as a leader before you can lead in any type of consistent manner."
(George S. Patton Jr. was a World War II general who once slapped a Soldier at a hospital tent, accusing him of cowardice.)
McGuiness further described his leadership style as participatory, in which he likes to be involved and part of the solution.
"I like to form teams," he added. "I told people when I first got here is that I like to build teams that people want to be on."
In a previous assignment McGuiness was the Project Manager Soldier Equipment, earning the 2009 Secretary of the Army's Award as Project Manager of the Year.
Yet, in his typical self-effacing demeanor, McGuiness goes out of his way to shower praise on the people with whom he worked.
"Although I was named Project Manager of the year, the award was really for the office because I just got lucky in the sense that there were some tremendously talented people there," McGuiness remembers.
"It was a phenomenal office. I had worked with many people there in the past, some from Picatinny. I walked into a situation where I had a tremendous amount of trust with a lot of people. It was just a high-caliber organization.
"They had a phenomenal amount of dedication and commitment, and they were not going to take 'no' for an answer, much as it is the same here."
For McGuiness, leadership also entails providing judicious input without appearing domineering or strangling creativity.
"There are a lot of people here who want to do great things," he said. "All I have to do is make sure that I don't stand in their way, or hold them back.
"It would be very easy for me, especially when I've been doing this for many years, to have a PM come in and lay out the program plan and for me to say, 'No no, don't do it that way. Do it this way because that is how I did it.'
"Is that the right thing? Are we stifling some creativity? I look at every problem and issue that we have as having its own unique solution. There might be a better way to do it.
"I need to listen and provide advice and some guidance where needed, and then basically try to keep people going in the right direction."
KNOW YOUR STUFF
Developing and fielding complex weapons systems can be a daunting undertaking that requires multiple skills, including knowing the basics of acquisition and having the agility to cope with the inevitable problems.
"What we do is difficult business. For instance, it is not easy to develop an artillery round that can fire over 20 miles and consistently land in a space like this table over 90 percent of the time," McGuiness said.
"That's hard work to be able to do. If it was easy, you could just go to Wal-Mart and buy it. But you can't. So you have to understand that there are going to be some rough spots along the road, during development or during production.
"You have to know the business. You have to know the basics--the nuts and bolts of what does it take to do the acquisition. The nature of the business is to be confronted with problems, the hiccups along the way. Knowing the basics allows a person to be creative enough to know what options are out there and always be thinking ahead.
"What happens if this breaks? What happens if this doesn't work? What happens if I don't pass this test? What happens if I get cut $10 million off this program? How do we keep this program going?"
What's the best career advice McGuiness has received?
"Be true to yourself, especially if you're in a leadership position," the general answered.
"You're not going to please everybody, but you have to be guided by a certain set of overarching principles and you have to be true to them. Do what you think is best.
"At the end of the day you have to look at yourself in the mirror and ask, 'Did I make the right decision? Did I do what I thought was best for the right reasons?'
"If you can do that, it will all work out one way or another."