Faces of the Force: Jorge L. Caballero
March 11, 2014
- "Being part of a group of people putting their lives on the line, whether they're in uniform, civilian or a badged contractor, to ensure that projects are completed--all while leaving their home and families--is compelling. No other job has that opportunity or gives the same profound sense of accomplishment."
After 20 years of military service as a U.S. Army Soldier, Jorge Caballero discovered what he wanted to do--program management. Caballero discovered his interest during his last job as a Soldier working for the Pentagon Renovation Program (PENREN) in August 2000, but found even greater clarity after 9/11.
For Caballero, "9/11 changed everything." On that day, just 20 minutes before the plane hit, he was working at the side of the building. After the attack, Caballero worked as the only noncommissioned officer in charge of the PENREN coordination cell for the Phoenix Project; named for the western side of the building that was hit and known for its aggressive goal to rebuild and fully restore the section within one year. The more Caballero learned about program management and the dedication involved, the more he found it was what he was meant to do.
A few years and two masters' degrees later, he joined the civil service in September 2005, working for the Information Technology System Product Office at the Pentagon, charged with modernizing IT infrastructure, applying new technology, and finding efficiencies during the Pentagon renovation. Caballero managed multiple projects in signature areas including the Pentagon Press Briefing Room and conference rooms for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of defense, to name a few.
He currently serves as integrated product team lead, working for the Army's Product Manager, Power Projection Enablers (PdM P2E) office within the Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems (PEO EIS), charged with ensuring Soldiers across the globe have the communication infrastructure they need to be effective and complete their mission. Projects include managing the infrastructure requirements in areas such as indoor and outdoor networks, routers, switches, cable installs, electrical engineering, phone and online capabilities--just to name a few.
His approach to success is simple and clear: "Everything is built on the give and take around teamwork--I am a firm believer in the three "C's mantra": Coordination, coordination, and coordination!"
FOTF: What do you do in the Army? Why is it important?
CABALLERO: I oversee projects being executed by defense contractors and industry partners and ensure that the government receives what it's invested in and that acquisition rules are followed. A major part of my job is to be ready to tackle any obstacles--so projects can move forward and be completed on time.
FOTF: What kinds of obstacles do you face in your job?
CABALLERO: I'm a firm believer in face-to-face meetings to resolve issues and overcome obstacles in a timely fashion. While I was in Kandahar, [Afghanistan], I was called to resolve an issue with a contract in Kabul since I was the only forward liaison for P2E. There was an issue with documentation and deliverables for a receiving command. By working together with all parties in person, and hearing the back stories that may not have been factored in or mentioned remotely, we were able to resolve the issue at hand, adjust processes in real time, and give that unit what was needed to do their job.
Currently, I'm part of the [PEO EIS] Pacific team supporting Korea. When I first joined, a few of my projects were underfunded and behind schedule. The warfighter needed several capabilities, but several contract requirements weren't funded. I was able to find the funding and move the project forward and deliver the necessary capabilities for the Soldier.
FOTF: Where have you deployed?
CABALLERO: I've actually deployed more as an Army civilian than I did as a Soldier. Since April 2011, I have deployed to Afghanistan two times for an average of three to five months at a time, and traveled several times after for shorter periods, in addition to visits to Kuwait. As an active duty Soldier, I deployed in support of the Gulf War.
As much as I loved my military career, it's a very different environment when deploying as a civilian employee. I've more of a varied mission as a civilian, and appreciate the flexibility to visit sites supporting the warfighter. Being able to travel back and forth from the field to my headquarters and back again allows for a more holistic viewpoint and can bring about a better understanding for everyone involved. My mission also allows me to share what is taking place in the field so leaders can understand all hardships and obstacles involved.
FOTF: What has your experience been like? What has surprised you the most?
CABALLERO: I enjoy the teamwork and camaraderie inherent in working for the Army, as well as working with industry partners. One of the most surprising and fulfilling things was to experience the teamwork and camaraderie while deployed to Afghanistan. Being part of a group of people putting their lives on the line, whether they're in uniform, civilian or a badged contractor, to ensure that projects are completed--all while leaving their homes and families--is compelling. No other job has that opportunity or gives the same profound sense of accomplishment.
FOTF: What is the relationship like working with industry partners in an overseas environment?
CABALLERO: When you're in a foreign environment, especially a war zone, you're all working towards the same mission. My job is to break any barriers that might exist so our contractors can do their job to the best of their abilities, and with the needed resources. I believe in maintaining a good rapport with our contract partners and customers working with PdM P2E and actively work to break through barriers to complete the overall mission of our organization.
FOTF: What were some of your greatest challenges?
CABALLERO: I don't think everyone understands what the "acquisition" [career] is. I think we have a very well-trained acquisition workforce, especially contractors, but I think we need to do a better job to educate within the Army about what we do and what is involved in handling our roles. For example, if the requirement is to build a house, as the program manager, I know what is needed. I'll build that house working with the experts and adjust only if necessary on contingency plans. In an era of shrinking budgets and limited personnel, we all need to be especially cautious of solicitation timeframes and requirements that are late and or poorly defined which will cost more in the long run.
FOTF: Why did you join the Army? What is your greatest satisfaction in being part of the Army?
CABALLERO: When I retired from the Army in 2003, I spent two years as a contractor working on the Pentagon renovation project and fell in love with project management. I wanted to be able to make decisions and have the responsibility to be held accountable for projects. I felt I could work better for the taxpayer, ensuring that requirements were met and represent the government's requests directly.
The greatest satisfaction in being part of the Army has been the sense of camaraderie that is extended to the entire team. The Army cares about the civilians, supports camaraderie and collaboration, and demonstrates that especially well in a combat zone. Every day is an adventure, good and bad, and I'm always presented with a new challenge to tackle, learn and grow from.
"Faces of the Force" is an online feature highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce. Produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication Division, and working closely with public affairs officers, Soldiers and Civilians currently serving in a variety of AL&T disciplines are featured every other week. For more information, or to nominate someone, please contact 703-805-1006.