Working as a Team
— Lt. Col. Chris Hackett relies on her strong relationship with her husband, Talbot, a retired sergeant first class, for support as she continues in her Army career. Assigned to Redstone Arsenal since 2005, Hackett is now traveling to Kuwait to assume a two-year assignment as commander of the Army Contracting Command-Kuwait. Talbot Hackett will remain in Huntsville, where he manages a successful and growing business.

Lt. Col. Chris Hackett understands opportunity when she sees it.

But it's not necessarily the opportunity to advance her career that is the driving motivator for this well-known Redstone Arsenal officer. Rather, it's the opportunity to contribute to the Army and make a difference in the lives of Soldiers.

That driving motivator is what is taking Hackett to Southwest Asia for a two-year assignment as the commander of the Army Contracting Command-Kuwait, which is located at Camp Arifjan and subordinate to the 408th Contracting Support Brigade.

"There are two reasons I took this job," Hackett said. "One is this is what the Army has trained me to do. This is what an acquisition officer is supposed to do. The Army selected me for this command based on my skill set. This was a good fit.

"And, two, you can't have any more of a relevant job than supporting current operations and missions for the Soldiers. I'm looking really forward to doing the job."

Even so, the move to Kuwait presents challenges for Hackett and her husband, Talbot, both of whom have immersed themselves in the Huntsville community. They were first stationed at Redstone Arsenal in 2001 when Hackett worked as a contracting officer for the Missile and Space Intelligence Center. She returned in 2005 as the assistant program manager for the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space, Lower Tier, Patriot and MEADS, and continued her work at Redstone Arsenal in a third assignment as a teacher in the Army Logistics Management College.

Since 2005, the couple have purchased a home in Madison County. Talbot Hackett, a retired sergeant first class, has been an Army Community Service volunteer and has started a local business that is successful and growing. And, Hackett has been involved with such organizations as Women in Defense, Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army, and the Officer and Civilian Women's Club. She was also a runner on the Arsenal's 10-miler team.

"It's the closest to home that we have come in our careers," Hackett said. "We have spent a lot of time overseas and we've moved around a lot.

"This is the first time I've been in a job where I could go home at 5 in the afternoon on a regular basis. The work I've done here has been a little less time consuming. So, I got involved in a lot of things. And we realized that we really liked Huntsville and the people here."

But the opportunity to serve as a commander - either in contract or program management -- was calling Hackett. Her assignment in Kuwait will be her first battalion-level command assignment.

"What's really cool about this job is the contracting staff is predominantly civilian and works with a contingency contracting team of military personnel to provide them with relevant job experience and training," she said.

There are anywhere from a few to as many as 300 contracting officer representatives assigned to each of the units the contracting office supports in Kuwait.

"They are the eyes and ears of the contracting office," Hackett explained. "They make sure what's been ordered has been received, and that the services we contract are timely and correct. They make sure the Army and the taxpayer are getting what they paid for. We are focused on spending money wisely and getting the best value."

As commander, Hackett's first duty when she arrives in Kuwait will focus on the contracting office's personnel requirements.

"My new job's number one activity that will require my constant engagement is finding and keeping qualified civilians to fill my organization's positions," Hackett said.

Toward that end, she left the U.S. on June 19 with a planned stop en route in Heidelberg, Ga., to meet with civilian personnel officials before reporting for duty in Kuwait.

The contracting command in Kuwait employs about 30 civilians to provide contracting support to U.S. forces - primarily Army, but also Air Force and Navy.

"We handle a lot of the smaller requirements in theater in support of all companies in Kuwait," Hackett said.

"In the past - in 2006 and earlier - there was a lot of fraud in this office. The Army realized the size of the office really wasn't staffed to handle the amount of work generated by the footprint in the area. So, the Army reached back and large contracts over $1 million or complex actions are coordinated by the Rock Island (Ill.) Contracting Center."

The mission of the Kuwait contracting office is to acquisition basic living supplies, services and equipment in contracts involving less than $1 million each. These items are acquisitioned for units assigned to Kuwait and for units passing through the country on their way to and from Iraq.

"It's a dynamic environment in Kuwait. The mission ebbs and flows based on the region," she said. "It's in a constant state of change for acquisition professionals. Until I get the sand in my boots, I won't know what to expect. I'm looking forward to the transition."

The Army has given Hackett many opportunities during her nearly 18-year career, which began with an ROTC scholarship at Boston College and a commission as an ordnance officer in 1991. She has especially enjoyed her assignments at Redstone Arsenal.

"Working the Patriot program management office at PEO-Missiles and Space was really exciting for me because I had worked in the Patriot Missile Maintenance Office when I was assigned to the 32nd Army Air Defense Command in Europe (now the 32nd Army Aviation and Missile Command at Fort Bliss, Texas)," she said. "It was really exciting to work with Patriot again because I got to see the technical and program side of the system as opposed to the maintenance side."

She also enjoyed the challenges of assisting with the management of an Army program and working on the international development program for MEADS, the future Patriot system.

"Program management is really about coordination," Hackett said. "It's about keeping all the pieces moving, technically and programmatically while also working the cost side of the house. Risk management also is a big one in the equation."

Her second assignment at Redstone Arsenal involved training all new acquisition professionals who were required to take the acquisition basic course.

"It was mostly military in the classes. But we occasionally had civilian interns," Hackett said. "It was good when we had both sides mixed so they could come to an understanding of each other. For the military, in acquisition they are coming over to a world that is predominantly civil servant or contractor. In programming or contracting offices, most of the staff are civilian engineers or analysts. The military professionals have to be able to work with DA civilians to accomplish program objectives."

Although others may take notice that Hackett is one of a small number of women who have been promoted to the senior officer ranks of the military, she does not see it as an exception. In her career, she considers herself a Soldier first and a woman second.

"What we're seeing is the evolution of women in the services, whether it's Army or otherwise," she said. "Like everything, it takes time to build a bench. It comes down to supply and demand - once you have the supply of folks - in this case, females -- who have the skills and desire to stay in the Army then the system will continue to promote and move those folks into positions of greater responsibility."

Last year's promotion of Gen. Ann Dunwoody to four-star general is an example of a Soldier who made the commitment to stay in the Army and contribute to the Army over the long-term. There will come a time when Hackett will also have to decide if she is willing to make such a commitment.

"As with any Soldier, at the 20-year point, you have to ask yourself 'Do I stay' What do I want to do' Am I still a relevant contributor' Are my goals and objectives the same as the Army's'' It comes down to a personal decision at that point," Hackett said.

"We are finding that more and more women are staying and finding they are still relevant and sought for their skills in a system that promotes the qualified candidate."

During her assignment in Kuwait, Hackett's husband of 16 years will remain in Huntsville to manage his business, with the couple communicating frequently via e-mail and video web cams and looking forward to leave time that will bring Hackett home for visits. She is not sure where her Army career will take her after Kuwait.

"I would love to come back to Huntsville. But I know that the Army is going to put me where it needs my skill set," she said.

And she is not sure if future promotions will lead her into the general ranks.

"I'd like to continue doing what I do for as long as I think I can contribute," Hackett said. "Further promotions will come based on my contribution. If you do what the Army expects of you, if you support the mission, vision and goals of your commander and chain of command, and if you do everything to develop people and help accomplish the mission, then promotions will take care of themselves."

Page last updated Tue June 23rd, 2009 at 10:55