Career Of Change Brings Historical Honor
June 1, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, AL.--One of Redstone Arsenal’s very own was honored by the Ordnance Corps during an annual induction ceremony into a historical group that includes some prestigious company.
Jim Flinn, who retired in 2004 as the deputy commander of the Aviation and Missile Command and a member of the Senior Executive Service, and whose 35-year Army civilian career included numerous ordnance logistics assignments, is now a member of the Ordnance Hall of Fame at Fort Lee, Va. The induction ceremony May 4 put Flinn in a group of ordnance leaders that includes the Arsenal’s most famous rocket scientist -- Dr. Wernher von Braun " as well as Dr. R.H. Goddard, the “Father of U.S. Rocketry”; and Richard Gatling, the “Father of the Machine Gun.”
“I had a great career that took me to a lot of different places and provided me with lots of challenges,” Flinn said. “Then, to spend the last 17 years of my career at Redstone Arsenal was really a great opportunity. I got to work with the best throughout my career, and I loved it.”
The Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame was established in 1969 and expands its ranks each year to include both current members of the ordnance corps, recent retirees and people who served before the hall of fame was created. Flinn was among 17 inductees " four historical and 13 contemporary, and of those only two civilian " who were chosen from a nominated group of 58 ordnance corps Soldiers and civilians.
Flinn was nominated by retired Gen. John Coburn, a former commander of the Army Materiel Command. In his nomination form, Coburn wrote “the purpose of the Ordnance Corps is to support the development, production, acquisition and sustainment of weapons systems and munitions… during peace and war… to provide superior combat power to current and future forces. Mr. James L. Flinn III dedicated 35 years of professional civilian service to the U.S. Army, dedicating and committing himself to that purpose… Flinn’s contributions are innumerable and have had a lasting and positive impact on the Ordnance Corps and Army. His long service to the Corps enabled him to influence various programs/projects over a period of time.”
Coburn is one of several officers Flinn worked for and with during his career.
“The Lord has just really blessed me with some great jobs and some great people to work with, and Gen. John Coburn was one of them,” he said.
The son of an Arsenal employee who worked on the Pershing rocket program, Flinn learned early on that the Army offered plenty of career opportunities that “gave you a sense of really extraordinary accomplishment.”
Flinn’s ordnance logistics career includes several highlights, beginning early on when he helped to reduce theater stocks and increase delivery efficiencies in Europe with a Direct Supply Support system and continuing with his work to implement the Army’s Force Modernization Master Plan and Army transformation. He was instrumental in efforts to deploy the first Patriot battalion to U.S. forces in Europe, to coordinate the delivery of the Multiple Launch Rocket System to U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield/Storm, to sustain the Army aviation fleet during the blending of the Aviation Support Command and the Missile Command into the Aviation and Missile Command at Redstone, to deliver air and missile firepower to coalition forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and to implement logistics automation tools to support war fighters, among other things.
He began his Army civilian career in 1969 as an AMC intern at Red River Army Depot, Texas.
“I started the intern program a week after I got married,” Flinn said. “My wife and I started out just thinking I’d go to school for a year at Red River and then I would come to Huntsville to work. When it came time for me to move on, there were no opportunities in Huntsville, but there were positions in Germany.”
Flinn’s career took him to Germany, where he worked in ordnance logistics for the 200th Theater Army Materiel Management Center to provide Soldiers with needed equipment. The job responsibilities made quite an impression on this young civilian employee and continued with him throughout his career.
“It created a real understanding of why we’re even working for the Army " and that reason is to take care of the young Soldiers out there,” he recalled. “I learned a lot about how to move equipment and parts out to Soldiers, and I helped with some major changes that were made to that process.
“Most of the work I was doing was related to missiles, weapons, tanks and ammunition, and that’s what ordnance logistics is all about -- weapons, munitions and maintenance.”
After five years in Germany and promotions that took him from an action officer to division chief of the 200th, Flinn’s career moved back stateside, where he worked in the Pentagon as a supply management specialist for the Army Materiel Development and Readiness Command, and then as chief of the logistics systems division for the deputy chief of staff for logistics. During those years, he used his ordnance logistics experience to help develop inventory tracking systems and processes for moving Army equipment.
Besides Germany and the Pentagon, Flinn’s career included assignments as the chief of Policy and Programs Division at the Armament Readiness Command, Rock Island, Ill.; deputy director of Materiel Management, Troop Support and Aviation Materiel Readiness Command, St. Louis; assistant director for supply at the G-4 headquarters at the Pentagon; and deputy director of supply, maintenance and transportation, AMC headquarters.
And as his career continued, Flinn worked alongside officers, many of which later became the Army’s highest ranking generals.
“I got to know these officers early on in their careers, and they showed me what leadership was all about,” Flinn said. “They were really great people that became career models for me.”
In 1984, Flinn came to Redstone to serve as the chief of logistics and assistant project manager for support for the Patriot Project Office. He helped to lead efforts to put the first Patriot unit in Germany.
In 1988, he became the executive director of the Integrated Materiel Management Center and, in 2000, he was promoted to AMCOM deputy commander, where he served under three commanders " then Maj. Gen. Al Sullivan, Maj. Gen. Larry Dodgen and Maj. Gen. Jim Pillsbury.
All throughout his career, Flinn lived by the same principle that he said fuels the Army’s management philosophy -- always put people first.
“The reason why AMCOM (and its predecessor MICOM) have had such great reputations is because of the focus on the people in the work force, and the recognition that these people are the experts who know how to do their jobs and who want to do a great job for the Army,” Flinn said.
While Flinn credits his commitment to the “people first” philosophy as the main reason for his career success, he also gives credit to his faith " “I believe the Lord puts you in places he prepares for you” " and his experience in ordnance logistics.
“In your career, it can be very difficult if you try to do it all yourself. People want responsibilities. They want to do really well. And what we do best at AMCOM is taking care of Soldiers,” he said. “It almost sounds trite. But it’s not when you think about the kids out there in uniform who are on their second or third deployment and they are depending on you.
“Some of the Soldiers I helped take care of over the years I knew personally. So, these aren’t just words. This is about people whose life you can help protect because of the work you do.”
During Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Flinn was among the countless Arsenal employees who got to see their hard work in logistics and ordnance pay off as “steel rain” fell in defense of Kuwait.
“We shipped all those MLRS missile pods over there and they did their job. Then, the Patriot missile system did its job to intercept Scud missiles. It was really something to know that we helped make that happen,” he said.
“All the equipment there initially was missiles. But with the invasion of Iraq and then Afghanistan, we had both aviation and missiles involved, and we were providing support and parts for those systems. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Although retired, Flinn is still busy in his chosen career field, doing consulting work for various government and educational organizations, and serving as a volunteer with such organizations as the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville Rehabilitation Foundation, the Ark of Madison County and Willowbrook Baptist Church. His wife, Nancy, continues to work at the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center.
“During the induction ceremony, Nancy received an award, too,” Flinn said. “That was good because during my career, we moved 10 times and she started her career over every time we moved. Everywhere we went, we went as a team.”
Referring to his career, Flinn would advise today’s employees to get their education first and then to seek out opportunities to develop their capabilities.
“Don’t be afraid of change. Go out and find change,” he advised. “You need a real depth of experience to progress. In a federal career, an employee has as much responsibility put in their lap as they are willing to take. They should grab that responsibility and work to prove themselves. Be enthusiastic, have integrity, do your due diligence, and assume you have the authority to move forward in everything you do.”