'Proud to be here, proud to be a Soldier'
October 16, 2012
All good things seem to come back to Redstone Arsenal.
So is the case with Col. Neil Thurgood, first assigned to Redstone in 2007 as the Utility Helicopters project manager for the Program Executive Office for Aviation, and now recently returned as the deputy program executive officer for the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space.
"My wife and I love the Redstone community. We were excited to get reassigned back here," Thurgood said. "This has always been a very military friendly community, and a very dynamic community with its technology and industrial partners. We're happy to be back."
In his new position, Thurgood is responsible for the day-to-day management of the program executive office, including personnel actions, facilities and building on the organization's relationships both with other Redstone Arsenal tenants and external stakeholders. He assists in providing information to the program executive officer, now acting civilian officer Barry Pike, and ensuring that decisions made by the leadership are communicated and implemented.
"The decisions we make need to be well thought out and efficiently executed," Thurgood said. "We need to make the best decisions we can and then communicate those to employees and to Army leadership."
Although the hardware Thurgood is focused on providing to Soldiers is different -- going from managing helicopter projects to managing missile and missile system projects -- the mission within program executive offices is basically the same: to develop and acquire military systems needed by the nation's war fighters with direct reporting responsibilities to the Army' acquisition executive, which is now designated as the Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.
"A lot of the processes and methods used across all the PEOs are common," Thurgood said. "It involves the management of personnel, programs, testing, design and development, and foreign military sales. It's all very similar.
"So, I am able to take the lessons learned in other PEOs and apply them here, and try to help this organization in its mission set. No matter what the PEO, it still involves fundamental program execution."
The Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space is actually Thurgood's third time assigned to a PEO. Besides the two Redstone assignments, he has also served with the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation, where he was the assistant program manager for Training Devices and Flight Simulation programs in support of the simulation efforts of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne).
"I definitely like to be on the executive side of the business," Thurgood said. "This assignment with Missiles and Space is something new for me and it allows me to apply all the lessons I've learned with the other two PEOs. The systems here are in operational use and in combat today, and that makes it exciting. This is just a new fox hole, a new position that continues with the number one priority to support the Soldier forward."
Thurgood enjoys the opportunity that the program executive offices provide to work closely with military systems.
"In all the PEOs I've worked in, you get directly involved with the execution of programs that are helping the Soldier. The acquisition process exists to provide Soldiers with the tools they need to be successful on the battlefield," he said.
"This PEO is unique in that we have missile systems that allow us to focus on the tactical mission and the strategic mission. For tactical missions, we have Javelin and TOW. For strategic missions, we have Precisions Fires and Patriot. We have a very large spectrum of Soldier weapons and a very large foreign military sales portfolio that helps our allied nations contribute to the fight."
And behind each of the PEO's project offices are the employees that have the missile knowledge and experience valued by the Army, Thurgood said.
"The people here are tremendous," he said. "They are passionate and excited about what they are doing. Many of them are connected directly to Soldiers in the fight. So, they are passionate because this is very personal to them. They are focused on the Soldier and providing the tools to make that Soldier successful."
Thurgood can relate to that passion. It's a feeling that has motivated him throughout his career as a Soldier.
"I love getting up every day and putting the uniform on. I just love being a Soldier. It's a great opportunity to serve and be engaged in the nation's business and working with other people to find solutions to hard, complex problems," he said.
Thurgood first enlisted in the Army in 1983, following in the footsteps of his father, a two-tour Vietnam veteran who was both an infantryman and an aviator. He joined the Utah National Guard so he could pursue a college degree at the University of Utah and was commissioned in 1986 as a Distinguished Military Graduate in Army Aviation from the Reserve Officers' Training Corps.
He began his aviation service as a platoon leader in the 213th Combat Aviation Company, "Blackcats" at Camp Humphreys, Korea.
"I flew Chinooks and Black Hawks," Thurgood said. "I liked them because they have a variety of missions they perform. While I was with the 213th Black Cats, I flew Chinooks with the same tail number as my father flew in Vietnam. He flew CH-47As in 1967 and I flew CH-47Cs. "
In March 1989, he was transferred to the XVIII Airborne Corps -- "Pachyderms" -- at Fort Bragg, N.C. While at Fort Bragg, he served as a flight platoon leader, company operations officer, and battalion training officer (S-3). In 1992, he was assigned to Fort Benning, Ga., where he completed the Infantry Officer Advanced Course. Upon completion, Thurgood volunteered for an assignment with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) -- "NightStalkers" -- at Fort Campbell, Ky. As a "NightStalker," he served as a platoon leader/company operations officer and company commander.
Later assignments included his work at the program executive office level, and with the Army Personnel Command in Alexandria, Va., and with the Army Acquisition Center at the Pentagon, where he served as chief of staff for the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology).
In his new position, Thurgood hopes he can help the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space as it moves through a series of budget-tightening measures. While the Army is entering a period of reduced funding that could impact all its programs, he said, with the right leadership the impact of tighter budgets can be minimal.
"We have to make sure that we're doing things that are focused on the Soldier, and do those things efficiently and in a way that saves the taxpayers money," he said.
"We have to do our best work, and the Army will ultimately have to make decisions on what it wants to focus on in terms of missile platforms."
At the same time, the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space needs to focus on its foreign military sales customers as it relates to the role of the U.S. war fighter.
"Missions with allied nations will continue to grow," Thurgood said. "If we equip them with the right strategic tools, then our Army won't have to do what they (allied nations) will be able to do in defense of their country. We have to find a good balance to leverage the resources of our nation with the resources of our allies."
Thurgood hopes he can provide the kind of leadership that has a positive impact on the program executive office.
"I'm a big question guy," he said. "I like to seek information and ask a lot of questions and make the right decisions based on that information. I like to work incredibly hard and be aggressive in getting the details so that we continue to support the Army from the individual Soldier all the way to the strategic national level.
"We have to work with our industry partners and with our community of users -- like the Program Executive Office for Aviation that uses our Hellfire missiles on their helicopters and the Fire Centers of Excellence at Fort Sill (Okla.) that trains Soldiers in field artillery -- to come up with a national solution to meet desired capability."
Thurgood said the Garrison continues to provide an environment in which the employees of the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space can excel in their mission.
"We have great facilities here," Thurgood said. "The post is really working hard to provide great facilities and a great atmosphere for those working on Redstone Arsenal.
"I'm proud to be here and I'm proud to be a Soldier."