REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- With every helicopter mission, with every development and acquisition assignment, with every Soldier and Army civilian he's worked beside, Brig. Gen. Bob Marion has come closer to where he is today as one of the Army's youngest one-star generals.
Of all the program executive officers for aviation who have served at Redstone Arsenal, Marion is by the far the one who the program itself can take credit for. His current assignment as the Army's senior aviation acquisition officer is his fourth assignment with the PEO Aviation team, serving on its programs as a captain, major, lieutenant colonel and colonel.
"I first came here in 1998 with Utility Helicopter, which was then part of the Aviation and Missile Command," Marion said.
"I've worked on Comanche, Chinook, Apache, Unmanned Aircraft Systems and Armed Scout helicopters. There are only a few places within the PEO that I haven't worked. All the great people that I worked with over the past 15 years are still here. They are older, even more experienced and are still inside the formation somewhere supporting the Army and Soldiers and aviation. They have worked on systems that have matured a lot over that period of time. I have been raised up with these people and through these programs. I am a product of this PEO."
As such, Marion, too, has a history with the systems that have made PEO Aviation a standout for an Army at war and in peacetime. He has a thorough knowledge of the standard operating procedures, continuity book and processes that are the backbone of a successful Army aviation acquisition program that has an annual budget of more than $7.5 billion, the largest procurement budget in the Army.
"With that first assignment with Utility Helicopter when I was very junior in my career, I learned the importance of standard operating procedures and a continuity book that tells you this is how you do your job. With those two things -- and a willingness to learn and get better -- you can't fail," he said.
As the Army's senior aviation acquisition officer, Marion is responsible for purchasing and managing all of the Army's aviation weapon systems and equipment -- rotary wing, fixed wing and unmanned aircraft systems -- and providing leadership for more than 3,000 military, government civilians and contractor employees. Marion understands that while procedures and processes are the backbone of any program, it's the people who are at the heart of a program's success.
"Smart people figure out how to do things in the most efficient way. In the end, it's people who get the mission done," he said.
"As a leader, I've got to make sure to have the right people in the job, and then make sure they have the training, skills, experience, leadership and resources that enable them to succeed."
Marion believes in that philosophy because it's a philosophy that has worked for him throughout his career. He has succeeded because of clear procedures and expectations, and because he has been given the leeway to do the job the Army needs done.
"I believe in decentralized execution. My job as the leader is to provide strategic guidance and to make decisions that keep moving us forward," he said.
"We must work with all the key stakeholders we have -- our Team Redstone partners like the Aviation and Missile Command, the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center and the Redstone Test Center, along with Fort Rucker, the Pentagon, the Defense Contract Management Agency, contractors, among others -- and keep moving forward. We can't afford to get hung up from a time or resources perspective."
Even in an era of declining resources for the military, Marion is convinced that opportunity for new system capabilities and innovative solutions still exist if managed wisely.
"The margin of error is nonexistent. We can't overcome challenges with brute force and the ability to provide funding. If the challenge changes, we might get more funding. But as it is now, we must be very forward thinking in everything we do. We must be able to analyze every situation and be very prudent in our decision making," he said.
"Because if we don't make the right decisions, we probably won't get a second chance."
One such recent innovation managed through PEO Aviation was the engineering and procurement of a new floor system for the Chinook helicopter. Due to Soldier feedback, it was determined that a more flexible floor was needed to better accommodate the Chinook's many missions.
"The missions we've asked our formations to do have caused us to have to design systems that make them more adaptable for the different missions and flight altitudes," he said.
"The Chinook is used for delivering people to the mission, for moving cargo and, now, for combat assaults. The different missions require different floors, and the old floor system took an hour to reconfigure between those missions. The aviation enterprise figured out a way to design a floor that is two-sided -- one side flat and the other with rollers -- so that it can be reconfigured by one person in 15 minutes while in flight. That's an example of what can happen when the enterprise works together. We are fielding this new capability today and Soldiers in the field love it. It has really made a difference."
Those types of differences are being made every day as PEO Aviation serves as the Army manager for eight project offices including: Apache Attack Helicopters, Utility Helicopters, Cargo Helicopters, Armed Scout Helicopters, Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Fixed Wing Aircraft, Aviation Systems, and Non-Standard Rotary Wing Aircraft. The organization's primary responsibility is to efficiently and effectively manage cost, schedule and performance of the Army's aviation assets.
As an aviator and acquisition officer, Marion's career highlights include serving as assistant project manager for Black Hawk production and fielding, establishing the product manager's office for Black Hawk modernization, participating in the Army's Training with Industry program for the Theater High Altitude Air Defense Program at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Huntsville, serving as joint commander at the Defense Contract Management Agency-Boeing in Mesa, Arizona, where his primary mission was contract management and production of the AH-64D Longbow Apache, deploying to Operations Iraqi Freedom/Enduring Freedom as the forward representative for ASA(ALT) working contracting and procurement-related issues, and serving as the project manager for Cargo Helicopters at PEO Aviation.
Besides his service at Redstone Arsenal, Marion's 27-year career has included Training With Industry where he was assigned to the Theater High Altitude Air Defense Battle Management and Weapons Systems Engineering, Integration and Test Offices at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company; a joint command at the Defense Contract Management Agency-Boeing Mesa, where the primary mission is contract management and production of the AH-640 Longbow Apache; an assignment as chief of the Acquisition Management Branch in the Officer Personnel Management Directorate of the Army Human Resources Command; and a deployment as the forward representative for the deputy assistant secretary of the Army-procurement working contracting/procurement related matters. Marion also has a master's in business administration from George Mason University, a master's of military operational arts and science from the Air Force's Air University, and a master's in strategic military studies also from the Air Force's Air University.
Among his different assignments with PEO Aviation, Marion most recently served as the project manager for Cargo Helicopters before leaving in May 2013 to take on an assignment as the assistant deputy for acquisition and system management in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. His achievements with Cargo Helicopter included the negotiation of the second CH-47F Chinook multiyear contract.
Marion returned to PEO Aviation in January 2014, fulfilling a career dream as he assumed the role as senior aviation acquisition officer from one of his mentors, Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, who retired.
"All the members of our team are focused on our commitments to Soldiers. It makes me so proud to talk to Soldiers who are deployed and to have them tell you what we do every day really makes a difference for them," he said.
Marion's sense of pride in his military service and the things he has been able to accomplish as an Army aviation officer goes deeper, though, than his current assignment. It also reflects a family tradition of military service.
"One of the things I'm really proud of is this is the 51st consecutive year that we've had a Marion on active duty in the U.S. Army," he said.
"My dad was still on active duty when I graduated from college. All three of his boys were on active duty and I'm the middle son of those. My dad has retired and both of my brothers are out of military service. Serving in the military is part of the Marion family tradition. But right now, I'm the last Marion standing in military service."
There is a possibility that the tradition will continue in the next generation of the Marion family as the brigadier general's four children grow up. But although Marion followed the family tradition, he also bucked it slightly.
"My dad was a quartermaster and one of my brother's was a quartermaster. My other brother was in field artillery and then in the Chaplain's Corps. I'm the first aviator in the family," he said.
A fellow college cadet and friend convinced Marion to branch aviation and, in so doing, Marion found a level of professionalism and service that agreed with the character traits of self-confidence, integrity, an extraordinary work ethic and humility he admires in one of the nation's greatest leaders, President Dwight Eisenhower.
"I don't think I realized the quality of Soldiers we had in the aviation branch," he said. "From the very first unit I was in, I've gotten to know and serve with great officers and noncommissioned officers."
Even in challenging days -- such as when Marion was the assistant project manager in the Comanche Project Office and had to manage through the cancellation of the Comanche program -- the Army's family of aviators and aviation systems has stepped up to ensure capabilities are relevant and valuable to the Army mission.
"We are relevant as a critical enabler to our ground forces," Marion said. "Our leadership in the Army and in aviation have made great decisions and because of those decisions today we have the best helicopter systems and survivability equipment. When I look back on the last decade and the big shifts in Army aviation, I can see we made the right decisions."
As the Army takes on the Aviation Restructuring Initiative, Marion expects there will be significant changes again in Army aviation.
"The challenge to all our stakeholders is, a decade from now, will people in positions of leadership and responsibility be able to look back and say we made all the right decisions," he said.