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POSITION AND UNIT: Deputy product director, Javelin Missile System, Close Combat Weapon Systems Project Office
YEARS OF SERVICE: 23
DAWIA CERTIFICATION: Level III in engineering
AWARDS: AMRDEC Laboratory Demonstration Extraordinary Performance Pay Increases; Department of the Army Superior Civilian Service Award
EDUCATION: M.S. in management and management of technology, University of Alabama in Huntsville; B.S. in electrical engineering, University of Alabama in Huntsville
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The man behind the HELLFIRE Romeo

Fritz Gordon spent the early part of his career working with various missiles (PATRIOT, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, Multiple Launch Rocket System, HELLFIRE). Then, with guidance from mentors, he transitioned into a program management role, which allows him to focus on people.

"One of the things I've tried to center my career around is human capital: making sure I take care of the people around me, help them further their career goals," he says.

Lately he's faced a human capital challenge common across the acquisition workforce: a wave of retirements leaving positions empty. "A lot of my peers are retirement age, so I'm having to get more involved in personnel, trying to make sure we have people able to step in to some very challenging jobs, that they've been properly trained and have the right education."

Huntsville, Alabama, is a hub for science and technology, so there's no shortage of STEM graduates.

"But it's harder to find younger people with the right experience--most of them are very smart, but they don't have the experience of going through the things that help you know how to make good decisions," he says. "A lot of the program stuff is just experience: You go through it once and then you know. We're missing that with the younger folks. That's a new challenge that's popped up in the last year and a half."

FOTF: WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR POSITION, AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO THE ARMY OR THE WARFIGHTER?

GORDON: I serve as deputy product director of the Javelin ACAT IC [Acquisition Category IC] Missile System program. This provides the warfighter with the only shoulder-launched "fire and forget" anti-tank missile system.

There's never a dull moment. I might set a plan for what I want to accomplish on a given day, but working in a project office there's so much going on--I thrive on that chaos. And it's all directed to support the warfighter, whether it's a current need or a future need. That's the excitement I like. We don't have a lot of manpower and dollars are tight, so we have to make good decisions with what we have, so it's a management challenge, too.

FOTF: HOW DID YOU BECOME PART OF THE ARMY ACQUISITION WORKFORCE, AND WHY?

My wife and I were both in Huntsville, both studying electrical engineering in Huntsville. I had initially been an industrial engineering major but switched to electrical since there were more electrical engineers to study with. My wife went on an interview and actually came home and said, "I think this job might be of interest to you--there's an industrial angle, working more manufacturing issues." That's how I ended up at AMRDEC [Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center] as a production engineer. So it's really my wife that brought me here. She's way smarter than me.

It's been a good career: I've been able to work on good programs and spend time on production lines at contractor facilities.

FOTF: WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE MOST IMPORTANT POINTS IN YOUR CAREER WITH THE ARMY ACQUISITION WORKFORCE, AND WHY?

GORDON: First one: In 2009, while serving as the deputy product manager for the HELLFIRE missile system, I convinced my program manager and ASA(ALT) leadership to produce the HELLFIRE Romeo missile.

FOTF: HOW DID YOU CONVINCE THEM?

GORDON: It was really just me being stubborn. This variant of the HELLFIRE missile introduced a multipurpose warhead and an inertial measurement unit to serve rotary, unmanned and fixed-wing platforms. In the years preceding the Romeo's introduction, there were a number of HELLFIRE variants and it was always a question of trying to guess what variable we were going to need--there was a thermobaric version, there was a missile we developed for unmanned aircraft vehicles … a number of different missiles to suit different needs. So we were trying to predict what we'd need, and we'd go through constant changes on the contract because we'd get calls from the Pentagon saying, "Hey, we actually need this variant."

Once the technology matured to the point where we thought we could get to a multipurpose missile, I really locked on to the idea--we didn't want to be failing the Soldier, giving him a missile he doesn't need. But there were competing programs in the office. The joint common missile was in the research and development phase and was supposed to solve some of the problems we were having, but funding had been cut and there were numerous delays, whereas we could deliver this right now. So it was a matter of convincing leadership that we could and should meet this need with the HELLFIRE Romeo. We did a lot of the early planning and getting approvals in 2009 and 2010.

We were able to use the dollars within the program to execute this; there weren't any new bills for the Army to pay. And we were able to get the warfighter a missile that could serve multiple roles. It's probably one of the most sought-after missiles in the Army. We also produce for the Marines and Air Force.

FOTF: ANY OTHER HIGH POINTS IN YOUR CAREER?

GORDON: As the Javelin deputy product director, I was able to lead a cost reduction initiative that will reduce the cost of the missile by 20 percent and resolve obsolescence. Javelin is a bit older (it was introduced in 1994) and it's a unique capability--a shoulder-launched anti-tank system, weighs about 50 pounds. It was the state of the art at the time it was developed, but technology has shifted and new systems have come along. We've been looking at ways to reduce costs because the quantities required have gone down. Nevertheless, leadership challenged us to reduce the cost and not use quantity as an excuse. So we worked with our prime contractor, AMRDEC and the project office to identify new technologies that we could transition into the system--technologies that weren't available in 1994 but can help produce the same product at a lower cost. Things like moving from a cooled system to an uncooled system.

FOTF: CAN YOU NAME A PARTICULAR MENTOR OR MENTORS WHO HELPED YOU IN YOUR CAREER? HOW DID THEY HELP YOU? HAVE YOU BEEN A MENTOR?

GORDON: Two of my mentors ended their careers as members of the senior executive service. The first is the one who hired me. Ronny Chronister, at AMRDEC, later deputy to the commanding general of AMCOM [U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command], hired me as a GS-5. He taught me how to treat people: challenge them, but take care of them. Dr. Richard Amos, at AMRDEC, helped me make the decision on what I wanted to do. I met with him a lot to discuss whether to pursue a path into a project office or stay in a functional role. Both provided valuable insight and perspective that helped to make the decision to leave my functional support role and transition to program management. I have also served as a mentor to several individuals in both their personal and professional lives.

FOTF: WHAT'S THE GREATEST SATISFACTION YOU HAVE IN BEING A PART OF THE ARMY ACQUISITION WORKFORCE?

GORDON:The satisfaction of knowing that I am contributing to the defense of our nation and providing a product that saves Soldiers' lives.

FOTF: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO ASPIRES TO A CAREER OR POSITION LIKE YOURS?

GORDON:Don't be afraid to try new opportunities that are outside of your comfort zone.

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"Faces of the Force" is an online series highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce through the power of individual stories. Profiles are produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication and Support Branch, working closely with public affairs officers to feature Soldiers and civilians serving in various of AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please contact 703-805-1006.