Rick Jackson, Program Management Director (PMD) for the Office of the Program Manager, Saudi Arabian National Guard (OPM-SANG), has spent much of his military and civilian career supporting international programs, and admits each country he has worked with or lived in is different. "But there is something special about KSA (the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)."
That something is what drew Jackson, an Air Force veteran who once served as the Air Force's Chief of Saudi AWACs program, and later as OPM-SANG's G8, back to the country again.
Jackson cites the unique mission and the relationships with KSA's Ministry of the National Guard as some of the reasons that make the assignment attractive.
"We are enhancing the relationship between the U.S. and KSA," he stated. "The way we do that is by advising SANG and assisting them with getting what they need." This in turn supports U.S. Central Command's requirements in the region, Jackson noted.
But building partner capacity for SANG works a little differently than other Foreign Military Sales (FMS) cases according to Jackson. "Right now we are working five-year umbrella cases covering 2019-2023. This involves identifying threats and improving their capabilities," he said. "SANG is taking the lead, and we are there to advise."
These types of planning and recommendations are done through face-to-face meetings and relationships built on trust developed through years of interaction, Jackson said.
He provides an example of how important developing relationships is to the Saudis. "The first time I sent a document through to be signed by a Saudi representative, I was frustrated because it took months and months to get it finalized. The next year, I called and discussed it with him and it shortened the timeline tremendously. The third year I personally carried it over and it was signed immediately."
The role of the PMD is to develop relationships with their counterparts and conduct the administrative functions of OPM-SANG. For example, when SANG's Aviation Brigade buys helicopters, it is PMD's role to develop the Letter of Offer and Acceptance and oversee the contracting process.
Jackson's biggest challenge now is finding personnel for job vacancies ranging from training simulation specialist, to logistics management specialist, acquisition management specialist-air and program analysts.
"An assignment in KSA has a lot of opportunities," he said. While the work itself can enhance a resume, Jackson wants interested personnel to also consider benefits like travel. "There is a yearly KSA-funded trip that you can use to go back to the U.S. or anywhere you choose," he noted. "I used one of mine to go to France and Kenya, and this year I am looking at an 'around the world' trip visiting Singapore, New Zealand, the U.S. and Germany."
And Jackson and his wife Nancy, are also committed to making the quality of life at OPM-SANG consistent with or better than other foreign locations.
Jackson believes spirituality is important to those separated from family and old friends, so he supports the chapel program and coordinates the men's weekly Bible study night.
His wife has created a newcomer's packet that details what is and is not needed for an assignment at OPM-SANG. For example, furniture and vehicles provided to military and civilians, but special requirements include dress blues for military. She has also made it her mission to take new spouses off the facility to shop, eat and learn about the culture.
Jackson's philosophy is that everything is a team effort, but the results, both during work hours and outside work hours, are worth it--especially at OPM-SANG.