By Kari HawkinsDecember 18, 2017
Back in 1984, Kim Blanding needed a job.
An Alabama A&M graduate, she applied for the Army intern program and was accepted. Blanding soon realized she had found more than a job.
"I was looking for a job and I found a career," Blanding said.
"I was given the opportunity to go into logistics or procurement. As I learned more about government contracting, the insight into this career field really showed me how amazing it was and still is."
Blanding's 34-year government contracting career began in Missile Logistics, included several opportunities in missile systems contracting and will soon come to an end when she retires at the end of 2017 as the deputy director for the Army Contracting Command-Redstone overseeing Aviation and Missile Command contracts.
"Government contracting is a very humbling responsibility and an honorable profession. I've felt that way since the very first day I took the civilian oath and made a professional commitment to the government," Blanding said. "Contracting for the Army requires you to make the right decisions so that our warfighters get the equipment they need and the taxpayer is well served."
In her responsibilities for AMCOM contracts, Blanding serves as a liaison between ACC-Redstone and AMCOM and its organizations, including the AMCOM Logistics Center; Security Assistance Management Directorate; Test, Measurement and Diagnostics; Aviation Field Maintenance; and the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center. She oversees the work of 200 employees who work on contracts for AMCOM; and the Program Executive Offices for Aviation, and Missiles and Space. She also manages high visibility contract operations, which include AMCOM Express and the AMRDEC's Prototype Integration Facility, with total obligations exceeding $3.6 billion annually.
"The AMCOM Directorate is one of the largest in terms of manpower within ACC-Redstone. It includes all AMCOM procurements," Blanding explained. "The relationship between ACC-Redstone and AMCOM has been good. We've been able to accomplish what we needed to do to get equipment and services to the warfighter."
Prior to serving as deputy director for AMCOM contracts, Blanding's contracting career included serving as a contract specialist for the Tactical Missiles Directorate. The majority of Blanding's contracting experience was gained from supporting the Close Combat Weapon Systems Project Office on the Javelin Program as its contracting officer.
"I really loved the Javelin program. I wanted to know absolutely everything about it. I've fired the Javelin in simulations. I went to program management reviews and test firings. I watched videos of the Javelin blowing things up," Blanding recalled. "I knew the work I did was needed to fire the Javelin in theater. I knew I was making a difference and I loved it."
Blanding went on to serve as the division chief of the Javelin/Longbow Division. She also served as the director of the Tactical Missiles Directorate, during which she supported the PEO for Missiles and Space by managing and directing acquisition programs for the Joint Attack Munitions System, Close Combat Weapon System and Precision Fires Missile Systems Program Management Offices. Her work involved contract awards totaling $1.4 billion annually.
"During those early years, I realized you can have influence in your place of work no matter what level," Blanding said. "At the time, I really didn't see myself here for 30 years. But, when you get the opportunity to do a lot of different things and work with lots of different people, and you are valued for your contributions, those years can go by pretty quickly."
The work accomplished by contracting professionals often has a direct impact on Army readiness, the warfighter and the equipment they rely on to do their job. Blanding has felt the sense of accomplishment that comes when challenges are addressed through the contracting process.
"A mentor once told me I had to get better at seeing what someone is saying, at learning how to read agendas," she said. "As a contracting officer, I've got to understand what the customer needs and then I've got to make sure we have the resources in the right place to address that need."
Blanding has enjoyed working with employees who "really like what we do and put forth effort to do the right thing. At times you can feel overwhelmed by the number of regulations and changes. But, you continue to do your research, consider how regulations affect your work and keep doing the best work possible in applying your contracting skills and knowledge to the challenge you are facing."
In recent years, Blanding has focused on leading contracting personnel as management has worked to change the direction of ACC-Redstone.
"It's one thing to change direction as an individual. But, changing the direction and scope of an organization is a significant challenge in which you have to address second and third order effects of that change," Blanding said. "Fortunately, when this job has gets hard, the people help you to overlook the challenges and move forward."
To be successful, ACC-Redstone leadership must be able to rely on contracting professionals who are skilled and knowledgeable, and who are committed to doing the right thing. In return, those professionals need to be able to trust their leadership.
"My advice to employees is to never give up trying to make a difference and believe in the strengths you bring to the organization," Blanding said. "Believe you can make a difference and don't ever stop trying. It really does take all of us to make this organization a continuous success."
Through the many changes and opportunities that Blanding has experienced during her career, she hopes she has always been a contracting official that others could trust.
"I hope contracting employees see me as someone who cared about them and this organization," she said. "Caring for an organization is just as important as caring for people. The employees I've managed know that I care for them and this organization, and for the warfighters we serve."