By Susan L. Follett, USAASCOctober 18, 2018
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Product Manager for Virtual Training Systems; Project Manager for Training Devices; Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation
TITLE: Electronics engineer
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 11
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in engineering; Level I in program management
EDUCATION: B.S. in electrical engineering technology, University of Maine
If you're looking for Tagg LeDuc, don't try calling him at lunchtime. "I believe life is too short to take anything too seriously, so making a point to take a break for lunch at a specific time is a way to maintain some semblance of control for that period where you can take a breath, decompress and relax for a bit," said LeDuc, electronics engineer for the Product Manager for Virtual Training Systems (VTS) within the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI).
He's usually pretty hungry anyway, since he spends much of his free time training for triathlons and other multisport endurance events, including a 29-mile swim-run race in Switzerland and a 70.3-mile triathlon in Estonia. "The acquisition position is multifaceted, just like being a triathlete," said LeDuc. "To deliver a quality product, you need to put time into multiple activities and you need to be able to transition quickly from one to another."
Formerly known as the Product Manager for Ground Combat Tactical Trainers, VTS falls within PEO STRI's Project Manager for Training Devices, which provides Soldiers realistic training environments and equipment. VTS develops, fields and provides total acquisition life cycle management for precision gunnery, driver, route clearance, air and watercraft operation; satellite control and maintenance; and virtual training systems, supporting institutional, home station and contingency operations.
LeDuc's job "is to take the Soldier's needs and turn them into a functional requirement in a training device," he said. "That ensures that the Soldier is training on the most relevant training systems available, keeping them on the forefront of the fight and alive for their families." The short version of what he does for a living? "I tell people I work on very large video games. They always want to learn more when I say that."
The biggest challenge he faces is one he shares with many who juggle multiple projects, deadlines and shifting priorities: last-minute requests with a tight deadline. "Last-minute taskers with a short fuse require me to stop work on all other activities. It's disruptive to ongoing projects and often has lasting schedule effects, because of the time that's diverted from that project to accomplish the last-minute tasker or the time it takes to resume the train of thought that was happening when the interruption occurred." How does he overcome it? "By first communicating the change in priorities to my team and then by taking actions to prevent further interruptions from occurring till the tasker is complete," he said.
LeDuc got his start in federal acquisition in 2001. "My first job out of college was working for the Navy's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division in Maryland. I was there for a little over four years, doing electrical design engineering--building and troubleshooting, with most of my work in the preliminary, pre-milestone A phase of the acquisition life cycle." He then spent a few years in the private sector before coming to PEO STRI in 2008, where he works at the other end of the acquisition life cycle. "Most of my work for [the Product Manager for] VTS is post-milestone C, putting requirements into a contracting package and monitoring the contractor to ensure that they're meeting those requirements."
LeDuc noted that he has been fortunate to have had varied assignments over the years that he has been with PEO STRI. "Each challenge builds upon the previous one, to make the next product that much better for the Soldier," he said. Those assignments have given him opportunities to take on various degrees of program management, and that exposure "helps bring the larger picture into the light and therefore better decisions and requirements development [have] occurred," he added.
Among the most memorable was his work on the Maritime Integrated Training Simulator program, his initial foray into programmatic exposure. "That's where I got my feet wet with collaborating with the multiple organizations that make a program possible, including communicating with finance, contracts and management levels in my own department." One of his most challenging assignments was his work on a foreign military sales program. "The program had limited communication and slow response times, which was a detriment to maintaining the program's schedule." To ensure that the schedule stayed on track, the team identified "early and upfront" the importance of maximizing all opportunities to meet with the customer to resolve questions, LeDuc said. "We also leaned heavily on our own expertise to resolve questions when we were unable to get information from the client."
LeDuc noted that each program assigned to the Product Manager for VTS "is very dynamic, and lessons learned are pushed forward to the next program. My senior program directors talk about the days when they used typewriters and the introduction of WordPerfect changed their lives. Even though I don't have the years they may have or [haven't seen] the drastic changes, I've still seen small changes here and there that ultimately drive the method in which we go about our daily tasks."
While most of those changes have improved the way his team works, he noted that not all of them are for the better. For example, he said, "I've seen changes in the regulations for attending conferences, due mainly to poor behavior on the part of someone who probably no longer works for the government anyway. It's frustrating that we're reduced to rules that govern the behavior of the worst employee, and it's a detriment that we can no longer attend conferences--they provide a great opportunity for inspiration and problem-solving." Industry days fill that gap, he noted, but often focus on finding solutions to a specific challenge. "A broader focus--on solving tomorrow's problems--that's where innovation comes from."
Despite those challenges, he said, his work for PEO STRI has given him some great opportunities: travel to several countries, as well as "the chance to meet and work with some pretty amazing people, and a plethora of experiences that many only read about."
This article is published in the October-December 2018 issue of Army AL&T magazine.