By Debra ValineNovember 13, 2018
Col. Kevin Lambert, program manager for the Saudi Arabian National Guard (OPM-SANG) Modernization Program in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, arrived at his new assignment in June 2018. He had previously served as the commander, of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
This is his first assignment with the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command, but he said his 25-year Army career helped prepare him for this challenge.
"My experience as a career Infantry Officer prepared me for leading the team of talented advisers as we assist the Saudi Arabian National Guard (an active duty land force of over 130,000 soldiers) build readiness in preparation for ongoing combat operations along the Southern Saudi Border," Lambert said.
But, he said facilitating a more than $16 billion Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program aimed at modernizing the Saudi Arabian National Guard is a task his training, education and experience did not directly prepare him for.
However, he quickly discovered that his leadership, executive management experiences, and most importantly, the professional OPM-SANG cadre enabled him to quickly learn the FMS enterprise.
"I am very grateful to the experienced OPM-SANG workforce as they helped me to understand and navigate the cultural and political landscape of our Saudi mission partners," Lambert said.
"I have enjoyed the steep learning curve associated with navigating the FMS process," Lambert said. "The OPM-SANG workforce is experienced, professional and dedicated to helping the Saudi Arabian National Guard be the premier land force in the region. Additionally, this is an exciting time to be in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia given the social changes, political tensions and ongoing military operations. Most of us in OPM-SANG understand and appreciate the front row seat we have to this critical time in Saudi Arabia."
OPM-SANG is a customer service organization that plays a key role in strategic readiness by assisting the Saudi Arabian National Guard build capability, capacity and readiness, Lambert said.
"For example, the Saudi Arabian National Guard in contributing to a Saudi-led coalition executing combat operations in the Yemen conflict which contributes to regional stability," Lambert said. "That regional stability indirectly preserves U.S. military capability and increases our strategic readiness."
The SANG modernization efforts are focused on training, equipment, maintenance, supply, procurement, management, organization, health care and facilities. It is fully funded by the government of Saudi Arabia through USASAC executed FMS cases.
Additionally, through OPM-SANG FMS cases, there is greater demand on U.S. military industry partners that would allow the U.S. military to respond faster if a national security requirement arose, he said.
Saudi Arabia is going through significant political, social, economic and military changes and is facing unprecedented challenges, he said, citing the Yemen conflict, Vision 2030, economic reform to reduce their reliance on oil, women's rights and human rights as examples.
"Our biggest challenge is knowing and being sensitive to these challenges as we work with our Saudi counterparts in building Saudi land force capability, capacity and readiness," Lambert said.
"Fortunately, OPM-SANG is filled with experienced and patient professionals committed to ensuring the program's success," Lambert said. "I learn something new from them every day."
He said he also was fortunate to be able to attend a Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) course in his first couple months that helped prepared him.
"I enjoy the professional Soldiers, Department of the Army civilians and foreign nationals that I am privileged to serve with in Saudi Arabia," Lambert said.
"My command philosophy can be summarized in two statements - Readiness is our mission and people are our legacy," Lambert said. "The OPM-SANG mission to facilitate the Saudi Arabian National Guard modernization program contributes to our national security through improving strategic readiness. That mission is executed through dedicated professionals that deserve my personal investment.
"I am an outgoing leader that wants to know each person's story," he said. "For most of us serving separated from our families, my desire to know you and where you are from is a welcome conversation."
The OPM-SANG workforce lives and works in Eskan Village, along with another USASAC subordinate organization, the Ministry of Interior-Military Assistant Group, the U.S. Military Training Mission and a small U.S. Central Command Title X force.
"We all get along and spend time together at frequent social gatherings and Morale, Welfare and Recreation events," Lambert said. "I have found that when people are isolated in a foreign country away from their families, they tend to build stronger bonds with their co-workers and neighbors. Our relationship with the Saudis is strong. The Saudis are gracious and welcoming. We are able to freely move about the country and experience the culture, great food and beautiful sights like Riyadh, the Arabian Peninsula West Coast and The Red Sea."