By Susan L. Follett, USAASCJanuary 31, 2019
Master Sgt. Keita N. Lyles
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: 902nd Contracting Battalion, 418th Contracting Support Brigade
POSITION AND OFFICIAL TITLE: Battalion sergeant major and senior enlisted adviser
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 8
YEARS OF MILITARY SERVICE: 20
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in contracting
EDUCATION: B.S. in business administration, Columbia Southern University; associate degree in general studies, Colorado Technical University
AWARDS: Joint Service Commendation Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal (four oak leaf clusters (OLCs)), Army Achievement Medal (four OLCs), Meritorious Unit Citation, Army Superior Unit Award, Army Good Conduct Medal (fifth clasp), National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal (one campaign star), Iraqi Campaign Medal (two campaign stars), Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Korea Defense Service Medal, Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon (Numeral 3), Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon (Numeral 7), NATO Medal, Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal; Driver's Badge, Sharpshooter Qualification Badge, German Armed Forces Badge for Military Proficiency (Gold); Transportation Corps Distinguished Order of St. Christopher Award; Sergeant Audie Murphy Award
When Master Sgt. Keita Lyles joined Army acquisition in 2010, the noncommissioned officer (NCO) acquisition community was relatively small. But being part of a small community has paid big dividends, in the form of easing the transition to a new military occupational specialty (MOS) and helping her find mentors and advisers who she continues to rely on. "I've been very fortunate to find several leaders across my career path--[MOS] 51Cs as well as non-acquisition personnel--and I've pulled on their jacket tails and consistently sought their advice."
Lyles, battalion sergeant major and senior enlisted adviser for the 902nd Contracting Battalion at Joint Base Lewis -- McChord, Washington, came to acquisition from the Transportation Corps. "A friend of mine at the time who was part of the original group of NCOs who transferred to the 51C career field mentioned to me that switching over was a good career choice to look into," she said. At the time, Lyles was in Germany, preparing for a 15-month deployment as a squad leader and mission commander. "After experiencing as many leadership roles as I could, there were only a few remaining growth opportunities in transportation, and I knew it was time for a change. I thought that [switching to the Acquisition Corps] would not only benefit my career and my family--it was also the best option for when I make the transition to the private sector after retirement."
The transition from transportation to acquisition "was a little scary at first," she conceded. "After being somewhat of an expert in my old career field and holding several leadership positions, having to start over from scratch and learning new skills--some of which were very demanding and detailed--was a major adjustment." She advises other NCOs making the transition to stay focused and motivated throughout the process. "Get everything out of each experience, from networking to taking notes on how to complete a contract you don't have experience with or a briefing or report needed after a mission. Everything we do and the relationships we build make us that much more valuable and user-friendly."
One thing that eased the transition was the camaraderie of the people she worked with. "Our career field was and is very small, and there was always a sense of family in everything we did and at every opportunity we met," she said. "Whether it was coming together during our annual training exercises or preparing for the NCO of the Year competition, everyone … had a 'one team, one fight' mindset and we took care of one another. We all knew each other, which was really nice when we heard each other's names across the world."
She noted that her key developmental assignment--serving as brigade staff NCO for the 411th Contracting Support Brigade in Korea--was the most valuable one of her career so far. "That assignment challenged me to push myself outside of my comfort zone of always being that worker bee behind the scenes. I'm one of those dedicated hard workers who doesn't like being in the limelight, but that's not possible in this role. I did so many different things--setting up teleconferences or putting together a retirement ceremony, for example--and was the face of the organization within the community. I was the first female president of the area's Sergeant Audie Murphy Club, was photographed at all kinds of events, and took part in 5Ks and half-marathons. The most challenging aspect was figuring out how to do everything and be everywhere, as often as I could."
Fortunately, she had lots of support from leadership and her coworkers. "I came across so much knowledge and genuine care for Soldiers from so many leaders," she said, including brigade commanders Col. Americus Gill, Col. David Ware, Col. Johnny Broughton; staff officers Lt. Col. Marty Plys, Lt. Col. Paul Tomcik and Lt. Col. Michael Harris; and her direct leadership, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Redecker, Maj. Maurice Hudson and Master Sgt. Stephanie Bennett.
Lyles also found a lot of value in the Defense Acquisition University courses she took, particularly those in Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) fundamentals, advanced contracting, joint contingency contracting and emergency acquisition. "They taught me a lot: a plethora of FAR information, preparing for deployment and confirming my leadership style as well as that of the leaders I worked with."
Lyles' background and accomplishments were factors in her acceptance into the Training With Industry program in 2016, when she was one of two NCOs selected for that year's cohort. She spent 12 months in the Contracts Management Division of Microsoft's Cloud Infrastructure and Operations in 2016 and 2017. "I really enjoyed the bonding and transparency of the work environment there," she said. "I learned a lot about industry contracting, and how Microsoft became one of the leaders in the cloud industry."
The most important lesson Lyles has learned on and off the job is the importance of networking. It takes many forms, she said: "Keeping boots on ground, interacting with the warfighters' organizations, learning how we can best help them with their needs and ensure that they know who we are, keeping a good line of communication and educating them as often as needed to get exactly what they need to be sustainable. Get out of your cubicle--meet your customers, build relationships within the base and surrounding communities, and have a good line of communication with leaders and customers."
Mindset is important too, she said. "I always remind everyone, junior or senior, new or seasoned acquisition personnel, to look at the glass as being half full. Contracting experiences differ from stateside, outside the U.S. and in deployment areas, so have patience and an open mind."
This article is published in the January -- March 2019 issue of Army AL&T magazine.