Let's be clear: An aerostat is more than just a blimp. Explaining that is a task that often falls to Kevin Kirkwood, a Combat Capabilities Development Command C5ISR Center employee currently supporting the Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors (PEO IEW&S).
Kirkwood is the deputy product lead for Aerostats within PEO IEW&S and leads a team of roughly 90 materiel developers for the platform, which carries different types of sensors to altitudes of up to 5,000 feet to provide overwatch for military support.
"Many people see the aerostat, associate it with a blimp and then merely think of it as a floating balloon," he said. "In reality, it's an extremely dynamic system of systems that requires intensive management to ensure that modifications made to the system are cohesive and continue to carry out their functions."
Kirkwood's work puts him face-to-face with Soldiers in a variety of environments. That direct engagement "has positioned my team and me with a better understanding of warfighter requirements, and it demonstrates the commitment the program office maintains. It's also one of the privileges I'm most thankful for in my career," he said.
Federal service is pretty much the Kirkwood family business: his mother is a former federal employee and all of her six siblings served in the military. Kirkwood's uncle, Lt. Gen. Robert S. Ferrell, was the Army chief information officer/G-6 and commander of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) and Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
Kirkwood's wife works for the CECOM Security Assistance Management Directorate (SAMD), and one of his brothers works for the C5ISR Center and is assigned to the SAMD. Kirkwood started his federal acquisition career with SAMD in 2007, assigned from the C5ISR Center as a communications-electronics engineer and assisting in the oversight of foreign materiel sales acquisitions.
"The most rewarding times were when I had an opportunity to travel to different parts of the world to meet the requirements' owners," he said. "You hear a lot about international problems on the news, and they seem far away and almost surreal. Actually traveling to these environments changes that reality; it provides more of an urgency to help."
In Colombia, for example, Kirkwood visited high-risk outposts and met with Colombian soldiers fighting against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, to better understand their intelligence system requirements.
"This trip strengthened the bond for future telecoms with the Colombian military because we better understood the person on the other end of the phone."
In 2013, he transitioned to program management, working on programs in the Product Manager for Meteorological and Target Identification Capabilities within PM Navigation Capabilities and Special Programs.
"That switch was a huge turning point in my career," he said. "In the course of five years, I grew from being the lead acquisition technical leader to the technical director and then the acting deputy director and acting deputy product lead for a billion-dollar program."
He continues to work on developing his career, and he recently completed the Systems Supportability Engineering program that is jointly led by Stevens Institute of Technology and the C5ISR Center. Kirkwood called the certificate program "the highlight of my educational progression thus far."
The course aims to increase technical competency in systems engineering and better support weapon system sustainment.
"I was able to immediately apply lessons learned during the course and improve the outcome of the program office," Kirkwood said. "I support a quick reaction capability program that is very schedule-driven. When working at that pace, it's great practice to have structure and a record of our work. Working with a system of systems, there are many fast-moving parts that make program management even more complex. The course taught me that I could reduce this complexity through order."
He tries to pass on what he has learned over the course of his career, through mentoring programs outside of the office and in his work as a branch chief of Electronic Sensors. In that role, he leads a team of 75 systems engineering technical assistance contractors in identifying ways to better support the customers to whom they are assigned.
"Providing structure and guidance to help define and work toward career goals helps identify the right fit for employees and the customers they serve, ensuring higher satisfaction for both groups," he said.
With more than a decade of federal service behind him, Kirkwood noted that the most important lesson he has learned "is to be patient, trust the chain of command, and always maintain the code of ethics and law.
"Trust the process, so that the process can reflect its strengths and weaknesses-and leadership can address those accordingly. We often try to circumvent a process, and there are times that may need to be done. But if we find ourselves constantly disregarding it, we're only preventing leadership from seeing a flaw in it," said Kirkwood, who will soon begin a six- to 12-month assignment as executive officer to the C5ISR Center's director.
When problems arise, he said, confront them-don't avoid them.
"Run toward problems and embrace change-it's OK to be uncomfortable. There's reward and growth in conflict and in problem-solving."
[Editor's Note: This article has been edited from its original format as part of the "Faces of the Force" online series by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce through the power of individual stories. Profiles are produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication and Support Branch, working closely with public affairs officers to feature Soldiers and civilians serving in various AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please go to https://asc.army.mil/web/publications/army-alt-submissions/.]