Shedding light on acquisition helps cadets consider future career options

By Edward Lopez, PicatinnyOctober 28, 2019

West Point cadets learn about Army Acquisiton Corp as possible career option
Maj. Frankie Jackson speaks to a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point about the career opportunities and advantages of serving in the Army Acquisition Corps. The cadet is wearing Oculus Virtual Reality googles, which give cadets ... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- For cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Branch Week is similar to a college career fair, where graduating cadets can learn more about the various Army branches where they may serve, such as field artillery, infantry, aviation and other specialty areas.

During that week, cadets can speak to representatives from the various 17 branches, who typically bring equipment and static displays as part of the process of helping cadets decide on their future Army careers.

This year marked the first time that individuals from the Joint Program Executive Office Armaments and Ammunition participated in Branch Week to speak with cadets about an Army functional area that isn't widely known or understood: the Army Acquisition Corp.

For new Army officers, application and selection to transfer to a functional area like acquisition occurs later in their careers, when they have reached the rank of captain.

Gary Barber, a civilian, and Maj. Frankie Jackson, as representatives of the Army Acquisition Corps (AAC), were at West Point to talk about their experiences, and what makes the AAC such a great career choice.

Although the AAC doesn't have instant name recognition to cadets as a combat arms branch, its function within the Army is sweeping, constantly evolving to meet challenges, now and in the future.

The Army Acquisition Workforce includes about 42,000 Army acquisition professionals from scientists and engineers to accountants and program managers who turn Army requirements into products and services, managing everything from cradle to grave. The workforce consists of civilians, officers, and NCOs in both active and reserve components, who specialize in one of 13 acquisition career fields and serve in more than 20 commands around the globe. About 2,000 members of the acquisition workforce are military.

"We had to really explain AAC to them in terms of, 'If a Soldier wears it, carries it, or operates it, acquisition is responsible for it.' Once I conveyed it that way, cadets were like, 'Oh, OK. I understand exactly what it is now,'" Jackson said.

Jackson noted that the presence of Army branches at Branch Week also helped him to explain the pervasive contributions to Army operations by the Acquisition Corps.

"They had no idea that the helicopter that was sitting out there for the aviation branch, acquisition is responsible for that. That tank that was sitting over there for the armor branch, acquisition was responsible for that. Oh, by the way, that uniform you're wearing, those boots you're wearing, acquisition is responsible for that," said Jackson.

At Picatinny Arsenal, Barber and Jackson are assigned to Project Manager Close Combat Systems (PM CCS), which is part of the larger JPEO A&A. That office reports to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.

Barber serves as Director, Program Integration and International Division. Jackson is Assistant Product Manager for Terrain Shaping Obstacles (TSO). They were at West Point on Sept. 18.

As a way to reinforce the Army's Modernization Priorities to make Soldiers and units more lethal, Barber and Jackson highlighted PM CCS' contributions to Long Range Precision, Next Generation Combat Vehicles, Future Vertical Lift and Soldier Lethality.

From those discussions, cadets were able to obtain an understanding and impact of programs such as the AN/PSS-14 C, the Army's Program of Record hand held detector; the AT4CS-TW, a combined anti-structure and anti-armor capability in a single munition; and TSO, integrating an obstacle field that will support defensive, offensive, and stability operations with hand emplaced anti-vehicular munitions.

"We were there to talk about all the great things that we do from a program management perspective," said Barber. "We're dealing with items that are already in the field that need support and logistics to include product improvements, all the way to new developmental programs, such as our TSO, which had a lot of interest as part of this Branch Day."

Jackson said it was important for cadets to spend several years in their assigned branches right out of West Point to acquire a good understanding of Army operations before they would be eligible to transition into the Acquisition Corps.

"They have to get that basic skill set and core competencies in whatever branch they end up going to," Jackson said. "That gives them a functional sense of how that branch [fits into the] Army as a whole. They don't know much about the Army yet as a cadet. But once they become a lieutenant, eventually a captain, they get that leadership experience. It pays ten-fold coming into the Acquisition [Corps] at the latter [time] because now they've been out there with troops. They understand what right looks like. They've placed boots on the ground."

Jackson uses a comparison of different kinds of lenses to help cadets to understand the perspective of what acquisition does.

"I told them that if you're in a basic branch you're in a micro lens, you're focused in that one particular area," Jackson said. "But if you're in the Acquisition Corps, everything we do influences all of the branches. It's on a macro level. It's a big picture."

The opportunity to have a broader, strategic impact on Army operations beyond a single branch also appeals to cadets, Jackson said.

"The purpose of us being there is to really explain this opportunity that most Soldiers may not even know about or understand," Barber said. Acquisition officers can go either into program management or contracting, and NCOs focus on contracting."

"It gives them options out in the future," said of the cadets. "Right now, a cadet's focus is really what their first primary branch service is going to be. And they're focused on probably the next rank or so, but what's important about this is that while they're doing that, to keep in mind that they have options for the future, such that if they find that maybe they have a change in heart in their particular branch, or maybe they're thinking about getting out into the civilian world and they want to work more with civilians."

Barber noted that some Soldiers may also want to get some additional training and certifications, such as, program management, as well as the opportunity to do training with industry.

A position in program management can provide Soldiers an opportunity to develop and expand their leadership skills, since their interactions can involve scientists, engineers, as well as representatives from private industry and academia.

"They are all the subject matter experts of their particular fields. But what is unique about Acquisition Corps is the leadership," Barber said. "You need leaders. People who can understand the nature of the problem, and be able to bring all of these different resources together to be able to solve those problems.

"The AAC is dealing with complex types of problems, so officers need to be able to not just manage the data and the information, but lead, challenge, question, and ultimately make decisions that will deliver the best capability to our Warfighters."

Barber said it would be beneficial to explore other ways to inform young officers about possible careers in acquisition once they reach the rank of captain. Acquisition leaders have expressed a desire to expand the Acquisition Corps.

The trip to West Point fit the bill by informing cadets of the Acquisition Corps, including command and promotion opportunities, funding for advanced degrees, assignments around the world, supporting Soldiers with the best equipment and services, along with having an impact across the entire Army.

Participation in Branch Week stemmed from an invitation to JPEO from the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center's Director, Acquisition Career Management (DACM) Office, as well as an initiative to expand the Acquisition Corps and foster greater understanding of its role in supporting the Soldier. That initiative came from Dr. Bruce Jette, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology and Army Acquisition Executive.