COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Project Manager for Short and Intermediate Effectors for Layered Defense, Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space
TITLE: Lead systems engineer
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 14
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in program management, engineering, and test and evaluation
EDUCATION: M.S. in program management, Naval Postgraduate School; B.S. in mechanical engineering, University of Alabama
AWARDS: Numerous Army awards for contributions to technical design reviews, as well as engineering demonstrations and test events. Secretary of the Army Award for Excellence in Contracting Product Team of the Year Award
“Simply put, successful careers are about three things,” said Brandon Williams, lead systems engineer for the Sentinel A-4 radar program within the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space. “Relationships, leadership and capabilities. Relationship is an enabler, leadership is the difference-maker, and capabilities represent the products of one’s career. It is impossible to know all answers to all things, but if you know the right people, you can always find the answer.”
The Sentinel A-4 is a high-performance modification of the Sentinel A-3 air and missile defense radar that will provide improved capability against current and emerging aerial threats, including cruise missiles and unmanned aerial systems, as well as rotary wing and fixed wing threats. The new radar will improve surveillance, detection and classification capabilities to protect Army maneuver formations and high-value static assets, including command and control nodes, tactical assembly areas and geopolitical centers.
Williams leads a team of engineers from several disciplines and is responsible for technical and programmatic interactions with the materiel development contractor. It’s a job that requires someone “who is able to respect the details and see the big picture,” Williams said. “You also need to be a good communicator. As lead systems engineer, I get a lot of input from the technical subject matter experts on my team. I need to be able to blend direction from a variety of sources and make the best decisions that help move the program in the right direction. Fortunately, I’ve had some great mentors, and we have some excellent senior leaders in our organization to serve as an example of how that’s done.”
To further strengthen his leadership skills, Williams completed the IDEAL—Inspiring and Developing Excellence in Acquisition Leaders—program in October 2019. “I would recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand themselves and learn how to positively influence others around them,” he said. “As a result of what I learned, I feel I can more effectively lead a group of people with diverse backgrounds. And the sessions on crucial conversations outlined how to have hard conversations without breaking down relationships.”
Williams also sees the value of offering IDEAL to junior members of the acquisition workforce. “I think it’s a great class from the mindset of ‘I’m a leader. How do I get the best out of my team?’ But I think GS-7s through GS-9s would benefit from the perspective of ‘How can I best support my leadership and begin to learn the characteristics to one day be in a leadership role myself,’ ” he said. “People in the earlier stages of their careers are not aware of challenges that leadership faces. And often as a junior employee, you’re given a task but you don’t really know why you’re doing something or how it fits in a bigger picture. Communication and relationship-building are easier and more beneficial to both sides if everyone knows what the goal is.”
Williams joined the Army Acquisition Workforce in 2006 after graduating from the University of Alabama. His first assignment was with the Close Combat Weapon Systems Project Office as a systems engineer for the TOW—tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided—missile. “I hired in under a two-year development plan as a general engineer. At first I was just happy to have a job, but I soon realized how lucky I was: Acquisition provides a unique opportunity to serve my country outside of the traditional military setting. I didn’t know then that I’d still be here 14 years later, but it has been great—and I’ll gladly stay another 14 years if they’ll let me.”
In 2014, he was assigned to the Cruise Missile Defense Systems (CMDS) Project Office, which he noted was an important transition point in his career. His first assignment at CMDS was the Indirect Fires Protection Capability Increment 2 – Intercept (IFPC Inc 2-I). “Before joining CMDS, my experiences were mostly related to contracts for operations and sustainment and obsolescences. IFPC Inc 2-I afforded me the opportunity to join a program at milestone A,” he explained. “Accordingly, I was able to go through and benefit tremendously from events such as system requirement review, system functional review, preliminary design review, critical design review, technical readiness review and Army Systems Acquisition Review Council walkups, as well as capability development document approvals and several demonstration and test events.” His work with CMDS also provided the opportunity to serve as co-chair on a source selection evaluation board, where he helped develop the request for proposals package; led the factor and subfactor teams in evaluating technical, cost, small business and past performance specifications; and ensured that all systems performance specifications were adequately addressed.
For Williams, the biggest takeaway was the breadth and depth of the defense acquisition enterprise. “As a whole, it’s larger and more complex than most people realize,” he said, “and no one is an expert in all of it. But it has so many niches and nuances, and there are plenty of ways you can make yourself an expert in one area if there’s something that really appeals to you.”
Looking back over the past 14 years, he identified a couple of notable changes. “With the Army modernization effort, we’re seeing a shift from system-based project offices to product-based offices. It’s a great idea, but it’s a big change, and it will take some time to adjust to it,” he said. “I’ve also noticed that there’s a growing need for each person to be multidisciplined—a leader can’t just wear one hat anymore. He or she needs to have a solid background in technical issues, communications and program specifics.” Williams also noted the increased importance of building relationships within and outside of his organization. “It’s vital that you’re able to network with others, both to support the program you’re working on and to help resolve issues that come up. If you’re having a problem, chances are someone else has had it, too, and their experiences can help you figure out a solution.”
“Faces of the Force” is an online series 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/.
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