COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Army Contracting Command – Afghanistan (418th Contracting Support Brigade)
TITLE: Brigade operations noncommissioned officer-in-charge
ACQUISITION CAREER FIELD: Contracting
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 8
YEARS OF MILITARY SERVICE: 14
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in contracting
EDUCATION: B.A. in sociology, Arizona State University
AWARDS: Purple Heart, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal (6th award), Army Achievement Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal (3rd award), Afghan Campaign Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon (5th award), Army Good Conduct Medal (4th award), Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon (4th award), Combat Action Badge
Master Sgt. Eric Kirkpatrick learned some important lessons during his time as a combat engineer. He served two tours in Iraq, doing the inherently dangerous work of route clearance operations: clearing improvised explosive devices from roadways. “Coming from that background,” he said, “you get used to something always going wrong. You have to have things prepared in advance, like your weapons and your radios, to control the variables that you can before the fight starts.” In those missions, he said the unit’s performance depends upon the preparations made beforehand.
Today, Kirkpatrick relies on those principles in his role as brigade operations noncommissioned officer-in-charge for the Army Contracting Command – Afghanistan. “We’re a relatively small staff element,” he said, “so I am involved in just about everything—mission analysis, briefing product development, scheduling air movements, contract management reviews and the day-to-day management of the office.” He applied to join the acquisition workforce in 2012 while deployed to Iraq and the rest, as they say, is history. “The idea of learning a new craft was exciting,” he said, “and I already had a true appreciation for the things that make life easier in a deployed environment, like showers, laundry facilities and generators.”
When he applied, though, he “had no idea of the magnitude of the Army’s contracting operations.” In fact, he believes most people take for granted the military’s ever-present and absolutely critical contracted services. But he doesn’t mind at all. “If we’re doing our jobs well,” he said, “the warfighters that we support don’t have to think about how the supplies and services got to them—they can focus on what matters: their mission.”
Kirkpatrick relies on the advice of one of his mentors to manage the many competing demands of his work: Do the little things well and the big things take care of themselves. So, what are the little things? “Keeping a positive attitude, being punctual, answering phone calls and emails promptly and following through on commitments,” Kirkpatrick said. Those things will enable success in the long run because they build trust among teammates and establish professional credibility.
As for the advice he gives to others? “What kind of a senior NCO would I be if I didn’t constantly give out advice, whether it was asked for or not?” he joked. “There are so many systems, so many policies and so many ways of doing things that it can get overwhelming,” he said. So he tries to encourage his junior acquisition teammates, to tell them that what they’re feeling is normal and help them focus on what they can control. “Focus on learning one new thing every day. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Seek out mentors early and often—especially the ones who refuse to give you the easy answer,” he advised. By controlling the variables it can, the team will be more prepared for its mission.
And speaking of teams, Kirkpatrick has another piece of advice to share. “Nothing builds a team like shared hardship.” His favorite brand of hardship—hitting the gym. “It’s a great outlet for stress,” he said. A self-described fitness enthusiast, he admits to being a bit obsessive about never missing his daily workout, and he likes to bring his teammates along. “A challenging workout is the perfect way to bring the team together and build camaraderie,” he said. “With group workouts, the more challenging the better.” Obviously, physical fitness is part and parcel of active-duty military life, but Kirkpatrick encourages everyone to stay fit. “When you feel good, you perform better,” he said.
He faces some tough challenges in the office, too. “The hardest part about this job is helping our supported units to understand that managing contracts is not like managing military assets,” he said. This can be a source of confusion at times, because “contractors follow their own rules.” He has found that it is important to explain the limits and constraints of a particular contract and to show that he understands the unit’s goal—demonstrating his credibility as a Soldier and a contracting professional. “If we are able to explain in operational terms what results we can produce with contracts, sometimes that comes down to using analogies or metaphors that they understand.” Clear communication is the key to understanding the goals of the supported unit.
“Maybe they want to tell me their goals and I have to help them understand. It’s like, ‘Tell me what you want and trust that I know the best way to accomplish that.’ Units often have very specific ideas about what they want.”
Besides those communication skills, Kirkpatrick has some specific ideas about the qualities he would look for if hiring his own replacement. “My desk is a mess,” he said. “I’m always bouncing from task to task when I see a shiny thing.” His ideal candidate would be organized, with strong time management skills and the ability to understand and carry out the commander’s intent. “That’s my role in life, especially on a staff,” he said. “Listen to the boss, listen to that desired end state, and then make it happen.” He works hard to take care of the so-called little things in support of the mission. “With contracts, we can have an outsized impact on operations,” he said. “It’s a great feeling when you’re able to pull it off.”
Editor’s note: Master Sgt. Eric Kirkpatrick returned from his assignment in Afghanistan just before the publication of this article. Welcome back!
“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/.