COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command
TITLE: Director, Combat Capabilities Development Command Field Assistance in Science and Technology – Atlantic region
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 14
YEARS OF MILITARY SERVICE: 23
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in program management, contracting and international acquisitions
EDUCATION: Currently pursuing a Ph.D. in public policy and administration, Walden University; M.S. in management of acquisition and contracting, Florida Institute of Technology; M.A. in public administration and public management, Troy State University; B.A. in governmental administration, Christopher Newport University
HOMETOWN: Hampton Roads, Virginia
Lt. Col. Theresa Ellison never planned to stay in the Army past her first contract commitment—she dreamed of an arts career in England or France—but over the course of her 23-year career, she discovered that she had found a home in the Army. “I always planned to move to Paris to attend culinary school or to return to art school to design beautiful shoes in London,” she said. While that may seem quite a departure from her current work in the Army, Ellison has found a great combination in her work, her interests and in traveling the world.
“The Army is family,” she said. “I tell fellow warriors and subordinates to make good choices and form long-lasting friendships. Before everything else, we are on Team Army.” A longtime member of the Army Acquisition Workforce (AAW), Ellison feels she has grown during the course of her 23-year military career. “I gained a depth in knowledge, character, empathy and emotional maturity within the ranks,” she said. “My experiences changed me for the better.” Those experiences add context and help her keep perspective in her day-to-day work.
“Perspective makes a difference,” she added. “Most of the time, this philosophy has helped me empathize and have more compassion.” Maintaining perspective is especially important in Ellison’s position as director of the Atlantic region Field Assistance in Science and Technology team, where she works with stakeholders across the Army to deliver critical solutions to Soldiers.
“I am tasked to provide reach-back capability into the Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) and the U.S. Army Futures Command,” she explained. “We leverage expertise and capability in support of USAREUR’s [U.S. Army Europe] operational missions and Theater Security Cooperation objectives.” The CCDC works closely with allies and partners to ensure U.S. warfighters have access to the world’s best technologies. It coordinates with foreign governments, industry and academia, and provides robust science and technology support to U.S. combatant commands and Army service component commands.
Ellison’s work requires the right blend of skills and experiences. “I am most satisfied when I am able to see advancements in technology or capabilities reach the warfighter,” she said. “If I were to hire someone for my job, I would seek out someone with a variety of acquisition experiences under their belt, in addition to the typical program management and contracting certifications.” Throughout her time in the AAW, she has relied on the team of experts at Defense Acquisition University when faced with new challenges. “One of my mentors has always come to my rescue,” she said.
In fact, those mentors and teammates have been vital to her career. “Having a strong network has been the key to my success,” Ellison said. “I have found that those who have taken advantage of at least one challenging, nontraditional assignment are quicker to successfully assimilate into the commands that they support and find their utility. They also tend to seek out more creative or innovative solutions to problems and tend to be willing to take more risks.”
Because she possesses that breadth of experience, Ellison was able to quickly address one of the most difficult parts of her job—geography. “A good deal of my support is an ocean away,” she said. The scenario is familiar to most of her colleagues who have worked overseas, but it is difficult nonetheless. “Every decision, meeting or discussion must consider the challenge of differing time zones, travel, connectivity and the impersonal nature of a telephone conference.” Drawing on her interpersonal skills and the knowledge she had gained in the Army, Ellison was able to create a communication and engagement plan to address those hurdles.
“The basic structure of my plan was to conduct an in-person, grassroots campaign of engaging in office calls, site visits and participating in key global engagements,” she said. “My intent was to show up in person, shake hands and make introductions. People still really appreciate the opportunity to take a few minutes to dialog and exchange ideas in person.”
Ellison said her plan was all about personal connection and maintaining relationships, a lesson she learned from her family’s large holiday parties and gatherings as a child. “My mom has always made the effort to have family events,” she said. She saw the deeper value of strengthened interpersonal connections at those learned the significance of those large—and often boisterous—social gatherings, and has worked to foster those same face-to-face interactions with colleagues, when possible. Perhaps not surprisingly, she is a fixture at unit gatherings, promotions and hail and farewell events of every variety, helping her colleagues to feel a part of “Team Army.”
Her skills, experiences and personality lend to some pragmatic advice for junior officers. “When I am asked for career advice, my standard response is to find out what you like, compare it to what you are good at and search for a job that allows you to pull in some of both and still make money,” she said. “That nexus will get you through the tough days. Not many people do jobs that they like or enjoy. I love my job and it is satisfying knowing that I have made a difference. My certifications and educational pursuits have prepared me for life after the Army. I did not want to be a retiree with a degree that I had never exercised at the end of my career or experiences that I do not translate into civilian employment.”
To Ellison, military service is more than just a career. “I come from a legacy of military service members,” she said. “It is the family business. I stayed [in the Army] because there was always another challenge or adventure and the Army appreciated my motivation.” She’s created something artful, after all.
“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/.