COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Product Manager Heavy Tactical Vehicles, Project Manager Transportation Systems, Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support
TITLE: Program officer
ACQUISITION CAREER FIELD: Program management
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 18 years 9 months
MILITARY OR CIVILIAN: Civilian
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in program management and in engineering
EDUCATION: M.S. in program management, Naval Postgraduate School; B.S. in mechanical engineering, Lawrence Technological University
AWARDS: Commander’s Award for Civilian Service, June 2014
HOMETOWN: Erie, Pennsylvania
DANIEL C. JESKA
Treat people with respect. Be accountable. Communicate clearly. Never burn bridges. Dan Jeska abides by a few basic rules he learned while growing up in rural Pennsylvania. As a boy, he developed a love of the outdoors, and he spent nearly every waking moment roaming the rolling hills outside his back door. In keeping with this very bucolic scene, his first job was on a dairy farm. “Looking back now, I really appreciate that simplicity,” he said. “When the boss told me to move hay bales from one spot to another, that was all I needed to know.”
To say that things have become more complex since that time might be an understatement. Jeska is now a program officer for Product Manager (PM) Heavy Tactical Vehicles within the Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support (PEO CS&CSS). Along with two assistant program managers and their integrated product teams, the PM is responsible for the Army’s Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, Palletized Load System trailer, Heavy Dump Truck and distribution enablers. The PM team is also in the early phase of a joint U.S. and United Kingdom project to develop a next-generation heavy tactical vehicle system. Jeska has moved up from hay bales to huge armored vehicles, but he’s still the same soul underneath the titles and technicalities.
After moving to Michigan with his family, Jeska completed his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and went to work for large companies in the automotive industry. “At my last industry job, we made instrument clusters and heads-up displays for cars,” he said. “I worked with some really great people there.” But he became frustrated by the high rate of turnover and the poor quality of life in the industry. “The turnover rate at one of my employers was over 20 percent each year. It was just the nature of the industry,” he said. “I was getting burned out.”
Around that time, he went out to lunch with a friend from college who encouraged him to consider becoming an Army civilian. “He told me he had a better quality of life at TARDEC [the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, now the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center],” which was just around the corner in Warren, Michigan. So Jeska went to a job fair and started applying. When he eventually interviewed for a job, he had one very important question for the boss. “As we walked around the office and met some of the other staff, I asked how long they had been working there.” He was looking for an employer that would value and invest in its workforce—and after that day, he was sold.
Jeska said his experiences as an Army civilian “couldn’t be more different” than his time working in the auto industry. “The Army invests in its employees and develops them,” he said. “Leaders want their subordinates to succeed and be promoted to their fullest potential.” And he has never been left wanting for opportunity in the acquisition community. “There is no need to worry about stagnating on a single program for your entire career,” he said. Jeska said there is ample room for growth, whether by moving to a new program or exploring development programs within the Army acquisition community.
Since entering the acquisition workforce nearly 20 years ago, he has seen a lot of changes. So, what stands out as the biggest? “What comes to mind is the approachability of our leadership,” he said. “I’ve seen a huge improvement in communication over the years.” Communication has been emphasized by leaders across the Army, and has also become a priority at PEO CS&CSS. For example, Jeska takes part in quarterly off-site meetings with his counterparts and other staff from within Project Manager Transportation Systems. “We are located in different offices, so we may not really interact, otherwise,” he said. “We give it our full attention, away from our regular duties and distractions, and really learn from each other and share ideas.”
The importance of communication and building professional relationships is personal for Jeska, as well. It’s a lesson that goes back to his early years in Pennsylvania, when he learned the value of simplicity. “No matter who you are speaking with, never assume you know more than they do,” he said. “Ask questions to make sure you understand and work to find compromise. Never burn bridges.” He told a story about working through a problem with a colleague on a truck project a decade ago. Because he had established a good rapport with that individual, the two were able to defuse a very tense situation years later. “Tensions were high and very senior leaders were involved,” he recalled. “When I heard a familiar voice, I remembered our experience from many years back. In a matter of 10 minutes, he and I had found a path to resolution.”
That lesson is all the more relevant today, in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the associated challenges with sudden and prolonged remote work. Jeska said he sometimes sees telework creating inefficiencies for his team. “Things that would normally take five minutes are now more difficult,” he said. Before, he could pick up a paper, walk to an engineer’s office, and sketch out a solution in real time. “Now, I find myself making a few slides and adding some big arrows or illustrations to make things really clear,” he said. “Then we get on the phone and talk through it.” It may take a little longer these days, but effective communication is still a priority to him.
If he were crowned “King of Acquisition” for a day? “I would love to power down some of our decision-making to lower levels, to free up our PEOs and senior leaders to focus on higher-level decisions and steering the organization,” rather than being burdened with the minutiae of day-to-day business. “By empowering our people and clearly communicating their left and right limits, we could see faster decisions on routine matters.” Let them move the bales of hay, in other words, so the farmer can take care of bigger concerns.
“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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