REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. – It’s the fly on the wall moments. Learning the details that can make or break a presentation. Anticipating the need before it is even voiced.
While developmental assignments have long been known in the Department of Defense for their ability to increase an employee’s skills, knowledge and experience, at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center there exists a unique opportunity to not only grow in one’s career, but also in understanding of the inner-workings and mission of AvMC: the executive officer assignment.
“Now I actually see what the center does and what other opportunities there are,” said Brian Ziegenbein, XO for AvMC Executive Director Dr. Juanita M. Christensen. “It’s kind of like, before I was focused on one drop of water and then I found out I was in an ocean. The idea is that you get more experience and exposure dealing with high-level matters that you would otherwise not get to see.”
Ziegenbein has served as Christensen’s XO since February. He is one of four XOs within the center to serve a six or nine month detail in the position. In addition to XO to the executive director, an XO is assigned to the director of each of the center’s three directorates. Interested AvMC federal employees apply and interview for the positions.
COVID-19 has changed the job some. Due to the center’s maximum telework posture, the start date for the next rotation of XOs is on hold for now. Responsibilities primarily focus on “ensuring senior leaders have the right information to make decisions, learning how they guide the workforce, and communicating their intent,” said Jeffrey Gaddes, the most recent XO for Barry Pike, director of the Technology Development Directorate. A typical day may include prepping charts, helping to manage calendars, handing out business cards or responding to emails on their behalf.
“I gained an improved understanding of the AvMC’s mission and customers, perspective that decisions are not made in a vacuum, and how to better care for people,” said Gaddes, who applied for an XO position for the opportunity to learn leadership skills directly from Army senior leaders. “AvMC leadership tirelessly works to improve the Army and care for the workforce. Senior leaders can quickly understand the details and focus on what matters.”
Both agreed the XO assignment is an eye-opening experience.
“You really don’t understand just how hard they’re working and how much they consider before they make decisions,” Ziegenbein said. “There are so many things to keep track of – it’s pretty amazing that they’re able to do it so well.”
Once the developmental assignment is complete the XOs can return to their previous positions within AvMC, or use the contacts and knowledge they’ve gained to pursue new opportunities within the center.
“No one should expect a promotion or expect to get exactly the job they want, it’s more of you can now talk to people and find out what’s available, and what the organizational needs are and how your skills might align with that,” Ziegenbein said.
The CCDC Aviation & Missile Center, formerly known as the Aviation & Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC), is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, which conducts responsive research, development and life cycle engineering to deliver the aviation and missile capabilities the Army depends on to ensure victory on the battlefield today and tomorrow. Through collaboration across the command's core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our nation's wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.