When Cheryl Partee finished her final tour as a young active-duty Soldier, she found herself unemployed and looking for a new career.
After moving back home to Texas, her father suggested that she seek employment at Fort Hood. Drawing on skills she acquired while working on financial reports during active duty she got a job as a clerk typist, launching her career in public service.
Decades of financial experience later, Partee is now sharing her lessons learned. She currently serves as the director of workforce development and training for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management and Comptroller (ASA FM&C). In this role, she assists civilians with their financial management careers in the Army.
She said her career fulfillment stems from encouraging others in the field to leave their comfort zones and seek rewarding opportunities.
“A mentor is someone who helps you with skill development, career advice ... and giving that constant constructive feedback,” she said. “They help you plant your feet, knowing where you want to go and why, and what you need to do to get there.”
Partee’s dedication to civil service, with a background in finance and an affinity for mentoring, are qualities shared among several other high-ranking civilian women in the Army. Among this group is Kathleen Miller, the most senior career Army civilian who serves as the administrative assistant to the Secretary of the Army.
Charting a new path
Miller’s career in finance began when she was stationed overseas with her spouse. Despite recently graduating from Cornell University with a degree in applied economics, she explained that her job opportunities while stationed in Germany were limited.
However, there was one job description that closely aligned with her skill set: Army comptroller.
Since then she has served in many key positions on the Army staff, from operations and logistics roles to acting director of the Army Budget Office.
Currently serving as the administrative assistant to the Secretary of the Army, Miller is the principal career civilian advisor for all Army administrative and business matters. She believes that understanding money, and its applications in resourcing the Army as priorities change over time, is a critical skill set.
“I found that I could make a difference,” she said. “And that’s what fired me up for this career.”
Miller noted that as she rose to new leadership roles, she was one of few women on the Headquarters, Department of the Army staff. With only a handful of female leaders who had gone before her, she credits her mentors — many of whom were men — for helping her realize her potential.
Today when prospective mentees call Miller’s office to schedule one-on-one meetings, she gladly accepts. Before devoting time as a mentor, she considers their capacity to learn about themselves and desire to invest in the process.
“It’s a two-way street,” she said. “There needs to be an ability to build a mentee-mentor relationship, and they have to want that next step.”
Identifying and developing talent
Another high-ranking career civilian, Diane Randon, who serves as the Army’s assistant deputy chief of staff, G-2 (Intelligence), saw value in pursuing a path similar to Miller’s. However, her entrance into Army finance was far less deliberate.
Also stationed in Germany as a military spouse, she worked as an administrative assistant within the G-2 Resource Management Office, United States Army Europe (USAREUR). There, she gained an understanding of managing Army intelligence resources and found a mentor who encouraged her to pursue opportunities in finance.
“[My mentor at USAREUR] saw potential in me that I didn’t see,” she said. “I just wanted to do a good job.”
Randon held senior-level positions on the Army headquarters staff before assuming her current role.
While serving as the resources director within the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management, Randon saw unique talent in a new employee. That employee, Maura Mitchell, had just completed an internship focused on Army comptrollership.
“I’m a big fan of Maura,” said Randon. “She was always taking [my] intent, and creating more than I envisioned. She’s making a difference in this Army, and has so much more potential ahead of her.”
Mitchell now works in a lead role within the Army Budget Office, ASA (FM&C), and credits Randon for being a champion early in her career.
“[Randon’s] encouragement and belief in me ... has been what has enabled me to get to where I am today,” Mitchell said.
Several of Mitchell’s mentors encouraged her to attend the Defense Comptrollership Program at Syracuse University — the same program where Miller and Randon also earned their Master of Business Administration degrees. The DCP is open to civilians and Soldiers working within Army finance. Recent graduates, like Partee, now earn a dual MBA/Executive Master of Public Administration degree.
Though the academic rigor of the dual-degree program was difficult at times, Mitchell said that it was an extremely rewarding career move that opened doors for new roles and networking opportunities.
Shortly after graduating from DCP, Mitchell’s former co-workers encouraged her to meet with Priya Uppal. Uppal, then an intern with G-9 Operations Directorate, was unaware of the academic program, but was actively looking to pursue a master’s degree.
“I convinced Priya to put in an application ... and she was off to DCP shortly thereafter with a follow-on assignment in the G-9 Resources Directorate as a [financial analyst]!” Mitchell said.
A self-proclaimed “Army brat,” Uppal grew up around the Army with her father on active duty and much like Mitchell, heeded the call to public service after turning down other private industry opportunities. Her current position as a financial analyst with HQDA, Chief of Staff, G-9 involves programming funding for Army installations like the ones she grew up on.
Upon beginning her new position, Uppal realized she’d need help understanding the Army’s structure and how to manage her career. Her mentors have helped steer her in the right direction.
“[My mentor] said that I should consider taking care of the organization by giving back and applying my newly learned skill sets to ensure they were left in a better place than when I arrived,” she said, adding that this advice empowered her to succeed in that role.
The next generation of finance leaders
Miller, a trailblazer as a high-ranking woman at Army headquarters, said she believes the Army is a more welcoming place for women in leadership today because there are more women coming up in the ranks.
“There have been a lot of women who have carved a path for success, both in uniform and in civilian clothes,” she said. “What was at one time seen as an oddity to have a female in a meeting is no longer really seen that way.”
Randon also credited the women in the Army serving before her with making that possible.
“I’m very grateful for all the women who went before me,” she said. “If there were any glass ceilings shattered, or if there was any way they had to work harder, it gave me a pathway that was easier.”
According to Partee, 62% of the nearly 11,000 employees within the Army’s comptroller career field are women. With access to mentors and educational opportunities like DCP, the number of women represented in more senior ranks will likely rise.
Mitchell and Uppal, who represent the younger generation of women in Army finance roles, plan to dedicate their careers to public service like Partee, Miller and Randon. Their journey to finance leadership roles has already begun; Mitchell was recently asked to take on more responsibilities within the Army Budget Office, and Uppal was just promoted to a higher government service rank.
“The further you advance, the greater your opportunity to affect change and influence others,” Uppal said. “I feel like I have much more to learn, and so much more to give.”