DEVCOM deputy to the commanding general receives Presidential Rank Award

By Argie Sarantinos, DEVCOM Public AffairsJanuary 18, 2022

Mr. John Willison, DEVCOM deputy to the commanding general, recently joined a select group of Senior Executive Service federal employees to earn the prestigious Presidential Rank Award.
Mr. John Willison, DEVCOM deputy to the commanding general, recently joined a select group of Senior Executive Service federal employees to earn the prestigious Presidential Rank Award. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Mr. John Willison, DEVCOM deputy to the commanding general, recently joined a select group of Senior Executive Service federal employees to earn the prestigious Presidential Rank Award.

“DEVCOM conducts research and development, engineering and analysis, but it is really a people business and therefore a team sport. While this is an individual award, it is really a recognition of what the command has done and continues to do on a regular basis,” Willison said.

Willison is one of 230 people across 37 agencies who received the Presidential Rank Award. The award was first established by the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act to recognize federal career employees for their extraordinary work and commitment to public service. It is the highest honor given to federal career employees.

Willison began his federal career in 1986, and he was appointed to the Senior Executive Service in August, 2011. In his current role at U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, or DEVCOM, Willison provides strategic direction and leads the Talent Management Strategy. He said working with civilian talent management and seeing DEVCOM realize its potential as an integrated command have been a couple of his proudest moments.

“One of the best outcomes is the evolution of DEVCOM from independent organizations working under the same two-star headquarters to a team that regularly and proactively collaborates across the command,” Willison said. “Being a part of that team of teams and leveraging the full power of the command has been very rewarding.”

DEVCOM is the Army’s largest technology developer with a team of 15,000 people that includes about 11,000 scientists, engineers and analysts who develop cutting-edge technology across a wide array of disciplines. This unique workforce makes DEVCOM a natural thought leader to pioneer a Future of Work model, a project Willison has spearheaded. DEVCOM, which is a major subordinate command of Army Futures Command, is shaping the development and implementation of the Future of Work concept and model for the Army.

The Future of Work model is a natural progression of DEVCOM’s Talent Management Strategy, which includes leveraging the current talent base and adding new talent to deliver integrated research, engineering and analytics. Future of Work embraces a “work from where you work best” culture that enables DEVCOM to compete more effectively in an increasingly competitive talent market by proactively building agile, adaptive and diverse talent pools.

“DEVCOM is composed of a highly skilled, unique workforce where one size does not fit all. As we conceived what the Future of Work will look like, we needed to take a hard look at how we’ve operated in the past to determine ways we can work differently, and more effectively, in the future,” said Maj. Gen. Miles Brown, DEVCOM commanding general. “John’s leadership in building our Future of Work concept and subsequent pilot is just one example of his vision, energy and expertise the Presidential Rank Award commends.”

DEVCOM recently moved into the pilot phase of its Future of Work concept to build the talent needed to execute the mission now and in the future. An important part of the Future of Work model is the shift from reactively filling vacancies to proactively building the talent needed to deliver science, technology and engineering in support of the Army’s modernization priorities.

“We’re starting to see the dividends of our five-year talent management initiative which includes strategic, command-level energy and attention toward finding and acquiring the talent we need, and developing the talent we have. First and foremost, we are taking care of our people as we continue to push the command forward to complete its mission,” Willison said.

Willison is a strong advocate of mentoring and sponsoring peers, which is a key component to proactively building the workforce. He is a certified executive coach in organizational wellbeing, which he practices across the command. Willison notes that the difference between mentoring and coaching is a mentor encourages a specific direction whereas a coach leads a self-guided exploration.

Willison’s advice to new government employees is to get involved and build a network of peers.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions and jump in on projects. Also, find people who will mentor, be a coach, and offer advice, and keep that network active throughout your career,” Willison said. “My career has been a series of lessons learned and experiences, and the key is to learn from these and move forward with the experience and knowledge you acquire.”

Two other members of the DEVCOM team received the Presidential Rank Award in the Meritorious Senior Professional category for the Department of the Army. Those members are: Dr. Ramanathan ‘Nagu’ Nagarajan, a senior research scientist at DEVCOM Soldier Center and Dr. Brian Sadler, a senior research scientist at DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory. All of the recipients were selected by President Joseph Biden from nominations submitted by the Office of Personnel Management.


The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, known as DEVCOM, is home to thousands of the Army’s scientists, engineers, technicians, and analysts located around the globe that leverage cutting-edge technologies to empower the American Warfighter with the data and abilities to see, sense, make decisions and act faster than our adversaries – today and in the future.

As part of the Army Futures Command, Team DEVCOM takes risks to find new solutions every single day. Our experts drive innovation, improve existing technologies, and engineer solutions to technical limitations. Our work goes beyond theory to simulation and prototyping. We take potential S&T solutions from the lab “into the dirt” for experimentation alongside Soldiers. DEVCOM prides itself as a global ecosystem of innovators, from world-class universities and large defense contractors, to small minority-owned businesses and allied international partners.