JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Sept. 27, 2022) -- A career elementary school educator is transitioning from her calling of teaching students in the classroom to ensuring Soldiers have what they need when called upon to deploy at a moment’s notice.
Amy Eilerts, a contract specialist with the Mission and Installation Contracting Command at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, began her federal service career Sept. 12 after having spent the last 17 years teaching students in third through sixth grades. Although she’s finds it trying to leave a profession struggling to attract new teachers across the country, the International Falls, Minnesota, native believes her new career as an Army acquisition professional reaffirms an enduring path to support others.
“I wanted to be a teacher, because I wanted to do something impactful, and I knew I wanted to always feel like I was helping people,” Eilerts said. “My mom and uncle were both teachers, so it felt like a natural fit. I love learning, have a passion for math education, and hoped to inspire kids to become lifelong learners.”
As part of her research of different careers in which to transition, she found striking similarities in the opportunity to support the contracting needs of Soldiers.
“It was really important to me. I still wanted to do something where I’m still making an impact and supporting others,” she said. “I’ll be able to support the mission and help support Soldiers and the government in any way I can. I’m brand new to the contracting job … but from talking with some friends and the people with whom I networked, it’s definitely still a place and a role where I’ll be able to continue making an impact.”
Eilerts, who holds a Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of North Dakota and a Master of Arts in Education from Western Colorado University, enters her new career with some knowledge of the military services. Her grandfather served in the Army during World War II and her uncle was an Army Reservist. Her husband, Ryan, is an Air Force veteran who has worked for the Army Network Enterprise Technology Command the past 12 years. Upon her husband’s decision earlier this spring to accept a promotion as division chief for cyber and business requiring a relocation to Dugway Proving Ground, Eilerts found herself at a crossroads while still teaching at Columbia Elementary School in Colorado Springs.
“After some soul searching, I began to explore career options outside of classroom teaching. I signed up for a course designed for teachers interested in changing careers. The course helps former teachers navigate the path to their next career, from job searching and networking to resume writing and interviewing,” she said. “I started networking on LinkedIn and various Facebook groups, crafting my resume to transition out of teaching, and searching positions in education curriculum companies and federal positions on USAJOBS.”
She spotted an opening for a contract specialist at Dugway Proving Ground and promptly reached out to a former classmate with experience in government contracting as well as found former teacher Heather Pankow on LinkedIn after also having recently begun a new career as a contract specialist at MICC-Fort Bliss, Texas, at the time. After gaining a better perspective on the career field and advice on resume building, Eilerts thought it would be a good fit.
“Heather said it was a fantastic change for her and gave me advice about interviewing and resume building to kind of ‘unteacherfy’ my resume and make it more applicable to some roles I was researching. So I decided to do a little more research and reach out to a couple of more people I knew had government contracting experience and heard really great things. And with my personality type, it seemed to be a good fit.”
And over the first two weeks of federal service in Army acquisition, Eilerts is convinced she’s made the right decision and has been impressed with the professionalism experienced in the office.
“It’s a small office, so everybody is a good team player and very welcoming. I’m really excited about all of the possibilities of training ahead,” she said. “I'm excited for this new opportunity. I can tell that everybody is pretty close, and they enjoy their jobs. Everybody is smiling, and I know it’s a stressful time of year, too.”
September is typically the busiest time of year for contracting professionals at Dugway Proving Ground and across the MICC as they work against the looming end of the government fiscal year to execute contract actions and funds by supported units.
Eilerts joins the acquisition career field following the DOD’s transition to the Back to Basics functional area training requirements framework implemented earlier this year. Having registered for two Defense Acquisition University classes on market research, she looks forward to continued training and professional development opportunities, all under the meaningful guidance of the contracting office director, Jim Keetch, and contracting officer Paul Frailey.
“They take the time to sit in my office and talk to me about contracting and give me great analogies and examples to wrap my head around what I’m doing. They’re both really great leaders,” she said. “That’s a change since I came from an environment where the leadership wasn’t quite what I needed and what would have made me successful and potentially could have made me stay in teaching. It’s definitely a breath of fresh air to see good leadership.”
Eilerts also cited the challenges between having to switch between online and in-person learning due to the COVID pandemic, student and parent behavior as well as partisan initiatives finding their way into education among the factors in her decision to switch careers. However, the biggest consideration was the inability to leave work at work.
“I was constantly taking work home and working on weekends, working at night, and that led to less time with my family, mental health challenges and burnout,” she said. “There’s just a lot of pressure, so after a little bit of soul searching and learning that we were going to move from Colorado Springs to Utah, it was a good time in my life and at my age to begin searching for something that would be fulfilling aside from education.”
In addition to an improved work-life balance, Eilerts is also excited for the increased opportunities for learning and professional growth. As an educator, she felt there were fewer avenues to pursue other than administration or curriculum specialist at a district level.
“I’m a lifelong learner, and I love to learn,” she said. “I’m excited for the prospect of as I learn, there’s an ability to move up and broaden my horizons. That was a very attractive element of this career field.”
And as she found in her education career, the benefits of federal service to include the opportunity to earn a pension proved to be a rewarding draw to service.
Eilerts admits that she’ll miss her students along with the relationships she’s built with co-workers over the last 17 years, but believes that the skills honed over that time has prepared her to take on her new role.
“At first I thought, what else could I do with a teaching degree? I believe teachers think that once they get a degree in education, that’s the only thing for which they’re qualified. Different skills cross over from teaching to other positions,” Eilerts emphasized. “Teachers have the ability to absorb and transmit information really quickly, we’re good at managing stress, multitasking, meeting deadlines, have great oral and written communication skills, and are organized with attention to detail. All of those things transition very well to other careers.”
About the MICC
Headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, the Mission and Installation Contracting Command consists of about 1,500 military and civilian members who are responsible for contracting goods and services in support of Soldiers as well as readying trained contracting units for the operating force and contingency environment when called upon. As part of its mission, MICC contracts are vital in feeding more than 200,000 Soldiers every day, providing many daily base operations support services at installations, facilitate training in the preparation of more than 100,000 conventional force members annually, training more than 500,000 students each year, and maintaining more than 14.4 million acres of land and 170,000 structures.