Organization: 925th Contracting Battalion and MICC-Fort Drum, New York
Position: Deputy to the commander
Time with the MICC: 16 years, 9 months
Previous positions with the MICC include contract specialist, system administrator, procurement analyst, contracting officer, business operations chief, contracts division chief and director.
What attracted you to the Army Acquisition Corps?
My father and grandparents served in the U.S. Army, and I have lived close to Fort Drum my entire life. When I was offered the opportunity to support the warfighter, it was an easy decision, and I have never looked back. This career path has been extremely rewarding and I would recommend it highly.
What contributed most to your professional development and growth with the MICC?
I was 25 years old when I started my career at the Fort Drum Directorate of Contracting. We were a tightknit office of just over 20 people. Everyone was so welcoming and willing to share their knowledge. Many of my co-workers were close to retirement age and had more years of experience than I had lived. Despite the age difference we were all here for one purpose, and that feeling was felt throughout the entire office -- support the warfighter no matter what. I owe them all so much, everyone wanted to share with me their challenges, their successes, their failures, their overall experience that led to their lessons learned. I took advantage of this and learned as much as I could in a short period of time. What I learned from this group early on in my career was that the support we give to the warfighter is paramount to the success U.S. Army.
Contracting is a force multiplier that touches every part of the warfighter. Through construction renovation contracts we help house Soldiers, through dining facility contracts we help feed Soldiers, and we contract for training and training aids that train the Soldiers. Everything the warfighter needs to train, fight and win is provided by a contracting officer somewhere in the world. Providing the right contractor, for the right price, at the right time helps to ensure the warfighter gets the training they need to safeguard the U.S. Army’s position as the most lethal force on the planet. In turn, it provides the United States with the freedom, safety and security that it cherishes.
The next major thing that I learned from this group is that contracting is tough. You only learn from experience, and you are going to make mistakes along the way. Being so much younger with so much less experience, I was able to make a lot of mistakes in my early years. My mistakes were met with understanding and compassion from my co-workers. I was challenged early on with the toughest assignments and encouraged to find my own path to success. I was eager to prove myself and was given the opportunity to fix my own mistakes so I could learn from them. My co-workers began retiring quickly, and opportunities for promotion came fast for me. I went from a GS-7 to a GS-14 in just over seven years. Looking back, I don’t think I was ready for some of the promotions, but I love a challenge, and I tackled each of them with the lessons I learned from my early mentors. It’s important to have confidence in yourself to move fast and know that even if you make a mistake, you can fix it. Nobody will judge you harder than you will judge yourself, so don’t panic, ask for help if you need it, and if you keep the warfighter as the top priority, you will be successful.
What developmental assignments have enhanced your acquisition skills and leadership?
I wasn’t a very good mentor, coach or supervisor when I first stepped into leadership positions. I recognized this in myself early on, and I wanted to be successful. So, I challenged myself to take leadership courses every year. The Civilian Education System leader development programs are amazing as well as the Army Acquisition Leadership Challenge Program. What I learned is when you find yourself in a conflict situation with people, you can mentor, advise, encourage or coach, but you can’t change people. In a conflict situation the only person that you can change is yourself. It was difficult for me when I was younger to look in the mirror and realize that the person that needed to change was me. I am incredibly grateful for the leadership opportunities that I was able to take advantage of. The further I advanced, the more I realized that you cannot accomplish anything without people. The better you are at motivating and coaching your staff, the better your own performance will be. Leaders are only successful if those they lead are successful.
I did a developmental assignment with MICC Headquarters Contracting Operations Directorate in 2016. We used big data to analyze the category spend of the MICC and determined that the largest volume of purchases were supplies under the simplified acquisition threshold. At that time, the MICC was struggling with manpower cuts, and I was tasked to develop a modernization project to reduce touch labor on this category of spend. The idea was that supplies less than the simplified acquisition threshold were the lowest risk acquisitions and reducing manpower on these actions freed up manpower for the more difficult, higher priority actions.
I was given a lot of leeway in the assignment, but more importantly, I was given encouragement.
The MICC commanding general at the time told me to take risk and if you fail it’s ok, because we need to try something different. This gave me the green light to be extremely creative, and I developed the Simplified Acquisition Threshold Supply Procurement Program. S2P2 has been extremely successful at solving the touch labor reduction problem statement I was assigned. S2P2 awards over 2,000 contract actions a year with just 15 people; this is more contract actions than any other MICC office and utilizes half the people. There were challenges, mistakes and hurdles, but in the end, this process I developed is unique and had never been tried before and has been a great success. Proving, if you’re willing to accept risk and know mistakes will happen, you can develop something that no one has ever seen but now everyone wants.
In 2018, I also completed a six-month developmental assignment as the 419th Contracting Support Brigade deputy. This was the most rewarding experience of my career. Instead of leading one contracting office, I got to lead seven. I was invigorated from the new challenges; I went back to my beginning and learned as much as I could in a short period of time. I am proud of my accomplishments, and I proved to myself that I could lead at a higher level. Without a doubt, the lessons I learned during this assignment made me a better leader.
How do you apply your MICC experiences and development in leading your team today?
Contracting can be tough to learn, the Federal Acquisition Regulation alone has 53 parts, 2,000-plus pages, but we also have the Defense supplement, Army supplement as well as the Army Materiel Command, Army Contracting Command and Mission and Installation Contracting Command policies and legal precedent set by the Government Accountability Office we must follow. Additionally, contracting professionals are expected to be experts in technical writing. The thing that I strive for as a leader is to build a culture and a climate in which junior contracting professionals can challenge themselves in a safe environment. I want them to know if they make a mistake, it will not be met with disappointment or reprimand but with acceptance and help. I want to give everyone that works for me top cover to ensure that they are not discouraged from their mistakes but excited to overcome challenges.
I have learned that it doesn’t matter how fast you move or how many times you second guess yourself, you are going to make a mistake, so there is no point in second guessing yourself. How leadership treats you after you make a mistake directly impacts your confidence. I don’t ever want anyone in my organization to feel like leadership is disappointed in them for a mistake, because then they will start second guessing every decision they make, and it will slow contracting production to a halt.
What advice would you offer interns or newer members of the command?
Only you can decide on what you want out of your career. If your goal is to be a division chief or higher, you must take advantage of every opportunity you are provided. Say yes to every task assigned and work hard to successfully complete it. Do not compete with your peers and let the perception of others’ workload efforts impact your performance. Compete with yourself. Strive every day to learn something new, to do something better, and to ensure the warfighter is taken care of. Truly understand how each and every contract impacts the warfighter, and you will build an intrinsic motivation that will ensure you have job satisfaction every day regardless of the climate and culture of your office. The world meets no one halfway, if you want it, go get it; that includes your own happiness at work.
Editor’s note: This is part of a series of personnel features highlighting members across the enterprise who have developed as leaders with the Mission and Installation Contracting Command and its legacy organization. The MICC offers numerous opportunities for professional development and growth throughout the command providing newer and seasoned acquisition professionals a chance to learn and grow into the next generation of leaders.
About the MICC
Headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, the Mission and Installation Contracting Command consists of about 1,300 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.