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Acquisition officers: two paths to the same rewards

By Jim Katzaman, MCSC Corporate Communications | | June 2, 2014

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June 2, 2014 -- Only a few years ago he swore he would never come back to the acquisition field. Yet, Col. Mike Manning is glad he returned to Marine Corps Systems Command. 

Today, as program manager of Infantry Weapons Systems at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, Manning speaks with the fervor of the converted, hoping to persuade other younger Marine officers to follow in his footsteps to have more impact on the Corps than they ever imagined. 

“I did a tour in IWS and swore I’d never come back,” he said. “Then I spent six years in the field and saw the stuff we provide for the Marine Corps. When you think about everything we do and our impact upon young Marines, I saw it firsthand both here and in the field.” 

The colonel spoke at the Acquisition Professional Officer Operational Advisory Group held May 13 at Quantico for veteran, new and potential acquisition officers. During the daylong gathering, the officers discussed how to maintain the health of the acquisition workforce along with requirements and expectations for those entering the field. 

While Manning talked to the group at Quantico, Maj. Troy Peterson was getting his feet wet at Camp Pendleton, California, as one of the newest Marine Corps ground acquisition professional officers. Together, the colonel and major have their own perspectives on entering and succeeding in the acquisition field. 

The Acquisition Professional Officer Operational Advisory Group “is the key tool for growing the acquisition community,” said Scott Adams, assistant ground acquisition occupation field sponsor and organizer of the meeting. He added, “This is a competitive career field.” 

Participants talked about why they came into the acquisition workforce, and Manning relished his time to speak. He recalled that after his time in the field, he reached a crossroads. Leaders he trusted and relied on urged him to move into a command position, but he was conflicted. 

A self-described “grunt by trade,” Manning was an infantry officer. He commanded at the platoon, company and battalion level. 

“My mentors told me to pick up a regiment,” he said. “I was humbled by their confidence in me, but I thought I could have more impact on the Marine Corps if I came back to acquisition. If you get a little experience in the field and come back, your impact can be phenomenal.” 

As a senior leader at MCSC, the colonel said he has an even deeper appreciation of how the command affects Marines’ lives. 

“I know for a fact what our program managers do, and that’s how I know we’re having an impact on Marines,” Manning said.

Leaders from Manning’s previous tour strongly encouraged the reluctant officer to get his certification as an acquisition professional. 

“I got Level III certified because I was made to get it,” Manning said. “They told me I’d need it when I came back. I said there was no way I would ever come back, but I did.” 

Manning said he had no regrets about his career choice and unabashedly made a pitch for younger listeners to follow his lead. 

“There’s no place else you can have such an impact on every phase of a Marine’s life as we do here,” Manning said. “Tell yourselves I’m going to do this for however long I can to have an impact on the Marine Corps.” 

A week after the Acquisition Professional Officer Operational Advisory Group met, Peterson returned from his trip to California, continuing his orientation as a new ground acquisition professional officer. He pinned on his major rank in February, having been selected in December’s Lateral Move Board to enter the field.

Before his selection he was a ground supply officer. He then received a master’s degree in business administration focused on material logistics from Naval Postgraduate School. At MCSC since 2012, Peterson had been assigned to the combat operations center, serving as the project officer. He said converting to acquisition gives him a sense of accomplishment. 

“If you work hard as a young officer, you can field credible equipment to our operational forces,” he said. “I liked moving into the project management competency. It lets me coordinate between engineers designing systems and loggies focused on sustainment. Working in the [integrated product team] structure is an opportunity to learn more about systems engineering; test and evaluation; logistics; human systems integration; and information assurance. You need to know a little about all the competencies to bring them together.” 

Such experiences can accumulate over a career, but Peterson sees benefits sooner rather than later. 

“As a captain and major in acquisition, you can make an early mark as a Marine Corps officer,” he said. “There are new challenges each day. In [combat operations center] platforms there are always IT and software challenges because the systems are always evolving.” 

The major said the key to acquisition is to come into the field with an open mind.  

“After you wrap your head around all the acronyms and terminology, you have to resist the temptation to be content with the status quo,” he said. “For instance, if you have lots of people in huge meetings, is that efficient? We need to make the best use of our resources and dollars in times of budget constraints.” 

Patience is another virtue for a newcomer. 

“On day one you won’t understand the total concept of the technical problems we face,” Peterson said. “However, there are plenty of Marines who want you to succeed. Take your time, and think outside the box. Change can be a good thing.” 

He also advised Marines to look at the big picture and focus on supporting the warfighter. 

“Have moral courage,” he said. “As project officers, you have to be realistic on cost, schedules and performance. If you see things are not going where they ought to be going, stop the train before it goes off the tracks.” 

A colonel who came late to the party and a young officer just feeling his oats reached the same conclusion: Being an acquisition professional is good for the officer and good for the Corps.

 


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