March 27, 2014 --
By Jim Katzaman, MCSC Corporate Communications
In a sense, Charles Skipper was a plank holder in Marine Corps Systems Command before there was a plank. He came, made his mark and left before the command was formed. Yet, he built a legacy that rolls on to this day and will for years to come.
The retired colonel is now chairman of the Department of Engineering Leadership and Program Management in the School of Engineering at The Citadel, Charleston, S.C. Geographically separated from MCSC, he stays connected to the command as he advises students at the school.
Skipper is still tied to MCSC by educating personnel from Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command Atlantic supporting Marine Corps programs. Most recently, he asked Col. Ed Mays, assistant commander for Acquisition Logistics and Product Support, to speak to The Citadel’s project management graduate students on equipment sustainment and product support.
“Through the years, I counseled many junior and mid-career officers about what positions to seek in their career,” Skipper said. “I advised some to pursue acquisition positions in the Marine Corps. A few are in key positions now, others retired and stayed engaged through Civil Service jobs or contractor positions. I enjoy catching up with them from time to time. It is a much different acquisition world now with actual training, secondary [military occupational specialties] and the opportunity to be promoted because of possessing this much-needed and specialized acquisition expertise.”
His well-considered advice, culled from years of experience, is in stark contrast to his seat-of-the-pants, learn-on-the-fly adventure more than 30 years ago when he unexpectedly pioneered the creation of Light Armored Vehicles and the program to manage them from cradle to grave.
In May 1981, Skipper graduated from the U.S. Army Engineer Officer Advanced Course at Fort Belvoir, Va. He had been selected for major while at school and had orders to Quantico where he hoped to serve in what was then known as The Development Center.
“The adjutant greeted me warmly and said there was still some discussion going on about where I was to be assigned,” Skipper said. “I expected to be assigned to the Mobility and Logistics Division in the Engineer Branch because I had worked for them for two months before attending school.”
A few days later the adjutant said he had an assignment for the major to the newly formed LAV Directorate.
“I told [the adjutant], ‘Well, I know a little bit about Light Armored Vehicles, because I have been reading about them in a magazine—I don’t have any practical experience, but I will do the best I can,’” Skipper said. “The adjutant then told me, ‘You are going to be the ILS coordinator.’ I replied, ‘What does ILS stand for?’ He said, ‘Damned if I know, but I am sure you will figure it out.’”
The integrated logistics support coordinator soon learned other acronyms such as NSN and PEB – national stock number and pre-expended bin for nuts and bolts, respectively – among others. Concentrated on-the-job training was the norm for Skipper and the rest of the LAV Directorate cadre, which consisted of two colonels, one lieutenant colonel, seven majors, one captain, three civilian engineers and a couple secretaries. The pressure was on for the Corps to purchase an LAV using off-the-shelf technology. The next two years would prove to be a very intense, challenging and rewarding period in their careers.
“As the story goes, Brig. Gen. Al Gray, the director of the Development Center, had been invited to testify before Congress,” Skipper said. “The hearings were regarding the ability of American armed forces to intervene in Southwest Asia in the aftermath of the failed rescue operation to free American hostages from Iran. It was widely understood that we lacked many logistic items such as modern water purification equipment and refueling equipment.
“The big void, however, was a means to move troops long distances at high speeds in the desert and being able to engage with firepower when you got there,” Skipper said. “This was a mission ill-suited to tanks, Marine Corps Amtraks and Army personnel carriers. The Army representative testified that the normal development cycle for a new item of ground equipment was 10 years. When General Gray was asked, he replied that if you give the Marine Corps the funding, we will purchase an item off the shelf, outfit it with our weapons systems and communications equipment, and have it ready in a year. So, the Marine Corps got the funding, and off we went.”
The two colonels in the LAV Directorate had acquisition training. The rest of the team, including Skipper, were trained on the job, and Skipper said he learned about integrated logistics support pretty quickly. Over the course of his first year at the Development Center he made 25 trips to U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Command in Warren, Mich. The Army provided them extensive support on technical matters.
“A Ph.D. at TACOM helped me conduct the Manpower and Training Impact Analysis for the Marine Corps and Army,” Skipper said. “I also made several trips to Albany, Ga., where civilian experts with 35 years of experience peppered me with questions about training manuals, NSNs, PEBs and related issues. My learning curve was steep, but by the summer of 1982, an integrated logistics support memorandum of understanding between the Army and Marine Corps had been negotiated, candidate vehicles had been extensively tested, and the General Motors of Canada LAV-25 eight-wheeled vehicle was chosen by the Marine System and Acquisition Requirements Committee.”
The LAV program office then transitioned to Tank-Automotive Command at Warren, and Skipper was reassigned to the Mobility and Logistics Division. There he became the Marine Corps land mine warfare developmental project officer.
“This proved to be another fast-moving train,” he said. “The Marine Corps had deployed forces to Beirut. World War II and Korean War veterans were disgusted when they saw on the evening news that Marines were probing for land mines with bayonets, just like their fathers had done before them. That caused congressional interest, and in my year at this position our mine-countermine budget jumped from $4 million to $16 million.”
With two captains and one staff sergeant, the division completed the test results and recommendations for “service use and acquisition” for the M-58 Trailer Mounted Line Charge and the LVTP7A1 Mine Clearance System Kit. They also generated eight requirement documents and started on test plans, covering everything from tank-mounted track-width mine-clearing plows, to breach lane markers, to vehicle-mounted electronic mine detectors. At the end of two years at the Development Center, Skipper reported to Marine Corps Command and Staff College as a student.
“Regretfully, my last formal work with Marine Corps Systems Command – The Development Center – was in 1983,” he said. “However, over the years while in command of engineering and logistic units, we participated in equipment tests for MCSC.”
After retiring from the Marine Corps as a colonel in 2000, Skipper earned a Ph.D. in civil engineering at Clemson University, S.C., before assuming his position at The Citadel.
“Our main focus is the Master of Science in project management, although we do teach a few undergraduate courses in engineering management,” he said. “The master’s degree was just started three years ago and was specifically designed as a night program for working professionals. It is growing rapidly, and our graduates are doing well.”
While his time in MCSC’s predecessor command was brief, he saw the fruits of his labor many years thereafter.
“In 1990, I was the commanding officer of 8th
Engineer Support Battalion,” Skipper said. “We deployed to Saudi Arabia in support of Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Our battalion provided bulk fuel and tactical refueling support to all types of vehicles, to include the LAVs. I was so very pleased to see the great success enjoyed on the battlefield by the LAVs. Our battalion also participated in the breaching of the minefields for 2nd
Marine Division. Again, I was very pleased to see the success of the M-58 Trailer Mounted line charges and Amtrak internally mounted line charges. That was the fulfillment of my hard work in the Development Center – seeing equipment that we had worked so hard to develop help our Marine Corps be successful in battle.”