MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. --
In October, Marc Paquette retires as the Deputy Portfolio Manager for Logistics Combat Element Systems at Marine Corps Systems Command after 47 years of federal service.
His impressive career took him from Air Force mechanic to his most recent role, overseeing 300 Marine Corps acquisition programs. However, his journey began with a substantial challenge— learning English.
From Montreal to the Sunshine State
Paquette grew up in Montreal, Canada, as the youngest of four siblings. He recalls his love for aviation beginning while listening to his grandfather’s stories about testing World War II military planes.
“He test-piloted the airplanes being manufactured in Canada for the war,” he said. “When I was a young lad he used to describe sitting on an orange crate with just the bare minimum instruments to go fly the airplanes and make sure they were air worthy before they finished them.”
His exploration into aviation would continue as he got older, but not necessarily the way he had planned.
The native French speaker was in for a surprise when, at 14, his parents announced they were moving to the sandy beaches of St. Petersburg, Florida.
As a sophomore, his new high school placed him in less demanding classes for the first semester to give him a chance to gain language proficiency. He took wood, automotive and electrical shop classes and English Literature. However, if he was unsuccessful after the first semester, he would have to repeat the ninth grade.
“The stars were aligned for me,” he said. “Madame Rousson from Jamaica spoke perfect French and was a great help.”
He finished his first semester with passing grades and got to finish tenth grade on time.
His wood shop class project also allowed him to use his new skills to build a KR-1 fiberglass and foam airplane with a Volkswagen engine.
“One of the teachers leading the project was also a private pilot,” he recalled. “He took me up to fly in a small Aerobatic Aeronca three or four times.”
From his grandfather’s stories to his first introduction to flying—Paquette’s dream was to be a pilot.
Into the Wild Blue Yonder
Although Paquette did not have the money to become a commercial pilot or the citizenship requirement to become an Air Force pilot, he did not let that stand in his way.
He enlisted in the Air Force in 1975, shortly after turning 17, and began his career as a flight line mechanic working on mechanical, electrical and hydraulic systems.
“Ten years later I earned my degree and got a slot to become a pilot but was medically disqualified,” Paquette said. “That’s ok. I still became a private pilot, jumped out of airplanes, and did all the things I wanted to do.”
Paquette then became an Air Force maintenance officer leading F4-E, F-4G, F-16 and A-10 squadrons. He also had the honor of being the maintenance officer on the Air Force Aerial Demonstration Squadron, also known as the Thunderbirds.
He spent the last three years of his 21-year Air Force career in acquisition where he was the Assistant Program Manager for Logistics on two successive ACAT-1 programs— the Joint Stand-Off Weapon and the Joint Air-to-Surface Missile.
“We had a superlative challenge in front of us where we had to pull out all of the stops, leadership-wise, to make it to a milestone for this joint standoff weapon program,” he said. “I learned acquisition on-the-fly and we made the milestone.”
Through that experience, Paquette discovered another passion in his life —acquisition.
“What’s really neat about acquisition is you have a set of rules, you have to work within those rules, and paint between those lines, but there is so much freedom between those lines to make things happen successfully,” he explained. “There are so many ways to attack a problem and invoke creativity to achieve absolute success.”
Joining the Marine Corps Team
Following his Air Force retirement, Paquette joined the Marine Corps acquisition team, working on programs including the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement; various motor transportation programs; two stints in the Infantry Weapons Systems portfolio; the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle; the Marine Personnel Carrier Program, now known as the Amphibious Combat Vehicle; and the Global Combat Support System-Marine Corps.
“In 2017, as the Command stood up the portfolio construct, Marc assumed the entire burden of creating the soon-to-be LCES organization,” said Col. Jeffrey Stower, portfolio manager, Ground Combat Element Systems. “When I transferred back to MCSC to be the portfolio manager, there wasn't a detail omitted--he was truly the engine behind that organization from its start. The programs within the portfolio benefited greatly from his vast [program manager] experience, as he could always mentor ‘what right looks like.’ But perhaps more importantly, he displayed what a solid, humble leader looked like—always concerned for the welfare of the team, and never seeking the spotlight.”
While LCES may not seem like the most exciting portfolio in the Marine Corps, logistics systems are critical to achieving the Commandant’s vision for Force Design 2030.
“What’s more important than a water purification system in a backpack for a Marine?” he asked. “What’s more important for Marines than a good tent on top of them when they’re sleeping at night, a warm meal, a resuscitative system onsite with medical equipment, a solid truck and fuel systems? And without our $3B AMMO programs, we’re just another travel club.”
These systems are crucial for the fight and the individual Marine. Paquette added, LCES programs are absolutely vital in support of Force Design and to the welfare of our Marines and their equipment.
When asked about the accomplishment he was most proud of, he struggled to choose just one but treasures his final assignment as the Deputy Portfolio Manager for LCES.
“My favorite and most rewarding time with Marine Corps acquisition has been with my current team where we fielded hundreds of systems and much-needed gear for the benefit of our Marines,” he said.
Since 2014, Paquette has also raised more than $20,000 for the command’s Marine Corps Birthday Ball.
“Any day any of us can say we are positively impacting the lives of our Marines is a good day,” Paquette said. “Raising these funds lowered the cost and at times paid for our enlisted Marines to attend the MCSC Ball.”
Impossible n’est pas français
Famously attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, impossible n’est pas français is the French equivalent of “nothing is impossible”— something Paquette has demonstrated throughout his career with his resilience, leadership abilities and positive outlook.
“Something I want to share with people is positional leadership,” he said. “You can impact a program wherever you are. You don’t have to be the big boss. You don’t have to be the deputy, the lead engineer…wherever you are, make an impact.”
Paquette says leadership starts with respect and taking time to address questions and concerns from those you lead is essential.
“It starts with respect at all levels. If we find ourselves becoming arrogant to folks in positions below us, then we need to move on and get out of the way,” he said.
His positive attitude and dedication to mentoring permeate throughout the command.
“Out of all of the many supervisors and managers that I have worked with at the command, Marc Paquette is one of few that I have admired for his leadership abilities and dedication to his workforce members,” said Warren Williams, division manager, Human Capital Management, Marine Corps Systems Command.
Paquette is a role model to MCSC employees in and out of uniform.
“Marc is a real professional and passionate about the business of equipping our Marines,” said Col. Kirk Mullins, former chief of staff, Marine Corps Systems Command. “I personally credit him with making a significant contribution to my own professional and personal development when I worked for him at [Direct Reporting Program Advanced Amphibious Assault]. As a brand new Major who was new to defense acquisition, there was so much I didn't know. Marc always made time for me, whether it was coming in early or staying late with me and for me...he never missed a chance to teach me. I am forever grateful. I would not be where I am today without his mentoring.”
If Paquette has one regret, it is not making more time for his family earlier in his career. He encourages others to make that time.
“Something I didn’t learn until late in my career, and something I share with all of my direct reports, is the pie,” he said. “I draw a circle on a piece of paper and I cut the pie. I cut eight or 10 triangles and the first triangle at the top is family, then religion if that’s in your making, then health, self, and so on. Get a balance now.”
In his experience, when you give people time to dedicate to all areas of their pie, they will be happier and work harder.
“Marc Paquette exemplifies the truest form of pure positive leadership that I have been honored to observe in my career as an acquisition professional and as a United States Marine,” said Col. Wendell Leimbach, Jr., director, Joint Intermediate Force Capabilities Office. “His tireless work ethic and absolute sincerity in the wellbeing of the people around him, have humbled me on more than one occasion. Marc is a role model, mentor and friend that I will always admire."
Poodles, planes and endless possibilities
Paquette lights up as he talks about spending more time with his wife of 46 years, Julie, and the adventures that lie ahead.
“It has been a fast paced, hard-working, rewarding 47 years and for the first few months, I am going to take my pack off and do things for myself and my wife Julie who has patiently concentrated on my career for so long...time to take care of her and us,” he said.
He also plans to spend time with his three sons, grandchildren and training his poodle, Rusty. First on his list is visiting his youngest son, an Army CH-47 pilot, to welcome their fifth grandchild in the fall.
Traveling across Canada and jumping back in the cockpit are also on his list.
“I am super proud of my Air Force heritage and equally proud of my Marine Corps acquisition career,” he said. “I hope that I am leaving a legacy of professionalism, leadership, and that people are always our top priority. Happy people equate to mission accomplishment!”
Paquette leaves the command with a lasting legacy.
“With the retirement of Marc Paquette, the Marine Corps is losing four decades of professional acquisition experience,” said William Williford, executive director, Marine Corps Systems Command. “Marc’s dedication and leadership provided great capability to the Marine Corps. While he will be missed, we congratulate him on his retirement and wish him the very best in the future. He had a huge impact on the Command and touched many lives whom he mentored and helped succeed.”
As he departs the pattern one final time, Paquette leaves the command with a few parting words of wisdom.
“To my friends and colleagues, embrace the suck when you must and remember that nothing good ever comes from negativism,” he said. “When something silly is happening find ways to contribute to make it better.”