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11th MEU Command Element conducts Deployable Groups System Integration Testing Exercise

Photo by Lance Cpl. Ian Simmons

Marines in Acquisition: Leveraging Enlisted Experience for Battlefield Success

18 May 2023 | Johannes Schmidt, MCSC Office of Public Affairs and Communication Marine Corps Systems Command

In today's global geopolitical environment—characterized by the rise of near-peer adversaries and strategic competition—the Marine Corps finds itself at a critical juncture.

Recognizing the need to adapt to remain lethal on the modern battlefield, Gen. David H. Berger, commandant of the Corps, launched Force Design 2030, a comprehensive strategy aimed at shaping the Marine Corps into a more agile and effective force. At the heart of this transformation lies an essential component emphasized in the Talent Management 2030 strategy: aligning the talents of individual Marines with the needs of the service to maximize the performance of both.

The document states, “We have never defined ourselves by our equipment, organizational constructs, or operational concepts. Our identity has always been – and will remain – defined by the character, intelligence, courage, fitness, and talents of our people.”

This principle is paramount at Marine Corps Systems Command and Program Executive Office Land Systems, organizations that acquire and field gear directly impacting the warfighter’s lethality and survivability. When building teams of acquisition experts – including support contractors, civilians, and Marines – it is mission-critical to ensure that each member’s unique experience and expertise are harnessed and utilized.

For this reason, enlisted Marines, with their in-depth knowledge, practical experience and direct connection to the fleet, play an instrumental role in shaping the acquisition process and ensuring the development of gear that meets the specific needs of the warfighter.

“Enlisted Marines arriving at the Command bring expertise from their occupational field and contribute accordingly,” said MARCORSYSCOM Sgt. Maj. Allen B. Goodyear. “Their vast knowledge, experience on the field, and – perhaps most importantly – their standing connection to the fleet make them invaluable and allow us to produce gear that the warfighter can actually feel excited about.”

Although the workforce throughout MARCORSYSCOM and PEO Land Systems is highly skilled in acquisition, Master Gunnery Sgt. Judah Crawford, the senior enlisted advisor for the Command Element Systems portfolio, believes that enlisted Marines bring a unique level of knowledge and expertise that can only be acquired through extensive experience in the field.

“Enlisted Marines have a unique advantage when it comes to understanding how Marines will use gear in the field,” said Crawford. “Because they’ve operated the equipment in various settings—whether deployed overseas, during training, or in day-to-day maintenance—their experience adds a unique and critical perspective to integrated product teams.”

According to Master Gunnery Sgt. John Williams, a project officer for Global Combat Support Systems-Marine Corps, “Enlisted Marines start at the most basic level when they join the Marine Corps and learn the most mundane things in their field. They learn a piece of equipment or an IT system inside out, in a way officers or civilians simply don’t have to.”

This practical knowledge can transform conversations, ultimately paving the way for acquisition teams to deploy improved products to the fleet. Master Sgt. Louis Ignarro, a Sensitive Compartmented Information Communications project officer, saw this first-hand when he learned of a new man-packable satellite communication system being worked on when he first arrived at Quantico.

“What helped drive the project was collaboration and making sure people with the right knowledge and skillsets are empowered to work together,” he noted.

For good reason, some of the biggest proponents of enlisted Marines in acquisition are the officers billeted at MARCORSYSCOM and PEO Land Systems. When speaking with Col. Tim Hough, Program Manager for Advanced Amphibious Assault at PEO Land Systems, he noted that some of the brightest and hardest working individuals he has worked with in acquisition have been enlisted Marines.

“The trust I have in these Marines is unwavering,” said Hough. “Moreover, I firmly believe that their experiences provide a necessary reality check for officers, civilians, and contractors involved in the project. Our enlisted Marines’ fresh perspectives, gained from regularly rotating in and out of the fleet, provide the invaluable connective tissue to the Fleet Marine Force and help ensure that our products are relevant and practical in real-world situations.”

“Enlisted Marines add significant value to the command,” said Col. Ross A. Monta, MARCORSYSCOM’s Portfolio Manager for Command Element Systems. “Not only do they possess technical expertise in delivering the capabilities we aim for in assets, but they also offer a practical and user-friendly approach that directly benefits the fleet.”

Nevertheless, one of the challenges in finding the right enlisted Marine to join the Corps’ acquisition community is that Marines in the fleet may have extremely limited knowledge or experience in acquisition.

“Before joining MARCORSYSCOM, I was unaware of the acquisition process," said Gunnery Sgt. Anibal Sanchez, the signature management project chief. “Now, as a subject matter expert, I maintain constant contact with the Marine Corps Information Operations Center, helping them understand the process and answering any questions they might have about timelines.”

According to Master Sgt. Grant Myrick, ground electronics maintenance advisor, “Part of our job is to bridge that communication divide between the fleet and the acquisition community. It’s important that we’re there to provide answers and hear their feedback about the capabilities we’re providing them.”

Indeed, Marine feedback and experimentation are key pillars of Force Design 2030, which calls for concepts and processes to be tested and explored through experimentation and wargaming. That spirit of experimentation is especially important to Leon Michiline, a logistics management specialist and former enlisted Marine.

In Michiline’s words, “If you pay attention to the Commandant's intent in Force Design 2030, you'll notice he doesn't just talk about the lethality of the equipment; he also focuses on making sure Marines are empowered to explore cutting-edge equipment and report back on their findings. It's that Marine feedback that should be the driving force throughout the acquisition process.”

At the end of the day, MARCORSYSCOM is uniquely positioned to tackle the challenges associated with Talent Management 2030 and making sure the right Marine is working the right job. As Monta explains, the command has already garnered recognition from across the Corps.

“We’ve certainly gained some Kudos for our approach to Talent Management 2030, primarily because we’re already successful in retaining a small but highly impactful force within the Corps,” he said. “Our strategy revolves around nurturing talent from within, and should certainly be applied to our approach to enlisted Marines.”

Ultimately, a compelling argument can be made for greater involvement of enlisted Marines in the acquisition realm. Their first-hand experience with the equipment fielded by MARCORSYSCOM is invaluable, providing a unique perspective that complements the other Marines, civilians, and contractors within the command.

“If you’re a bright Marine with a meaningful contribution to make, then MARCORSYSCOM might be the place for you,” said Monta. “You won’t be chasing shiny objects, but the contributions you make here will fundamentally benefit the Corps in ways that will last generations. The gear that we field—that helps the warfighter win on the modern battlefield-- will be your legacy.”

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