Rotational assignment program develops and retains talent across the security assistance workforce.
by Mr. Adam Genest and Ms. Carly Glenn
In Huntsville, Alabama, Nick Curry’s bags were packed. He was enjoying a big send-off dinner with his wife, son, daughter, mother, stepfather and younger sisters. Curry promised to FaceTime often and said he would visit over spring break. He had only been away from his family for, at most, a week at a time, and being gone for six months would be a big adjustment. But he knew this was his chance to connect with the people and processes that shaped his daily work.
Curry, a logistics management specialist with the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command (AMCOM) Security Assistance Management Division (SAMD), was on his way to start a six-month assignment through the Security Assistance Workforce Rotational Assignment Program. Managed by the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for defense exports and cooperation (DASA(DE&C)), the program provides government employees across the Army security assistance enterprise (ASAE) the opportunity to temporarily rotate to a different organization within the ASAE.
“My hope is that this will enhance the workforce’s understanding of the Army’s entire security assistance mission and how other organizations within the security assistance enterprise contribute to the success of the Army’s security assistance program,” stated DASA(DE&C) Ann Cataldo in a memo announcing the program.
Security assistance in DOD is a subset of security cooperation, which encompasses all DOD interactions with foreign defense and security establishments. These undertakings are an important tool in the execution of U.S. foreign policy, allowing the U.S. to build allied and partner capacity, promote interoperability and share the burden of our global security responsibilities with partners and allies.
The scope of security assistance across DOD and within the Army is wide and deep. Under the guidance of the Department of State and oversight of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), DOD security assistance comprises a group of programs, authorized under Title 22 authorities, by which the United States provides defense articles (such as munitions, technology and sensitive data), military education and training and other defense-related services by grant, loan, credit, cash sale or lease to foreign partners and allies in furtherance of national policies and objectives.
The ASAE consists of approximately 3,000 personnel within dozens of organizations throughout Headquarters, Department of the Army; U.S. Army Materiel Command; U.S. Training and Doctrine Command; U.S. Army Medical Command; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and Direct Reporting Units. Understanding the entire ASAE and all the processes, policies, funding sources and authorities can be a challenge for even a seasoned professional. Subject matter experts rarely get an opportunity to see a different side of DOD security assistance, but they can gain an understanding and appreciation for how the pieces fit together by participating in the Rotational Assignment Program (RAP). ASAE organizations create temporary positions for the program, interested individuals apply, and selected participants are placed in assignments lasting between three and six months. Eighteen people are participating in the FY17 program; Curry, April Miller, Jennifer Griffin, Freeman Nlandu and Alisha Wade have been placed with DASA(DE&C).
With support from their leadership and the hosting organization, participants get out from behind their desk, away from their regular duties and broaden their knowledge of security assistance. Griffin, also a logistics management specialist with AMCOM SAMD, said that the opportunity to learn something new encouraged her to apply. “I’ve never worked in security assistance policy before. I’m getting on-the-job training in an entirely new discipline and get to take it back to my organization.”
In addition to being an excellent personal broadening opportunity, the RAP allows participants to build relationships and open the lines of communication across the enterprise. “A lot of the time, we [AMCOM SAMD] don’t know what goes on here [at DASA(DE&C)],” said Curry. “We’re sending documents or information to what can seem like a black hole … wondering if they are open to communicating. Being here, seeing the need to communicate has been beneficial, and I have been able to reach back to my home organization with hot items, like a piece of critical information or an important contact within the organization.” Miller added, “When we are developing an FMS [foreign military sales] case at our level, sometimes the process can seem a little slower than we might like. But with the connections I’ve developed at DASA(DE&C), I think we’ll be able to move our cases along a little faster.”
In a large, matrixed organization like ASAE, it can be difficult to convey the overall vision to personnel three or four layers removed from HQDA. “There is a gap,” said Nlandu, European Command & Africa Command branch chief with the U.S. Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization. “There are the senior leaders and then the person in the foxhole. When you are in the foxhole, you want to know what to do and who to call. [The RAP] is about letting the people in the foxhole know how their work contributes to the big picture.”
The RAP selection process is competitive; organizations send their best representatives to embed in other positions within the enterprise. Participants tend to be problem-solvers, seeking to apply what they learn through the program to make their home organization more effective.
According to David Williams of DASA(DE&C), who manages the RAP, the initiative is a key element in retaining high-quality and talented employees, in addition to building capacity and encouraging communication across the enterprise. “Speaking with folks who have come to DASA(DE&C), they all said that ‘This has opened my eyes. My batteries are now recharged.’ I like to think that RAP enhances a person’s annual assessment and future growth opportunities. Individuals who are interested in enhancing their career are the ones who apply.”
When asked if the RAP helps retain talent, Griffin, Curry, Miller and Nlandu all said yes. The program makes employees feel valued and invested in by the Army, and it encourages a sense of loyalty—not only to their home organization, but to the mission of the enterprise as a whole.
Feeling valued is important, but does it outweigh the challenges presented when a loved one leaves family and friends for six months? Curry said he would “like to think she [his wife] is falling apart, but she’s holding it down pretty well. She is a strong woman.” Neighbors, friends and family have come together to form a strong support system, and Curry has been able to visit home three times in the last three months, to attend a father-daughter dance, take time for spring break, and see his son inducted into the National Elementary Honor Society.
What about the home organization that loses a full-time employee for multiple months? Leadership sometimes fears the loss will be permanent, creating hesitation in letting personnel apply. “I prepared my guys before I left and talked to them about participatory leadership,” said Nlandu. “My absence has not resulted in any gap, and I’m continuing to help them while I’m here, just in a different role.”
Curry said he feels like a “SAMD liaison officer” between DASA(DE&C) and AMCOM SAMD. He has been able to reach back to his home organization to make sure they are providing the right information to DASA(DE&C) and to answer their financial questions.
Through a participant’s time in the RAP, the home organizations are provided special insight into what is happening within other parts of the ASAE, and the sponsoring organization is offered a different perspective from each participant. All involved parties benefit, and leadership currently not involved with the program may want to consider the value RAP can bring to their organization.
“What is so important when you’re in my job [at U.S. Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization] is to implement senior leaders’ visions,” said Nlandu. “Coming here and just being exposed to the security cooperation enterprise is exciting. … It gives you the opportunity to understand the vision and requirements, and when you go back, you can implement the vision. You can support your leaders from your foxhole.”
The success of the program is reflected by its rapid growth. Despite being established only three years ago, the RAP has grown every year: More agencies and commands are encouraging their employees to apply and are increasingly volunteering to sponsor participants from other organizations. This year the program expanded outside of the Army, with the participation of DSCA.
Upon return to their home organization, Miller, Curry, Nlandu, Griffin and Wade will take back a greater understanding of the ASAE, stronger relationships with those who shape the policy of their everyday work and a renewed sense of dedication. Through the support of their families, friends and leadership, they will have gained an opportunity to grow professionally, and their organizations will be more tightly linked to the enterprise as a whole.
For more information on the RAP, go to the DASA(DE&C) Training SharePoint page at https://spcs3.kc.army.mil/asaalt/zn/DEC_Training/SitePages/Home.aspx.
MR. ADAM GENEST is a strategic communications contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton providing contract support to DASA(DE&C). He holds a master of forensic science from George Washington University and a B.A. in homeland security and emergency preparedness from Virginia Commonwealth University.
MS. CARLY GLENN is a functional analyst with General Dynamics Information Technology providing contract support to DASA(DE&C). She is pursuing a master of strategic public relations at George Washington University and holds a B.A. in communication from Virginia Tech.
This article is scheduled to be published in the July-September 2017 issue of Army AL&T Magazine.
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