Faces of the Force: James C. Risner

By February 3, 2015September 6th, 2018Faces of the Force, Talent Management
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POSITION: Pentagon Liaison, Program Executive Office for Ammunition
TOTAL YEARS OF SERVICE: 31 (3 years in the Marine Corps; 28 years as an Army civilian)
AWARDS: Army Meritorious Civilian Service Award, Army Commander’s Award for Civilian Service (2), Army Achievement Medal for Civilian Service (2), 2002 Award for Excellence in Ammunition Management (GS-14/15)
EDUCATION: M.S. in management, Florida Institute of Technology; Certificate of Advanced Studies in public administration, Syracuse University; B.S. in criminal justice and B.A. in public administration, Truman State University

Opening the Door to Opportunities

By Susan L. Follett

When opportunity knocks, you have to open the door. Some people, like Jim Risner, just go on out to the front porch and grab it by the lapels. “I joined the Department of the Army because of the opportunities the program provided,” Risner said, looking back on an Army career that began nearly 30 years ago. “Little did I realize how great those opportunities would be.”

Risner is the Department of the Army (DA) Systems Coordinator for the Program Executive Office (PEO) for Ammunition, embedded in the Office of the Deputy for Acquisition and Systems Management under the assistant secretary of the army for acquisition, logistics and technology (ASA(ALT)).

His work ensures that the Army has a programmatically and fiscally sound ammunition industrial base program and provides needed oversight in revitalizing and restructuring the ammunition production base. Among the programs and efforts he oversees are conventional ammunition demilitarization, the Armament Retooling and Manufacturing Support Program and the Autonomous Mine Detection System.

Over the course of his career, Risner has also served as a mentor, most recently to interns in Career Program 33, Ammunition Management. “I entered the Army as an ammunition management intern and have always felt a duty to help others in the program,” he said.

“My involvement in the last five years has been mainly informing participants about how the Army works from the perspective of ASA(ALT). I have found that when I mentor, I learn a lot about myself, the people I work with and the Army.”

What do you do in the Army? Why is it important?
I am a PEO Ammunition Pentagon liaison and DA systems coordinator. I support the Project Director, Joint Services; Product Director, Joint Products; and Project Manager, Close Combat Systems. I provide DA-level oversight into the programming, budgeting and execution of the Army’s organic and commercial ammunition industrial base, the conventional ammunition demilitarization program, insensitive munitions program, Single Manager for Conventional Ammunition actions and the Autonomous Mine Detection System. What I do is important because I help ensure the Army receives the resources it has requested in the president’s budget in order to carry out its mission to support and defend our country.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work? How do you overcome it?
The biggest challenge is being in a position where a program is under-executing. In that situation, it’s vital to keep everyone informed of why the program is not meeting its goals and what ramifications there might be if funds are taken from the program.

Why did you join the Army? What is your greatest satisfaction in being part of the Army?
I joined the DA as an ammunition management intern when I was 28. I was looking for a good job, work I enjoyed and the opportunity for growth. Little did I realize how great those opportunities would be: I have worked for two DA headquarters offices and the Army Secretariat, been to numerous Army installations throughout the United States, attended graduate school and received executive training. I’ve also had an impact on the ammunition community. My greatest satisfaction is being able to work with great folks who strive everyday to provide warfighters with the ammunition they need.

You’ve worked with the Army for nearly 30 years. Did you have a sense when you started that you’d be here that long? What are some of the notable changes you’ve seen over those three-plus decades?
My intent when I was hired was to work for the Army until I retired. So far, so good. One of the most notable changes I’ve seen is how automation has changed how business is done. I remember writing messages out in long-hand on legal paper and giving that to a secretary to type. The message would then be taken to the communications center for transmittal. The advent of e-mail changed how we do business. E-mail is a good tool, but it is not the best tool for every situation. Sometimes it’s better to get up from your desk and walk down the hall or pick up the phone to have a discussion.

What advice do you have for someone just starting out in your field?
Have a five-, 10- and 15-year plan, and review it at least annually—life changes and plans sometimes need to be adjusted. Without a plan, you might find yourself in a place that you do not particularly want to be. Look for opportunities to stretch yourself; get out of your comfort zone. There are programs in the Army, such as developmental assignments, special projects, deployments and training, that will provide opportunities to learn and grow. Also, find two or three people senior to you, either in grade or time in service, who you can bounce ideas off. I found this to be beneficial in my career.

  • “Faces of the Force” is an online series highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce through the power of individual stories. Profiles are produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication and Support Branch, working closely with public affairs officers to feature Soldiers and Civilians currently serving in a variety of AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please contact 703-805-1006.

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