COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space, Strategic and Operational Rockets and Missiles Project Office
TITLE: Acquisition analyst
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 10
AAW/DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in Contracting
EDUCATION: B.S. in business management, Athens State University
AWARDS: Civilian Service Commendation Medal (2019), Civilian Service Achievement Medal (2020), STORM Employee of the Quarter (Oct.–Dec. 2021)
by Cheryl Marino
The decisions Christina Lawson makes have significant outcomes. Her role as an acquisition professional supporting the Field Artillery Launchers (FAL) Product Office portfolio involves collaboration with numerous teammates from across the Strategic and Operational Rockets and Missiles (STORM) Project Office and Army Contracting Command-Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, to develop the documentation for successful contract awards.
But when describing her job to others, Lawson tends to put it into more simplistic terms. “I write contracts for huge trucks that fire rockets and missiles and blow stuff up,” she tells them. A description to which, she said, the response is either “HOW COOL!” or “Oh, I see…” It all just depends on the audience.
“Honestly, there’s not a way to make writing a contract that is hundreds of pages long sound super fun and exciting,” Lawson said of her role as an analyst. So she resorts to what she calls the “elevator speech,”—the few lines that you give to someone trying to make small talk in an elevator. She’s found that this approach, which she said she is “still working on” mastering, can be effective in almost any situation—particularly in breaking the ice or when trying to use fewer words to explain something more complex or difficult to understand.
Lawson began her government career as a summer-hire in 2010, where she scanned large volumes of files, particularly contracts, into digital copies to cut down on the paper copies of massive documents. “I had no idea at the time that those very contracts would be the type of documents I would eventually work with,” she said.
Lawson continued that following year as a cooperative student—taking classes toward her undergraduate degree while working full time—in the Precision Fires Rocket and Missile Systems Project Office (now the STORM Project Office), directly supporting the program manager for the FAL Product Office. “I didn’t have a background in a specific skill set, although I was taking classes towards my Level I Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act Program Management certification,” she said. “The opportunity to move to the acquisition division within the same project office presented itself, so I jumped on the chance to pursue something new.” This marked the beginning of her journey with the Army Acquisition Workforce as an acquisition analyst.
“At the ripe age of 22, I was drawn to the professionalism I saw in the individuals who represented the acquisition division. The expertise and confidence they displayed in public forums was something I wanted to possess myself,” she said, adding that she never would have made it this far without a mentorship.
“I had so many formal [and] informal mentors that I relied on day in and day out for the first few years of my acquisition career and still do from time to time. They were my personal cheerleaders—always encouraging me, challenging me or even ‘bringing me back to my senses’ when I almost made the decision to leave the government,” Lawson said. “At the time, I was young and never envisioned ‘acquisition analyst’ as what I wanted to be when I grew up. I guess you could say I was still trying to figure things out, and I was exploring my options.” It was during this exploration that her mentor convinced her to stay, she said.
Lawson said the guidance of her mentors was so valuable that she would pass along that same advice to junior acquisition personnel and especially “encourage them to never be afraid to ask questions and stick with it.” She said that coming into the world of acquisition can be both intimidating and overwhelming. “I think I was afraid, for a good six months, to answer emails without asking my mentor if my response was correct and responding with an ‘I’m not sure, let me get back to you’ more times than I can count, but if you stay loyal to this career field, it will become one of the most rewarding positions you will ever have,” she said.
“One of my mentors told me ‘always say yes when leadership asks the workforce for volunteers for special assignments [or] deployments.’ Even though I have developed personally and professionally in my career without taking on extended or traveling assignments, I do wish I would have said ‘yes’ a few more times when life was less hectic.”
And she said life can get pretty hectic. When she’s not serving as a team business advisor at work, Lawson is advising a different kind of team, in a very different capacity, at home. “People [outside of work] would probably say that I’m a girl mom who lives on a farm,” she said—seemingly the opposite of how she might be viewed at work. “The only thing this has in common with my work is that both my work and home life are crazy and busy. Between taking care of three hilarious, dramatic and into-everything girls under the age of six, along with helping my husband take care of our farm animals, it’s chaos all the time,” she said. But Lawson has figured out how to balance work and family life, and so far it’s working out pretty well.
In addition to juggling work and family, Lawson said a career development program called High5!, offered by an outside consulting company, that she completed in 2019, was extremely helpful and the “best class she has ever taken.” The program promoted the expanded benefits of effective team communication and collaboration, she said, and “was geared toward understanding both your unique personality and that of colleagues, and was amazingly accurate at generating your personality profile and displaying details of your possible strengths and weaknesses, effective communication techniques and suggestions for development—my results showed that I like to be involved, but also care about meaningful relationships with people.”
Personality assessment programs like this one include emotional vs. non-emotional approaches to different situations for determining best possible outcomes, and Lawson said at times, letting emotions get in the way of your job can be detrimental. She said the most important lesson she’s learned from the High5! course is being able to “take the feeling out of work.” That’s not to say she is completely without care or concern, it’s more about not becoming so sympathetic to a situation that you lose focus. “I am naturally a caring person, but sometimes I care so much that it hinders me from making a decision for fear of hurting feelings, burning bridges or making enemies,” she said. She finds that in many cases “removing the care” and “just doing your job” works out better in the end.
At the end of the day, the most rewarding part of Lawson’s job is working with cross-functional teams to support a major weapon system, and bringing the 15-year dormant Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) production line back to life to support one of the Army’s top modernization priorities—Long Range Precision Fires. “Upon fielding, the MLRS M270A2 Launcher will offer new technology and increased crew protection,” she said, which achieves the ultimate goal of “keeping our nation’s Soldiers safer and equipping them with the most up-to-date capabilities.” And that makes it all worthwhile.
“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 serving in various AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please go to https://asc.army.mil/web/publications/army-alt-submissions/.