COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Center Armaments Center; assigned to the Project Manager for Close Combat Systems, Joint Program Executive Office for Armaments and Ammunition
TITLE: Senior technical lead (product assurance engineer) and chief production engineer
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 10
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in production, quality and manufacturing; Level I in engineering
EDUCATION: M.S. and B.S. in industrial and systems engineering, Rutgers University
By Susan L. Follett
Dennis Sheehan has a lot of titles: product assurance engineer, senior technical lead and chief production engineer. His work, however, is pretty straightforward. “I ensure that a safe, quality product gets delivered to the warfighter, and that it works the first time and every time,” he said. “It gives my job an incredible sense of meaning to know that the products I work on ultimately get delivered to the warfighter and that the warfighter depends on them to come home safe.”
Officially part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Center’s (CCDC) Armaments Center, he’s assigned to the Project Manager for Close Combat Systems (PM CCS), one of the most diverse projects in the portfolio of the Joint Program Executive Office for Armaments and Ammunition (JPEO A&A) and one that includes hand grenades, shoulder-launched munitions, protection systems, terrain-shaping obstacles, pyrotechnics and demolition items in various phases across the acquisition life cycle.
It’s a position that requires someone who’s detail-oriented with a strong technical background, Sheehan said, “and someone who’s accustomed to working in a fast-paced environment. We have systems that are early in development and we have legacy systems that are in production. This position requires being able to switch from one to the other as issues come up.” It also requires good communication skills, he added. “My job is to facilitate discussions between program management and engineers and technical staff so that the project manager can understand the technical issues and make decisions with the best possible information. Strong written and oral communication skills are a must.”
The hardest part of his job “is mitigating technical risks while working within the constraints of cost and schedule,” he said. “It requires a strong technical background as well as creativity to develop solutions and workarounds for the issues that come up.”
Sheehan recently employed that creativity in resolving technical issues on hand grenade production lots that were failing to meet acceptance requirements—an issue further complicated by the potential expiration of $380,000 in funding. Sheehan developed strategies to gather and consider additional data to demonstrate that acceptance and use of the grenade lots was low-risk and would not affect performance or safety. By engaging with stakeholders, including PM CCS, the CCDC Armaments Center and customers in other services, Sheehan worked out an agreement that allowed for delivery of 20,000 hand grenades that were safe and effective.
He has been with CCDC for all of his 10-year acquisition career. He got his start through a friend and a college classmate who was working in the Quality Engineering and System Assurance (QE&SA) Directorate within the Armaments Center. Sheehan’s first position was a mechanical engineer within the directorate’s Small Caliber Munitions Quality, Reliability and Safety Engineering Branch. Mentoring has played a big part in his career development, he noted.
“All of the advice and mentoring I’ve received in my career—from my team leads, technical leads, supervisors and so many others along the way who are too numerous to name—has been invaluable,” he said. Early in his career, he was coordinator of QE&SA’s Detail Specification Review Panel and the Armaments Center Critical Characteristics Review Panel. “That put me into meetings with senior technical leads in QE&SA and other Armaments Center organizations, and that accelerated my technical growth and experiences,” he explained. His most recent assignment, working directly under the chief engineer for PM CCS, “has been extremely broadening: The PM CCS portfolio is very diverse and I’m getting a new and broader perspective from sitting in the program office.”
Sheehan was recently part of the Armaments Mentoring Program, which linked him with a pool of potential mentors and facilitated his involvement in networking events with people from organizations across Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, including CCDC, JPEO A&A and others. His leadership at JPEO A&A and PM CCS “is a strong advocate of mentoring, and recommended that I get involved in this program,” Sheehan said. “I’m really glad I did. We had speed sessions where we had the chance to meet a lot of different mentors, and the program also provides lots of avenues for networking across the arsenal.”
All of that mentoring has taught him a couple of things, he said. “Never be afraid to ask questions and always be ready and willing to learn,” he said. “And have long-term goals, but focus on each day doing the best job you can.”
Now with a decade under his belt, Sheehan noted that he feels “like I’m still at the beginning of my career.” In that relatively short period of time, though, he noted that he has seen “a shift from an emphasis on supporting the global war on terror to addressing near-peer threats through the modernization priorities and the cross-functional teams. There’s a much greater emphasis on streamlining the acquisition process, mid-tier acquisition and rapid fielding and prototyping,” he said. “It’s a challenge to figure out how to accomplish testing and quality assurance in that new environment—which is still evolving—and get new capabilities to warfighters quickly, but it’s exciting to be a part of it.”
“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/.
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