Acquisition Professionals Visit Arlington National Cemetery

By October 21, 2019Career Development, Ideal
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By Stefanie Pidgeon

ARLINGTON, Va.—Students with the Inspiring and Developing Excellence in Acquisition Leaders (IDEAL) program visited Arlington National Cemetery on Oct. 2, touring the grounds and speaking with acquisition professionals and other members of the cemetery staff.

Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director for Army National Military Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery, kicked off the event and spoke to the group about the important role acquisition professionals play in ensuring that the cemetery stays operational. “We never, ever close, and are in the public eye every day,” she said. “Without great acquisition support, we could not do our infrastructure, sustainment, repair and modernization. We have to do all that and be operational at the same time.”


Stephen Van Hoven, Arlington National Cemetery’s chief of horticulture, explains his work to IDEAL program participants during an Oct. 2 tour.


The small team of acquisition professionals at Arlington National Cemetery oversees more than 60 contracts that provide a broad range of services, from visitor assistance to heating, ventilation and air conditioning maintenance to video journalism. The budget of $80 million covers infrastructure revitalization, and operations and maintenance.

The group met with Steven Harrod, interment operations, who oversees the grave liners contract—an important job since the cemetery conducts approximately 6,500 burials a year. A grave liner is a reinforced concrete container that surrounds a casket or urn and prevents it from sinking.

They also heard from Stephen Van Hoven, Arlington National Cemetery’s chief of horticulture. Arlington National Cemetery is a Level III arboretum, a prestigious accreditation that reflects the organization’s development, capacity and professionalism and is granted to only 24 institutions worldwide. The cemetery has more than 10,000 native and exotic trees, comprising 300 varieties and species. Arlington National Cemetery works with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on construction expansion projects, said Van Hoven, while his team manages contracts for turf and grounds, tree and shrub maintenance, and ground maintenance.


Steven Harrod, who leads interment operations at Arlington National Cemetery, speaks to IDEAL program participants during the group’s tour of the facility in early October. (Photos by Stefanie Pidgeon, U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center)


The students were accompanied on the trip by their IDEAL instructors. Adina Peyton, an instructor with the Army Acquisition Center of Excellence, said the visit helped expose the IDEAL students to different types of contracting. “It’s easy to get stuck inside a box of what you think serving the military looks like,” she said. “A contracting specialist may be used to seeing a helicopter or a missile, but may not be aware of how the Army honors our service members and takes care of our nation’s most sacred shrine.”

The visit also highlighted the complexity of acquisition. “This job is strategic, operational and tactical, all at the same time and on any given day,” said Durham-Aguilera. “It’s important that our acquisition professionals think ahead, and come up with different options and solutions so that we can make informed decisions.”

IDEAL is a leadership development program for midcareer acquisition professionals. It’s designed to prepare participants for positions where they will lead people, teams and other groups. For more information on the program, go to

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