COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Javelin Missile System Product Office, Tactical Aviation and Ground Munitions Project Office, Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space
TITLE: Javelin chief engineer
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 22 years
AAW/DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in engineering and Level III in program management
EDUCATION: MBA, Auburn University; B.S. in mechanical engineering, Mississippi State University
AWARDS: Army Civilian Service Achievement Medal
HOMETOWN: Hattiesburg, Mississippi
by Ellen Summey
Satonya Hobson-Williams never intended to become an Army civilian. As a child growing up in Mississippi, she had a different goal in mind—she dreamed of becoming an astronaut. When she enrolled in college, she set out to earn a degree in aerospace engineering, but then she got some advice that changed the entire course of her career. “I was talking with some professors and advisers, and at the time, there weren’t many opportunities for aerospace engineers,” she said. “So, I started looking for other things I could do, where I could still do some aerospace, but with a broader focus.” She decided on a degree in mechanical engineering, which led to her first job working for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).
“After graduation, I went to work with TVA as a non-destructive engineer, which meant I was testing hardware in a way that doesn’t break it.” She later married, left the TVA, and went to work for General Electric Co. as a tool and process engineer in Decatur, Alabama. “They make refrigerators,” she chuckled. “Still not quite an astronaut.” She developed an interest in programming equipment, which she did for several years before moving to her next job as a project manager at DaimlerChrysler. From refrigerators to cars—she was getting closer.
In her next role, she entered the Army workforce as a production engineer on the Hydra 70 rocket, a 2.75-inch diameter fin-stabilized unguided rocket used primarily in an air-to-ground role. “Finally, I was getting there,” she said. Over the next few years, she worked her way up to assistant product manager before moving to Project Manager Unmanned Aerial Systems. From there, she branched out to a new role at the Missile Defense Agency, before returning to the Hydra 70 as chief engineer, and then to the Javelin as engineering division chief within the Tactical Aviation and Ground Munitions (TAGM) project office.
“The Javelin is a shoulder-launched, man-portable, ‘fire and forget,’ medium close combat missile,” she said. “I provide technical insight informing the decisions of both the product and project managers. As the technical lead, I am responsible for the modernization and sustainment of the Javelin missile for our Army warfighter.” She directs the engineering team to lead development and transition-to-production activities for the Javelin missile and the Command Launch Unit, a reusable stand-alone component that provides surveillance capability for troops. Her work includes component-level design reviews, integrated systems test planning, performance verification tests and baseline discussions with TAGM management. “I get satisfaction from my position because we provide Soldiers with the hardware needed when they are on the ground,” she said.
She said there are many differences between her experiences in industry and her career as an Army civilian, but she loves to ask questions and learn as much as she can. “I’m one of those people who likes to understand a little bit about everything, so I have a good grasp of why people ask the questions they’re asking, to understand their point of view. It makes it a little easier for me to find the right solution.” One of the major differences she first encountered was the pace of work, which had been very demanding working on the production floor for an auto manufacturer. “The biggest transition for me was the alternate work schedule. I really liked that aspect of coming and working as a civilian.”
Throughout her time in the Army Acquisition Workforce, she said she has given advice to several junior acquisition personnel. “I typically give them five principles for the work environment,” she said. “1. Get to know and be known by others in your work environment. 2. Keep things positive. 3. Make your career development a priority. 4. Ask for feedback. 5. Respect the time you have with people to glean information on how things are done.” Hobson-Williams attended the Civilian Education System (CES) Advanced course in 2018, and she said she learned a lot about her own approach to leadership. “The main thing that I got out of the training was understanding my leadership philosophy. Leadership is the ability to inspire people to do things that they didn’t realize they were capable of doing.”
In addition to the CES Advanced course, she makes time for additional training and study whenever possible, and she has learned an important lesson that guides her work for her team. “Not everyone’s journey is going to be the same. I read this book, “Sticking Points,” [by Haydn Shaw] and it’s about having four or five generations working in a particular industry at one time, and how no one thinks the same and no one approaches a problem in the same way, and how they become sticking points for us.” For example, some people working in an office environment prefer making phone calls to their colleagues, some prefer the “walk and talk” method of dropping in to a teammate’s office, and yet others may prefer to send a text or a Microsoft Teams message. “I’ll burn some extra calories walking. But understanding and embracing those differences, that’s the biggest thing.”
She also has a unique perspective on career progression, based on her own experience moving across several industry jobs before entering the Army civilian workforce. “In this day and age, most people are not going to stay with the same company for 20 years. Some people feel like, if you don’t stay five or 10 years, you’re not interested in having a career, but I have a different view of that,” she said. “What I tell people is that you want to be well-rounded as far as understanding how your work affects everything else.” In other words, know precisely what you bring to the table, no matter where you are on the organization chart. “If you’re working the rocket launcher, it’s important. Some people will say, ‘No it isn’t—the most important thing is the missile.’ ” But you can’t fire the missile without the launcher, no matter how you try. “Without the launcher, you have a nice, shiny missile, ” she laughed. “You can’t do anything without a launcher.” The point isn’t the missile or the launcher, she said. It’s the system. “Take a look at all the steps required for us to provide a piece of hardware to Soldiers. It’s really a system. That’s something I talk to young engineers about.”
Another thing she likes to talk about is directly related to her Mississippi upbringing. “I’m definitely a foodie,” she said. “Anytime I am going TDY [temporary duty], I always start planning where I’m going to eat while I’m there.” She will happily discuss her favorite TDY restaurant experiences (ask her about the Ethiopian food and spiced tea in Tucson), but she’s known for a recipe she learned closer to home. “I would always take my kids down to New Orleans to get beignets and muffalettas,” she said. They’re grown now—two have graduated college and the third will finish high school this year—but they still love her cooking. “My two signature dishes are my chicken and sausage jambalaya and my lasagna,” she said.
What’s next for Hobson-Williams? “I haven’t really decided. I’m kind of still searching for my next five-year plan before I retire,” she said. “I’m looking to see where I would fit best within the Army, and where I can help to meet a strategic goal that the Army has.” Her sights were originally set on space, but now she’s looking for her own final frontier—an opportunity to contribute to the Army’s success through her unique skills and experiences.
“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/.